Worse Things Happen At Sea

Having a group of strangers in an enclosed cruise ship at sea with no sight of land for 4, 5 or more days can lead to a never-ending combination of unforeseen circumstances. What mood are the people in? What is the weather like? Are the seas calm? What condition is the cruise ship in?

               A clue of reading how well a cruise is going to go is the first formal night, if most people dress up the cruise will be fine, if most people don’t dress up the cruise will also be fine. However, if there is a mixture, we are likely to be in for trouble.

               The dreaded announcements always began ‘ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking’. Most non-essential announcements would be made by somebody else, so if it is the captain you know there is trouble brewing. What happened next would usually be decided on how easily understood the captain was. If he (or she) spoke clearly using words people understood we would be fine but if they mumbled, were overly technical or had dodgy English the phones would be ringing for hours. The complaints would come before the announcement had even finished.

               ‘what is he saying’

               ‘I don’t know, I can’t hear it either as you are yelling at me’

               It could be bad weather is coming, it could be a technical problem with the ship, it could be a problem in a port meaning we can’t go, it could be an outbreak of illness. Either way, we escaped quickly as there is nothing that can be done and we all know how ugly it gets.

               In my time at sea, we sailed through force 12 storms, had a fire, ‘lost’ people overboard, got detained by various local authorities, had people arrested, several deaths, any number of power failures but even after all that the idea of the entire ship being quarantined in Japan (one of the strictest countries cruise ships go to) is something of unimaginable horror.

               There is no doubt, the guests will be well looked after. Yes, they are stuck inside but sitting on a balcony for two weeks in beautiful weather while people are paid to bring you food and drink three times a day is hardly the ‘prison’ the news are making it out to be. What nobody seems to be focussing on is how terrible this must be for the people who work onboard and are also quarantined. Nobody is coming to relieve them; the workload is the same, the social rooms will be closed, every conversation will be full of questions nobody knows the answers to and there is no hope of shore leave.

               So, lets think not only of the people ‘imprisoned’ in five star luxury but the people working 14 hours a day (for no extra money) keeping them in this luxury. The crew of the Diamond Princess are nothing short of amazing.

Isolation

I am 37-years old. I work for myself and I live alone. I can’t imagine a scenario when I would choose to change this. I understand myself and my needs, I know my own ways and find the rest of the world difficult. I really don’t understand why anyone would be interested in me, as I am not really interested in anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate others, I just don’t get them. Other people are erratic, confusing and contradictory.

For me, the easiest communication is written. Anything else is pressurised and time restricted. I can’t follow facial expressions, vagueness, abstract concepts or tones of voice. I seem to upset other people, I don’t mean to, I just don’t get what they mean, I don’t understand why can’t people just be clear as to their meaning?

I choose to be alone because it is more straightforward that way. I can get overloaded easily, people call me insensitive, I find the emotions of other people very hard and would rather not be involved in them.

On the TV dramas, people like me are called loners. Sometimes ‘dangerous loners’. We are the people the neighbours are suspicious of, the people who are arrested in TV dramas, but we are not scary, just different and often scared ourselves. The world is confusing and unpredictable.

The word seems to come with a stigma. If I tell people what I am, perhaps I would be considered high-risk, I fear the people with the clip boards will do ‘an assessment’ and replace me ‘for operational reasons’ with somebody ‘neuro-normative’. The normal people are more acceptable to the insurance company. Then what would happen to me? Not disabled enough for benefits, not abled enough to work. Isolation is the best choice, stay out the way, off the radar, out of sight, out of mind and nobody’s responsibility.

I got a mobile phone twelve years ago, it still only ever had 7 contacts, 6 of them I haven’t called in years (one of them I can’t even remember), the other is my boss and who I try to avoid calling for anything at all.

A recent survey I found on the internet said that changes, social situations and unexpected changes all lead to ‘too much information’. It also said that 79% of people like me are isolated.  For me (any many other like me) this is a conscious choice, a way of living. I wouldn’t want to change this; I like how things are on my own, steady, consistent and predictable. For some people, isolation is an accident, a terrible circumstance, a negative. However not for me.

I am isolated, I am autistic, I am fine.

Test at the till

               When did paying for things in a high street shop become so complicated? I am sure that it used to be the case, the cashier told the customer how much they owed, the customer paid and then the transaction was over. This is no longer the case.

Take Subway as an example. The questions keep on coming until my brain melts. I have no idea what bread, what sauces or what salad I want with my sandwich and without testing them all I will never know. Then when I ask for a recommendation, the so-called ‘sandwich artist’ has no idea.

This week I popped into the chemist on the high street. The reason for this was mainly because it had started raining and thought it would be a nice waste of time. I picked up a small box of plasters and took them to the checkout. I had the correct change and was ready to go… Then came the exam.

               ‘Do you need a 5p bag’ – That is an easy one. ‘No its small enough to fit in my pocket’

               ‘Do you have a loyalty card’ ‘No’

               ‘Do you want to take out a loyalty card’ ‘No’ I am starting to remember why I hate high street shopping.

               ‘Would you like to see our special offers?’ The assistant is still holding the plasters hostage in her hand, a queue is starting to build and I am starting to get edgy. ‘No thank-you, just want the plasters’

               ‘Can I give you a copy of our Christmas brochure?’ No, Why do they even have a brochure? I should have just kept walking in the rain.

