Feeling the need to journal – Anxiety 2021

Happy New Year. How’s everyone doing?

My anxiety has been high, unfortunately. Lockdown 3 has been a sudden change. I do not like sudden changes. It messes with my head. After the interruption to routine that is the Christmas and New Year break, I was looking forward to getting back to swimming this week.

The sudden imposition of lockdown at midnight on Monday/Tuesday meant that the pool was closed and my plans were thrown out of the window. I need to swim because it provides structure to my week, aerobic exercise that I enjoy in the form of walking and swimming, and a sensory environment that I find soothing. Warm tiles, the smell of chlorine, the all-around pressure of the water on my body, floating and stretching my muscles and lungs. It’s absolutely the best thing for my brain.

The state of the world isn’t helping, although my dogs are. Ezzie has taken up standing next to me when I’m at my desk and keeping her eye on me all the time. Gyfa takes over at night. She has a bed in my room and likes to climb into bed with me until I fall asleep.

I last left the house on Sunday when I had to go to the shop to get dog food. I have to go out later to get more dog food. I’ve spent the last three days persuading myself that it’s safe to go out to walk the dogs. We’ve just been out for a half hour walk, though so I managed to push through it. I need to go out with them again tomorrow or Sunday. I’m dealing with the anxiety of other people, the dogs being reactive and people treating us badly because they’re reactive, with dogs off their leads running at us and the dogs feeling threatened.

I’m scared of humans generally anyway, but there is a level of judgmentalism by dog owners at times. Ezzie and Gyfa are protective of me and reactive around strange dogs, while my anxiety makes it hard for me to talk, so it can be hard to be around other people and dogs. I prefer going out at dusk when it’s quiet, but I need to go to the shop later. That means I had to take them out earlier than usual.

I’m mentally gearing up to go to the shop. I have my visor ready, my bluetooth headband has a fairly full battery so I can listen to an audiobook and put the visor on. I tried wearing masks but the sensory pain is too much when added to the sensory overload of the shop. I like to go shopping in the evening when it is quieter and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. On Sunday it was rammed; I was not happy, I got so overwhelmed that I had to get a taxi home, and I think that put me in a bad place to start the week.

Every time I have a bad experience I have to treat the next time I do the same thing as though it were the first time and reset my anxiety and routine. It can take a while to feel comfortable again.

I need to rebuild my routine and make it through the lockdown.

Trying to process why I write autistic characters and what I would like to know

I have occasionally joked that I learnt to be human by reading fantasy. What I mean by this is that fantasy explores so many different possible situations, so many different characters, that I was able to learn about human behaviour and psychology. I sometimes even learnt the appropriate responses to situations and why typical people do things that seem nonsensical to me.

Actually, most of the stuff they do is still nonsensical but I try to be tolerant. I’m probably more tolerant of the typical need to make small talk than most people are of my need to not make small talk, for example.

I write autistic main characters most of the time, it is sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. For me it helps to have a character that is trying to navigate a situation and to put myself in their place. I struggle to visualise things so I have to embody that situation instead. I can’t know how the character will react until I put myself there. I can usually work out how the other characters will react though, based on past experiences or reading, e.g. MC gets into an argument because the other person is in the wrong, other person either admits or gets defensive, MC will get upset and other characters will chide them for bringing up something that people don’t want to talk about. Creates conflict.

Or the end of the world is coming, Autistic MC has a sensible, logical plan, everyone else is panicking, how would they react? Baring in mind, my sisters and I regularly plan out what we’d do in even of a zombie apocalypse, and I have seriously considered preparing a go bag and clearing out the cupboard under the stairs to use as an emergency shelter, this is something I can ’embody’ fairly easily.

I have written accidentally autistic characters, who react and process their lives in an unconsciously autistic way and I have also written deliberately autistic characters. The difference is, when it’s deliberate there’s a purpose behind. In my Lucie Burns stories (especially my unfinished Dissertation piece) the purpose was to show a realistic autistic woman as a police officers, in opposition to the less than realistic and sometimes actively harmful depictions of autistic women in books and film/TV.

I’m currently working on a story for my writing group about a forensic psychologist who is autistic and helping to investigate a series of child murders (I go through phases of loving crime fiction and wanting to write crime all the time); I don’t have a defined purpose in this story, I just want to show an autistic person in a situation people might think unlikely – I don’t think people realise we make decent psychologists, teachers, social workers, etc. because they’re ‘people’ jobs and we don’t like people/have no empathy/all that nonsense. Also, I wanted to. I sounded like fun when I first planned the story out. I might even have my two autistic investigators meet in a future story, just for the hell of it. I expect their colleagues would all be ‘oh you’ll like (character), she’s autistic too’ and they don’t hit it off at all. Because we’re all human and different.

