Happy birthday to me | Hux Tales

This week was my birthday.

Not my real birthday as in the day I emerged into the world, twenty three days late and pretty mardy about it; that’s back in September.

But this day is my real birthday in another way. On Monday was one year since I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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I’m sure it probably seems weird to celebrate a diagnosis, but hear me out.

I have spent my whole life knowing I was different, but not being able to put my finger on it. There were certainly parts of my personality and interests that were different from many of the other kids – nerdy, book obsessed, awkward, not remotely interested in fashion – and a regular target for bullying. I managed to get through school and university by surrounding myself with like-interested people, good kind people who didn’t mind that I was a bit odd, or even better, cherished it.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that a friend of mine was diagnosed with Asperger’s that I started realising this was probably the missing keystone. This friend and I have long joked that actually we must have the same genetics, as we both have non-epileptic seizures, wonky joints, an insensitivity to gluten, anxiety in all the same places… and it was only when I looked into Asperger’s* that I realised it was me.

That realisation was really freeing. I had a name for my differences, for how I saw the world, how I experienced it. And I immediately stopped beating myself up about it. Once I got the final stamp of approval pictured at the top, the last vestiges of attempting to remodel myself as a neurotypical person flew out the window. I’m autistic, I’m different, and that’s actually really cool.

I also looked extremely cute this week tbh

It is not a panacea, of course. Being autistic isn’t all super awesome, as it comes along with a bunch of comorbid conditions, both mental and physical health. I still have the hang ups, the trauma, but I genuinely care less.

I used to celebrate November because (and this is going to sound weird) it was when my seizures came back after my last trip to the Philippines. This marked a seriously dark time in my life where I realised I had to give up diving, but being the person I am, I refused to let myself slip into that place, got a job at a marine focused charity in London and carved out a new life. That is what I used to celebrate, the refusal to let my body get the best of me, remembering that each change to my life is an opportunity for something new.

I’ve now switched it over to my Autism Diagnosis, but essentially the reasoning is the same. I found something new out about myself. My life changed. But I still have control of it. It is still very much my life and I’m in the immensely privileged position to be able to live as I do.

What has changed in the last year?

I got Nerys! She’s my little daemon and also my emotional support dog. In the UK, this type of service dog has no legal recognition but they are a big deal in America, so I hope one day in the future they’ll be recognised. Basically, she goes everywhere with me, she helps me feel less anxious, she reminds me to look after myself by looking after her too. She’s helped me knock a big chunk of my anxiety about going outside out of the park (not literally) and means I go outside much more.

At 5 weeks old on the day we met and at 9 months old

I stopped being a booksellerMy health was making working in a bookshop very difficult and so it became unsustainable to continue working such a physically demanding job. I miss aspects of it every single day, which is why my social media has become so book intense.

I came out as nonbinary! This is something I have sort of known about myself forever, living in the space of not-girl and not-boy, but only having the word “tomboy” to describe it. In terms of the “I always knew” narratives of LGTBQ lives, while I didn’t know I was queer for a very long time, I have had what I now recognise as gender dysphoria for much of my life. But, it wasn’t until I started reading about autism, and how many of us are trans, the intersection of those two identities, that I realised that I was two for two.

I’ve been out-ish to some people in the past few years as I felt it out (admittedly, mostly only to other non binary people and Tim), but this year I started using the phrase more, talking about it more, told my sister and my parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns, and whether I ever want to masculinise my appearance to be a bit more in line with how I see myself. At the moment, I’m sticking as I am, feeling out my happiness in open about it. I’m considering buying a binder, though I’ve found that throwing out some clothes that would trigger my dysphoria has really helped. For now, sports bras do the trick and aren’t incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

I moved in with my inlaws! Tim and I realised that our rental situation was financially precarious and moved to the West London suburbs to live with his parents. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this, and they’ve been really caring and kind to us. We both miss our old flat a lot, but I was waking up overstimulated every single day due three building sites semi adjacent to our building. It was the right decision, not least because now I get to see fields from my window.

I helped start a independent publishing press! Literally I’m never going to stop mentioning 3 of Cups Press, go admire our website and preorder our first book On Anxiety which publishes in January!! We are launching our second book on Kickstarter in early 2018 and submissions for our future books shortly after that, so follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter and get ready for a 2018 of amazing new authors. I’ve got a bundle of other creative things that I can’t announce right now so I’m positively vibrating with secrets.

Writing it down… wow. A lot has happened. And you know what? I feel great about it. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself lately, so I say happy birthday to me.

 

* A little aside: in the UK, people who fit the Asperger’s criteria are now more likely to get an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, but my report made it clear that I also fit the Asperger’s profile. Asperger’s has been integrated into ASD along with a couple of other conditions.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them there or in a larger Q&A type post.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen | 1 Minute Reviews

The wonderful Chloe Sackur from Andersen Press sent me over this copy to read after I sent out a general request for neurodiverse characters in YA on Twitter. Unfortunately, between moving house, this copy got buried in the wrong box (cursing past me’s terrible packing) and so this review is a long time coming.