               ‘Would you like to leave your email address so I can send you a copy of the receipt?’ AAHHH why is this so hard?

I make a mental note never to go to Superdrug again. I swear University Challenge in another language with the sound off would be easier than this.

Next time I will just use Amazon.

I am autistic

The Autism Act (2009), Equality Act (2010) & Care Act (2014) have made life much easier for autistic people. Now local authorities, employers, government agencies and service providers are obliged to train their staff and cater for autistic adults.

I know this, and I know it would make my life much easier to let people know but this seems such a huge thing to do. What if a huge commotion is caused? I don’t need lots of meetings or assessments or people whispering behind closed doors. I also have no interest in filling quotas for ‘disadvantaged groups’.

One of the biggest things I have trouble asking for is for ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be made (despite the fact they legally have to be made). I can’t be bothered explaining to people who don’t understand, what counts as a reasonable adjustment and the idea of being at the centre of a drama is terrifying.

Yet due to the levels of greater awareness and the increasing legislation, I am starting to find that people know.

The first time I told a stranger I was autistic was the optician. I find medical stuff very hard, in fact the previous time I went for an eye test, I got so stressed I feinted. Yet as soon as I said I was autistic, the whole demeanour of the optician changed and the appointment went fine.

A couple of months later, I messed up my tax return. Having such a long and complicated form to fill in, is so tough and this year I got it completely wrong. I was so worried about phoning Inland Revenue, I didn’t sleep for three days. I even practised phoning the number the day before. Yet when I said I was autistic, the tax inspector sorted it within seconds (and found additional savings, I wasn’t even aware of).

More recently, I have told people on two other occasions – once at the GP surgery, once at the council office. Both times the clouds lifted. In fact, I got very stressed at the council office and the official stepped away and let me gather before carrying on.

Part of my late autism diagnosis is not just learning how is affects me but how it affects how people deal with me. If I can carry on being strong and telling people I come into contact with, my life will be simpler. But this is still so scary…

Icelandic Rollercoaster

This week, I decided to treat myself to a little ‘something for the weekend’. It has been a long, cold week and I felt like I deserved a bottle from my local high street frozen food emporium

Then something happened to me which has not happened in over a decade. The checkout operator needed the supervisor’s approval to sell it to me. I was overcome with emotion. Firstly, I am nearly 40, yet this man thinks I might be 18. The sea air must be working, how brilliant. Then panic, do I have any ID with me? I start tearing through my bag in anticipation while the queue builds up and we all await the arrival of the supervisor.

A lady arrives dressed in a Christmas tree jumper and reindeer antlers. However it seemed her mood did not match.

‘Hello, you look ready for Christmas’ I say. To which she replies ‘yeah, he’ll do’ and walks off again.

Despite the fact, I clearly didn’t have any ID, I was a little crushed. She could have played along a little better. To add insult to injury, the man behind the till proceeded to take his glasses off, rub them on his jumper and look at me again.

I quickly paid up and decided to go to the Co-Op next time.

Any Dream Won't Do

If there is one thing I would love to change about myself is that I would like to stop dreaming.

To clarify, I don’t mean aspirations for improvement I mean the middle of the night sleeping kind.

The problem is whereas everyone else I feel like everyone else dreams like riding on top of a whale or meeting somebody famous or doing something courageous. Or else terrifying dreams of fighting or flying or falling…

Many people don’t remember their dreams but I remember mine every night because they are always so boring. I don’t know what it says about me, perhaps I lack imagination but I have been afflicted by dull dreams for years. Recent examples include;

  • Trying to load a new printer cartridge
  • Finding the right change in a shop
  • Choosing a new brand of toilet cleaner
  • Checking the clock to see I have hours of sleep left
  • Filing an expenses form
  • Ironing (I mean really, who dreams about ironing?)

Then when I do wake up, I wake up annoyed that, once again, my brain has failed to be more creative. I hear some people wake up angry, some wake up crying, some wake up laughing. I just wake up bored.

It all goes to show Andrew Lloyd Webber is wrong. Any dream won’t do.

Not so Dyer

“I know today’s been strange, everyone asking you things, I’ve got some good news, well you know all those doctors asking you questions, they told us you’ve got a special power, and there is a special word for it, autism”

This is a quote from an episode of EastEnders broadcast on Thursday 14th November which I must have watched that clip at least a dozen times.

It was a Dad talking to his child about a something that I never recall being discussed in such a mainstream way. During the last few years people with autism have replaced ‘dangerous loner’ as the new boogieman and it being described as having a ‘superpower’ to the millions of soap viewers feels like a watershed moment. I can’t imagine how different my life would have been if this had happened twenty years ago and somebody described me as having a superpower.

               As an autistic man in his late 30s, I am not sure how much I can relate to the term ‘superpower’ but have heard it used before and can understand how for kids must be amazing.

               The National Autistic Society writes

  • ‘Autistic people have a unique and individual view of the world which lots of people who aren’t autistic can find interesting, refreshing and valuable’
  • ‘Autistic people have distinctive vision and are able to notice detail others would miss. They also have a strong drive towards finding explanations’
  • ‘Autistic people are likely to better remember information, routine or processes that they have learned’

Perhaps these things could be considered superpowers, I am often complimented on my research and organisation, and I think these might be more useful in the real world than some powers the heroes Marvel invent.

I really hope this is the start of a campaign of understanding that autism doesn’t have to be a negative and that people like me can not only contribute to society but enhance it.