I do think representation is important, especially Own Voices representation, because for too long other people, typical people looking from the outside in, have defined us, defined our narrative and told the world they’re the experts. No, we are.

Anyway, I read a bit of fiction written by other autistic writers who also have autistic main characters, and I find it helpful, because other writer present other perspectives. I want to know if it’s deliberate, or their default character writing, I want to know their purpose, and reasoning. Is it hard to write about the difficult parts of being autistic, is it hard to write typical characters. I find my typical characters can be a bit flat, while my autistic characters tend to be more rounded. I actively have to try not to make older male typical characters bigoted boorish drunks, for example. Can’t imagine why…

I want to know about the writing process. I write almost a script first then have to go back and fill in the details, like body language and descriptions. Writing is an active process. I might get flashes of a scene in my brain but then I have to embody it to move beyond that. How do other autistic people work, especially if they have aphantasia?

I never know what my characters look like beyond an outline, and I actively have to pin things down as I write the story. I have face recognition problems if I haven’t seen people often or if I have haven’t seen them in a long time – especially with children. Do other writers have this problem, or do they know write from the start what their characters look like and will do?

How do they cope with characters of different backgrounds? I actively stick to white AFAB main characters, because I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be anything other than that. I have a limited ‘pool’ of friends and where I’m from isn’t diverse, so except for my BFF who is half-Egyptian and who has talked about what that means, and obviously I’ve observed, since we’ve been friends for 25 years, I don’t have much reference material. I don’t think it would be right for me to write a character from a different background if I couldn’t get a really detailed understanding of what it’s like to be someone who isn’t a white, working class AFAB person. I have an intellectual understanding of people’s experiences with discrimination and different cultural backgrounds but not the visceral understanding. I need to visceral understanding to embody a character. Is that just me, am I limited in my ability to ‘put myself in others’ shoes’ or is it a common thing?

Do autistic people, as readers and writers, use fiction to form their identity, as part of autistic culture or as a human in general? How does fiction help with this identity formation?

There’s so many questions, and I don’t know how to get the answers. I want to do a PhD on autistic writers and their autistic characters, but I don’t know how to phrase what I want to study, I don’t know where to start with applying for PhDs, either. It’s such a niche area, who would I even talk to?

Luckily, a new ‘neurodiversity and literature’ list serv has been started so I can ask them. If I get my courage up to ask all these academics with scary qualifications and careers.

Future Plans for my blog and book blogging

Good morning, I’ve been doing some thinking. I’m completely booked up for September and October. I keep getting myself overbooked and it’s stressing me out because I put pressure on myself to do everything, to help everyone. I don’t like to disappoint anyone, especially Anne Cater at Random Things Tours, Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources, and Kelly at Love Books Tours, who have been so helpful and supportive in my blogging adventures.

I have also collected quite a large number of books that I want to read and haven’t had the chance because I’m committed to so many blog tours. I do want to read some of the books I have bought for myself in the last 15 months. I have at least 100 books in my TBR pile, some from Harrogate last year, plus my Pen & Sword pile. Not to mention my sci fi and fantasy collection. I have enough that I need a new six foot bookshelf.

After October, I plan to focus on my TBR pile; I am sure a book will come up that I won’t be able to say no to, so there will be occasional blog tours but they won’t be as regular as they have been. Maximum, one a month. I will be reviewing the books I read because they deserve to be talked about.

I really want a bicycle

There’s an awful lot of people out on bikes at the moment and I’d really like to get one but past experience tells me that standard bicycles don’t really work for me.

  • My arse is too big for the standard seats on a bicycle
  • The tyres are usually not robust enough
  • My balance is terrible
  • I could do with power assist sometimes, especially on hills.

I’ve been looking around. Tricycles seem a good option for the balance challenged and they come in electric and with fat tyres, but they still have the uncomfortable seat. Recumbent tricycles have a decent seat, plenty of arse and back support but they’re too close to the ground and I haven’t seen any electric ones. And they tend not to have baskets.

What I need is a tricycle with a recumbent style seat, fat tyres and a decent battery. I’ve been looking at various websites for options. I couldn’t afford one even if I did find one that was suitable.