I need to tell you what a joy this book is.

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Let’s set the scene – I read this entirely on September the 6th, a day when I was feeling really unwell and was confined to my bed. I needed something to lift me up and picked up We Are All Made of Molecules hoping for a slightly weepy overall warm hearted novel to pull me through the day. Safe to say I found it.

We Are All Made of Molecules follows Stewart and Ashley, two polar opposites who are about to be part of one family. The premise instantly made me think of Popular, a sadly short American teen series that I treasured in my youth by the creator of Glee. But I digress, let’s focus on Ashely and Stewart.

Ashley is a complex and generally rather unlikeable character. She’s popular and cool but has clearly won that privilege through cruelty to those around her. Her grades are terrible but she’s more concerned about the school finding out her parents divorced because her dad is gay. There’s some low key homophobia on Ashley’s part, handled incredibly gracefully by Nielsen might I add. Purposefully unlikeable main characters aren’t common in YA fiction, and Ashley’s character arc is a particularly interesting one because of this.

Stewart I fell in love with immediately because he’s a tiny little geek. I kept seeing criticism on GoodReads that he’s written “too young” when it’s immediately clear to me that Stewart is autistic – he mentions trouble with socialising, understanding intentions, stress incontinence, out of place facts and humour, attended a school for gifted children. Nielsen doesn’t say the a-word but it’s 100% clear to me, with Nielsen providing one of the most delicate, thoughtful examples of an autistic character I’ve ever seen.

Needless to say, combining these two under one roof is not exactly going to be an easy ride. While Stewart tries to reconcile living in a new home that has no shred of his now deceased mother with ensuring his new housemates aren’t too disrupted, Ashley is falling in love… or maybe just lust with the new mysterious and handsome boy in school. Not only that, but Ashley’s dad is living in the house in the garden where his new beau keeps showing up. Will Stewart and Ashley find a common ground as step-siblings? Will she ever learn to pronounce Schrödinger’s name correctly?

The prose is punctuated by graphical representations of Stewart’s thought processes, and the POV is split between Ashley and Stewart in alternating short chapters. There are complex topics and emotions running wild amidst this relatively small fast paced book, but it never feels heavy. Nielsen writes with flair, humour and grace, weaving these delicate storylines together without ever feeling clunky or overwrought. Not only does We Are All Made of Molecules touch on combined families, homophobia and grief, but Nielsen also explores ableism, consent, peer pressure, toxic friendships and various flavours of bullying. I’m really impressed by this book and look forward to expanding my Nielsen collection.

Interested? Get it here.

A small note: there are discussion questions in the back, making this an excellent young adult book group choice!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Chloe at Andersen Press for sending me this copy.

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida | 1 Minute Reviews

Back when I was still wandering the waters of am I autistic, I read Naoki Higashida’s first book The Reason I Jump. I was on a train from the bookshop in the Chilterns back to my regular bookshop to meet my colleagues for work drinks, and I whizzed through it. I arrived flapping and buzzing with information, which they kindly took on board even though I was definitely oversharing in that autism specific interest kind of way.

When the publicity bods at Hodder told me last year that another of Naoki’s books had been translated into English, that rush came back to me.

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Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese man, once again delivers in creating a wonderful book of short essays, poetry and short fiction. This edition was originally published in Japan in 2015, deemed as the most illuminating of Higashida’s books by author David Mitchell. Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 also includes a number of essays that were originally printed in the Japanese edition of The Big Issue, which he quite regularly writes for.

Higashida’s short essays are insightful, illuminating and beautiful; he has a way with words that captivates me. As a mostly non verbal autistic man, he writes about the ways people treat similarly disabled people – talking as though they aren’t there, habitually removing their dignity or choices for the sake of ease, the frustration of being unable to communicate the nuances of your needs. His writing is essential reading for anyone interested in disability rights, as well as for anyone wanting to know more about autistic people.

Living in a way different to everyone else requires a degree of courage.

His poetry is rooted in dreams; simplistic, poignant and beautiful. His writing is lyrical, careful. His observations on human behaviour are astute.

GRATITUDE

The point

of gratitude

lies in first

feeling gratitude

that one owes

gratitude.

As an autistic person, I can say that autistic and neurotypical people will find a lot to love here.

This is a book that can be both devoured in one go and read a short essay at a time. It is a book that settles in your mind, flickering thoughts that linger.

I’m very hopeful that more of Higashida’s books will be translated by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida over the years, as his writing floors me every time.

Buy it from Book Depository!

What to read next:

Want to read more books about or by autistic people? Check out the Essential Autistic Reading List.

