Book Review: Odd Girl Out by Laura James

When I was about nine, I described something I did at home to a classmate (I’ve forgotten what, but it required a degree of extraversion). “I can’t imagine you doing that” she said “you’re too quiet”. “I’m one of those people who is quiet at school and loud at home” I said.  “What people? Those people don’t exist” she sneered, no doubt confirmed in her view that I was weird.

This was one of many incidents that made me feel an outsider, an odd girl out. It was only in my forties, after my Asperger’s diagnosis, that I found that ‘those people’ DO exist. One of the places I find them is in books like Odd Girl Out by Laura James, Laura recalls being quiet at school and a chatterbox when just around adults. A ‘quiet chatterbox ‘she called herself repeating it over and over in her head adding train noises because it sounded like a train.

Odd Girl Out is a beautifully written and candid memoir tracing the year and a half after of journalist Laura’s autism diagnosis in her mid 40s.  It is honest and unflinching but never depressing or negative as she reflects on her past and begins to comes to terms with her diagnosis, trying to pick out which parts of her were her and which parts were borrowed.

Reading the book has brought up so many memories. I just want to go through it and say “that’s like me” and “that happened to me” and “that” and “that”.

There’s so much in the book I relate to.  From the feeling of uncomfortable outdoor shoes at school to being punished for not being able to eat disgusting school dinners, to living with anxiety and constant fear. From special interests and learning to copy other people to needing routine and things a certain way but being disorganised because of executive functioning problems and much more.

Like me, one of Laura’s special interest is reading. Until I read this book I wasn’t even sure if reading was a special interest. It’s kind of like breathing for me. It didn’t occur to me reading the same book repeatedly, 10, 15, 20 times was unusual – well it’s not if you’re autistic. Like Laura I get to the end of a book and start again from the beginning.  I read fast (I finished this book in three hours and have read it twice now). People often say to me “Have you finished that book? Already??” as if fast reading were some sort of crime.

We are a similar age and read many of the same books . Laura describes reading Jilly Cooper as “you would an instruction manual for a washing machine” looking for answers to life. Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles were part of my guide-to-life reading too. I also recall a family holiday in Wales before I went to a new school. I discovered a second hand bookshop selling old Enid Blytons and quickly became obsessed with Malory Towers. I read and re-read them in the same way Laura describes, looking for instructions to follow for my new school.  When we talk about that holiday, my mum says “Ah yes, Malory Towers”.

I’d recommend this to anyone. For non-autistics it will aid understanding of what being autistic is like and challenge stereotypical views of autism. It should be required reading for anyone who has ever said “she can’t be autistic” or “you don’t look autistic” as it shows how someone can be successful, superficially look like everyone else and yet still be autistic.

I think its main value will be for autistic people. I found reading the book an incredibly validating experience and left me feeling less alone and more sure-footed as an autistic person. I unexpectedly found tears in my eyes unexpectedly on a number of occasions.  I’m sure a lot of other people will get the same validation. I can see it being the book that makes someone who once thought “autistic” an alien word see that, actually, it applies to them.

It helped me as well. When Laura said, a year after her diagnosis she realised she was still “a cat, judging myself by dog behaviour”, it made me sit up. Not just because I use that metaphor too, but because three years after my diagnosis, I am still judging myself by “dog behaviour”  and perhaps this is the root of my depression.

I”m sure I’ll read this book again.  When the world feels spiky and hostile, when I’m crushed by the weight of expectations, when I’m sick and shaky from sensory overload, this book will be a friend to turn to. I’ll relax in to it like a warm comforting bath finding understanding and reassurance that I’m not alone. Odd girl out no more.

 

(Thanks to Bluebird Books for a review copy of the book)

 

Research vs reality

Trigger Warning: Suicidal thoughts plus mention of eugenics

After I wrote my last post, I was surprised that a) I’d found the energy to actually finish a post and b) I felt a bit better. Just sharing those thoughts with the world, even if no-one read them, helped slightly loosen the stranglehold depression had on me. And people did read. Thanks so much to those who liked and commented.  It made me realise I’m not as alone as I thought.  I’m going to try to write more and see if it continues to help me so here I am. Apologies for the depressing content…

Anyway, whilst browsing on Twitter, I came across a Psych Central article: Suicidal Thoughts 10 Times More Likely in Adults With Asperger’s (It’s based on this 2014 study of people diagnosed in Simon Baron-Cohen’s CLASS clinic. I read it, looking for answers, help and understanding. But really it just highlighted the fact that while research may be finding out more about our lives, when it comes to help

Continue reading

Bravery, cowardice and suicidal thoughts

Trigger warning: Please read with caution.Suicide, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, suicide plans. 

 

I haven’t blogged for a while.  I have a number of half written posts in my drafts folder but haven’t been able to finish them.

The reason is, I’m still depressed. The same depression I wrote about at Christmas has persisted and got worse. I suppose you could say it’s reached crisis point.

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#Depression – one autistic person’s experience

I am depressed. ‘Tis the season for it, just before Christmas.  Just to warn you this is a distinctly uncheerful post about depression with a content warning for mention of suicidal thoughts.

I often get depressed close to Christmas, having lost my bearings and my spoons in the race to get ready for the festive season.  It seems the happier everyone arounds me is (or pretends to be) the lower I get. Continue reading

How #LockedInForAutism is hurting #ActuallyAutistic people

(CN Autism described as being locked in a box, autistic people being locked up, abuse of autistic people)

There’s a freakshow coming to your local Tesco supermarket. People are spending 50 hours locked in a glass box. They are Locked In for Autism. It’s a metaphor for autism. Because autism is just like being locked in a glass box in a supermarket.

Only it’s not. Of course it’s not. This is a campaign created by people from UK charity Caudwell Children who are not autistic and that does not represent the experience of autistic people. In fact, this misrepresentation is offensive to the vast majority of autistic people and only serves to perpetuate damaging stereotypes. Continue reading

Unreasonable

Notice Unreasonable beyond this point

“You’re being unreasonable”

My ex said that to me on a regular basis when we lived together. I didn’t always understand what he meant.  How I was being unreasonable? My autism was undiagnosed at the time.

After we split up, I mostly lived alone. I could do what I wanted and nobody would call me unreasonable.

Now I am living with my mum and I’m being unreasonable again. Continue reading