Sigh

Orenda Roadshow Southwell library 27th February 2020

Just got back, I had to walk off some of my giddiness. I had a wonderful time. I spoke to a few people, authors mostly, plus Anne Cater the fabulous blog tour organiser and Karen Sullivan, publisher. I bought 6 books, some from authors I’ve read before, like Matt Wesolowski and Antti Tuomainen, and some by authors I haven’t read but I liked the bits they read out, like Will Carver and Kjell Ola Dahl. I also got the Vanda Symon book I was missing, Ringmaster.

And it was 3 for 2 so I had a bit of a spree and supported a small independent bookshop, The Bookcase in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire. Indie publisher, indie bookshop, supported by a local library. It’s wonderful.

I really enjoyed meeting Johanna Gustawsson. I have all three of her books but I only brought Blood Song as it was the first one of hers that I read and I didn’t want to overwhelm her. We had a chat about realistic autistic representation.

I am slowly calming down, the walk through night time Southwell and then writing this has helped, but I’m still all bubbling with happiness. Going to journal for a bit to ground me again. I need to get some sleep tonight.

It was probably a mistake getting a room at a pub. I can hear conversations down in the bar.

I are confuse

I’ve noticed something and I’m confused. A review I wrote in August is suddenly getting a lot of views (557 in October, November and December, 135 so far this month). I can’t think why, unless the book was released in the U.S. recently? That seems to be where a lot of the views are coming from. It’s unusual for any of my reviews to get this many views.


Personal stuff, Ignore if you aren’t interested.

Also, I have been crocheting a Willendorf Venus for a friend today and I’m supposed to be going to the Adult Autism Forum Cafe tonight. The topic is hobbies. I think I’ll take my Venus with me.

I had some trouble from a couple of the other people who go, the last forum and cafe were distressing for me, so my sister is going with me. Six months ago I told someone who couldn’t respect my boundaries that I wasn’t friends with them, then I treat them with the usual polite distance I have with most people. They, on the other hand, have been engaging in nasty pettiness and in November helped trigger a meltdown (haven’t had one in a couple of years), and have since recruited other people to harass and slander me as a bully at events.

People are weird.

The facilitators have been mixed in their response, one has been incredibly supportive and the other has been making weak sauce ‘can’t get involved’ excuses. This person was the instigators psychologist for a long time so I suspect they just don’t want to have to deal with them.

I’m so stressed by it all I started scratching my scalp until it bled again, my blood pressure is high, and I have acid reflux again.

Must go, got to meet the little sister after work

Yuletide wishes

  • Happy Hogswatch,
  • Glad Yuletide,
  • Joyous Solstice,
  • Merry Christmas,
  • Happy Hanukkah,

Sorry if I’ve missed anyone.


I’m not massively into the festive season, mainly because I find it loud, bright and busy, and people are massively hypocritical. The fuss is massively overstimulating for me and makes we tired, grumpy and generally not well. I find hiding in my house with the lights low and no sounds except possible low nature sounds or classical music in the background to be the only way to cope. I’m already finding it hard to focus if there is too much going on.

There’s the expectation of being around people and I can’t really cope with it. I like visiting people but I need to be able to escape when I want. Going to spend 25th with people has a lot of expectation that I’ll be there for a certain amount of time and because I can’t drive I need the other people to get me there and back, so I feel reliant on people. I don’t like being reliant, I don’t like feelings of expectation, I don’t like not being able to escape when I want to.

I do like giving gifts but I struggle to know what to give people. It’s easier if people just give me a list of the things they need. I don’t like buying people things that’ll get put on the shelf and forgotten. I’d prefer them to actually want and need what I give them. There are a lot of books being given this year.

The hypocrisy of people spending two weeks pretending to care about less fortunate people when they spend the other 50 weeks of the year being selfish and only caring about their immediate family gets right on my tits. Don’t do stuff just because it’s Christmas and New Year or because you want people to think you’re so wonderful (charity gifts for example); help people because you actually care and want to help people.

Also, if you don’t want to spend shed loads of money on gifts, don’t just to keep up with the neighbours (or the in-laws). Actually, if you don’t want to do the whole traditional roast dinner/Christmas day thing, don’t. It’s not compulsory. If it’s the only day you’re getting off for a month and you want to spend the day in your jammies eating chocolate, do that. If you want to go on an adventure, go on an adventure (a friend has the week to herself for the first time in almost 30 years, and is going to the West Country with friends – because she can and she wants to). Don’t let other people’s expectations and demands stop you dong what you want to do, if doing that makes you happy.

Right, I’m getting off my soap box now and getting dressed. I’m going to see my bestie, exchange gifts and eat mince pies.

Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival: Days 3 and 4

I’m in pain and exhausted. I had to miss a couple of panels yesterday and both this morning. I’ve over done it; but still, I’ve done it! I’ve managed to go on holiday on my own, go to a festival and meet people. I had to spend this morning resting after a late breakfast, but I’ve been out for an hour or so, walking around Harrogate to get some tape to temporarily repair my glasses, visit a bookshop and buy a new suitcase. But I had better get back to the start of yesterday morning.

Continue reading “Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival: Days 3 and 4”

Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival: Day Two

Entry 1: 08:20

I’m up and showered after a rough night. I was in so much pain that it was difficult to get comfortable. I did eventually sleep, however and this morning I’m ready to go. Last night I wrote out a plan for me to follow so I don’t over do things. I have an hour between 1pm and 2pm to get dinner and hide for a bit. There are a few opportunities for book acquisition that I’m looking forward to today, most notably the Orion Proof Party in the library at 5pm.

Right now, I’m going to finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go for breakfast. I do enjoy a Premier Inn breakfast, especially since I’ve paid in advance for the full works.

Entry 2: 20:24

I am not in pain this evening! Woop! Although my feet were aching earlier, but now I’m back in my room after eating a rare three-course meal (such a treat!) the ache is beginning to fade.

I had a couple of too hot/too crowded slightly dizzy spells today but managed with the help of event staff and festival goers to cope. After the first panel this morning I also realised that the best thing to do wa sto arrive about 10 minutes before the panel was due to start and the crowds would already have gone in, and then go out when the questions started. The only things this didn’t work for was the Crime Files flash giveaway and the Orion Proof Party. If there are free books in the offing people go a bit mad and you have to get there early.

I visited the WH Smiths book tent and bought four books then had a wander ’round.

The first panel of the day was ‘Emerald Noir’. The panel were witty and insightful, discussing their books and characters, and influences. The liminality of borders, physical and psychological, and the importance of language were repeated themes.

Second panel was ‘A Class Act’. I wasn’t as impressed or entertained by this one and due to being overwhelmed by the first event, too hot and anxious I had to use my fidget cube until someone at the other end of the row whined that it was distracting. Me having a meltdown would have been rather more so. I left half hour in to get some air and went for my dinner

I felt rather lost and alone at this point as I hadn’t bumped into anyone I knew from Twitter and blog tours. So I went to the Crime Files pop up stand in the beer tent and had a chat. I found out about their Flash Giveaway at 3pm so I made plans to get to that early because they had limited books.

I also went back to the book shop and bought three more books. I found an empty table between the beer tent and the bookshop and started reading one of my new purchases, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra in the rain. It was drizzling all day but not enough to be worth putting my jacket on for. I blame Val McDermid’s singing. Or Nicola Sturgeon for bringing Scottish weather with her.

Next up was the ‘Pace’ panel. It was okay. I learnt this and that, about the importance of cutting to maintain pace but it was all a bit here and there. I left as soon as questions started to go to the loo then went straight to Crime Files to get in the queue. Luckily, I got close to the front and got my copy of The Perfect Wife, which is now in my suitcase with the other eleven books I acquired today.

The break was good, I needed to get away from people again and found a table on the lawn to myself. People were standing around smoking and it made me cough so I gave up and went back inside, after gawking at Nicola Sturgeon again. She was sat at the table to the right of mine.

‘Antipodean Noir’ was the final panel for me today. I really enjoyed it, the writers were funny and I found their reflections on the differences between Britain and Australia, and New Zealand interesting, as I had the thoughts of the Irish/Northern Irish authors in the morning. Especially the differences in language use and cultural references. I had bought a book by one of the authors, Vanda Symon, so I went to meet her to have my book signed in the WH Smith tent. I was the first in the queue just to see her.

After that I headed to the Orion Proof Party. It was incredibly busy because the Jo Nesbo talk was happening in the Ballroom at the same time and the queue went from one side of the hotel to the other. I met a couple of people and chatted while we waited to get in. I picked up three books and then had one of my too hot/too many people moments and had to be helped out of the room. I got settled, had tea and scones while talking to a couple of people, and found out we sort of recognised each other from bookblogger Twitter.

Vanda Symon joined us and I went back into the library to see if there was anything left. I got the last book.

After that I chatted some more then came back to the hotel. Took some photos for Twitter so my friend Mon could see what I’d been up to and then went for tea.

I had planned to head back to the festival for the Black Thorn Black Out event at 8pm but by the time my meal arrived and I’d eaten it was almost 8pm, I was tired and decided to come back to my room and write this post instead. I’m going to put my pjs on and get back to reading one of the three books I brought with me – you know, just in case I didn’t buy any while I was here. I’m pleasantly full of food, tired, not in pain and less anxious than I was yesterday so it hasn’t been a bad day.