Thank you ever so much to Sceptre Books and the team at Hodder for sharing this important book with me.

Autism Q&A | Sew Many Books

I know literally one of the last posts I published was about how I’m stepping back from doing stuff that’s not writing my novel… but I filmed like three YouTube videos today OOPS.

The first is one I promised to do back in Autism Awareness Week in March and decided now was the time to hurry the hell up and do it. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below or the comments on YouTube or tweet me or whatever!

 

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham | 1 Minute Reviews

I wrote the bones of this review back in 2016 when I was sent a pre-publication copy by the lovely people at Ebury Press. This was, importantly, also before I received my diagnosis of autism.

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Chris Packham’s memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a brutal, beautiful book that subverts the memoir genre through inclusion of third person accounts of events involving him. The timeline flicks around, with the Summer of 1975, the Summer of his kestrel, playing a centralised role. Alongside that are his end-of-chapter discussions with his therapist in September 2003, shortly after considering suicide, where he discusses his issues with people – and why he loves animals more than other humans – and his own struggles to navigate a world not built for him.

It’s utterly stunning and I am in awe.

While many nature memoirs tiptoe into the brutalism of nature, Packham strides forward into it – nibbling tadpoles, trying to rescue a drowning fox, stripping meat from bones. It is harsh, just as nature is.

While reading I saw so much of my childhood in his own; a lonely-alone child who dives headfirst into the natural world, where he understands animals while being baffled by humans? Yep, pretty close to the bone here. Mid-reading, I discovered that Packham is autistic, receiving his diagnosis as an adult 2005 which he is only opening up about now, in part due to the release of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.

So much of what happened to him mirrors my own life, making this a book very close to my heart. I feel that the other lonely nature loving autistic children will find much to love here, especially if, like me, they grew up watching Chris on The Really Wild Show.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thanks to Ebury Books for sending me a review copy.

Want to read more books about autistic people? Check out my recommendations on The Essential Autie Book List.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde | 1 Minute Reviews

Interested in reading more books featuring autistic characters or queer characters, check out my lists Queer & Here and The Essential Autie List.

I heard about Queens of Geek thanks to Jim of Ya Yeah Yeah – an autistic girl in a romance novel set at a convention?! I mean, it just screams I gotta read this.

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Queens of Geek is published by the wonderful Swoon Reads, an internet publishing community that allows authors to submit manuscripts which are then voted on, with the best selected for publishing. I’m already considering submitting something, once its finished.

Therefore, it wasn’t so easy for me to pick up in a store, especially as it turned out that Jim may have bought the last copy Foyles had for at least a week, and so I ordered it on Book Depository so I could devour it over the bank holiday weekend.

And devour it I did.

Queens of Geek follows three friends – Charlie, Taylor and Jamie – as they arrive at SupaCon, the world’s best fandom convention.

Pink-haired actress-vlogger Charlie is there to promote her indie film alongside her pig-headed ex boyfriend Reese Ryan; will she ever escape questions about their relationship? A chance encounter with her favourite YouTube star Alyssa Huntington brightens the mood, and thus begins the cutest little f/f courting ever. Charlie’s chapters also deal with misogyny within creative industries, where women are asked about their styling, fitness, diets, as opposed to their methods and creativity.

Meanwhile, Taylor is experiencing her first convention alongside beautiful Jamie, who she shared that one non-date date with a few years ago, and nothing more. But she wants more. Definitely. Dressed in full Queen Firestone cosplay, Taylor’s aim is to meet author Skyler before they go (hopefully) go to college in LA, and an opportunity to enter a contest in front of everyone is just what she needs to make it happen, if she’s brave enough.

Taylor’s story resonated with me so much, to the point that I was reading sections of her chapters out to my partner, who’d smile wryly and say “that’s you.” Her fears, her thought patterns, her coping mechanisms. You can tell that this was written by an autistic person, because they just get it. Taylor and Jamie’s romance is also adorable, drawn from a place of intense friendship that made my heart burst.

If you are into your geekery and you really want to read a great romance, then this is the one. Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Sorry I’ve been away; there’s been a lot of puppy poop

Hello chums,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s been rather quiet over here because, in case you don’t have me on any of your social media, I got a puppy this month!

“Her name is Nerys, she’s a Border Terrier and she’s 12 weeks old.” I’ve gotten used to repeating this script over and over this week as walking with her in arms anywhere means a lot of people come over to coo at her.

This is a big deal as I’ve wanted a dog for years to be my pal and help keep me company through seizures and meltdowns, and it’s happened! We’ve had a good fortnight of bonding and now I have to get up and do some work, while also keeping one eye open to spot for rogue indoor wees.

I’ve managed to finish a few things recently so the blog will be getting updated fairly regularly this week, and I’m also still backdating reviews from various online retailers onto here, because I’d never kept them all in one space… like some kind of silly person.

Anyway here she is.

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More soon. x