More fun planned for tomorrow!

Night.

Entry 3: 21:16

A couple of accessibility issues I noticed.

  • Water was not easily available, I needed to be sign-posted to find the water coolers, and was denied water when I desperately needed it because one of the few, and nearest, water coolers was in the ‘Friends of the Festival’ Lounge. Even in an emergency I wasn’t allowed to get a cup of water.
  • The use of bounce microphones during Q&A sessions. It’s a microphone in a box, you’re supposed to throw and catch it. As has been raised by disability activists, this makes it difficult for people with limited mobility or motor skills to take part, because you can’t catch the thing.
  • No quiet area, at all. It was drizzling all day, the tents and hotel were busting at the seams and it wasn’t quiet outside either. I wore my headphones all day just to cope.
  • You couldn’t stay in your seat between panels. I’d have liked to get settled in for the day but they threw everyone out between panels.
  • The only food onsite was expensive.

It’s fine having disabled access cards and providing wheelchair spaces, and allowing people to leave whenever they wanted, but it’s the little things like easy access to water or a quiet room to unwind in would make things better.

Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate: Day One

Entry 1: 14:45

After an early start, due to massive anxiety, I caught my first train. It was on time and everything. The TransPennine Express is reasonably comfortable, and from Grimsby to Scunthorpe I had 1st Class all to myself.

Yes, I travel first class when I can. I need the extra leg room and the quiet. TPExpress trains don’t have a quiet carriage and the standard class carriages can turn into a scrum on a bad day.

So, I got to Doncaster on time and made use of the LNER 1st class lounge to get a cuppa and water. I’ve never been in there before, and since I’m getting the Northern rattletrap on the return journey I won’t be again, at least not this time. It was very comfortable. The train was late and I had to go across to platform 8 but it’s a warm, muggy day so sitting outside wasn’t too horrendous. I drank my hot chocolate – I filled up my travel cup while I was in the 1st class lounge – and waited, wrote some Twitter poetry about being anxious and tried to read some more of The Quaker, but it just wasn’t doing anything for me (see review post).

The LNER train was comfortable, again 1st class. It was better than the TPExpress, more leg room and a free drink, but the carriage was bigger and there were more people. It was the London King’s Cross to Leeds train so I was joining it late. Definitely impressed, and should I make any trips to London. I’m going to try to book far enough in advance that I can afford to go first class. I had a decent chair and table to myself. Not a big table, but better than the ones on the TPExpress.

Having got to Leeds late I missed my connection to Harrogate, but another one was due at 1315. I got that one. Northern have definitely improved their carriages. It was much better than the almost a tram I’ve been on on that route before.

I got to Harrogate about 1420, and after a taxi ride to the Premier Inn, I got here at 1430. To find that the computer system had crashed and I couldn’t check in yet. I’m in the bar using my portable wifi to write this. I’ll update later.


Entry 2: 21:28

Well, I’m back at my hotel after my first foray to The Old Swan.

It was terrifying. I didn’t know anyone. there were crowds, it was noisy. I went to the reception tent for help. Got a programme so I can plan my weekend and because I mentioned getting PIP they gave me an access pass so I could get in first for events. It sort of helped, but I wandered around confused a lot and ended up in the short queue walking in tight little circles like I normally do when I’m heading into a meltdown.

I’ve come back to my hotel rather than network and drink with everyone else because I’m in pain. Can’t decide if it’s from too much walking or anxiety. I’m really not up to socialising tonight, maybe I’ll try again tomorrow?

But what happened at the awards, I hear you ask.

There were speeches from one of the organisers, I didn’t catch her name, from the sponsor’s representative, Simon Theakston, and from the award presenter Mark Lawson. They were all very funny.

Mr Lawson invited all the nominees up on to the stage one at a time to talk about their books. They were also amusing. Boris Johnson kept getting a mention.

Ian Rankin presented the award for outstanding contribution to crime writing to James Patterson. He was marvellously hilarious.

Then, Simon Theakston opened the golden envelope, and announced the winner.

The winner of the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year 2019 went to Steven Cavenagh, for Thirteen.

Now, if you’ve read my reviews of the shortlist books, you’ll know I struggled with this one. Courtroom thrillers just aren’t my thing, but the judges liked it so who’m I to disagree. I’m only a little book blogger.

Oh and for people who are in Harrogate, I’m the big, fat woman who wears headphones all the time.