(though not necessarily in that order)

(though not necessarily in that order)

Monday, 26 July 2010

In training...

... not for a marathon. Thankfully. I don't think I'd get very far!

Instead for a residential summer school for my Open University degree.

A phased plan of earlier starts to each day has been going on for weeks. Trying to make the aim of getting to breakfast at 8am not such a shock, as I will end up in a exhausted heap for certain by middle of the week otherwise.

Eating 2 meals a day, I'll try to add in breakfast later on this week. I usually have lunch at a normal time, then a relatively late dinner. However, dinner on summer schools are quite early, so trying to eat early to get used to it.
Quite often, eating in front of others is utterly terrifying. I've just got to do it next week. Quick calming down/grounding techniques have been practised.

Lists are forming. Things to pack: so clothes, washing stuff, technology stuff (iPod, headphones, spare batteries, chargers, alarm clock), studying stuff, stuff I use to help me get the most out of learning (dictaphone, overlay, magnifying bar, green paper...), home comforts (lemon squash and a plastic beaker), weather dependent gear (sun hat, Cagoule), psychology work in case I need to remind myself of things to calm down/keep positive/stay safe, teddy penguin. Things to do before I go (life still continues for this week). Things to do when I get back (need to sort out everything and get back to normal).

I've got the problem of no access to a piano for a week. I might take a flute or recorder + some sheet music to get a music fix if needs be. Not sure if I'll be awake enough or have enough free time to play it though. Until then, I'm savouring each note I play.

I have been practising doing my own hair. Though I'm taking my Dad as my Personal Assistant, he is rubbish at doing my hair. So I've got a few practical hairstyles sorted.

Getting a bit ahead with my other courses, to be able to have a week off from studying for them. Or in the case of one course, planning time into the week after I get back for more time on it than would normally happen.

This level of 'training' might be a bit over the top. It might be all slightly futile and I might still crash and burn. However, it might make what would have been a disaster a success. Or at least a vague success. Or at least not a complete disaster.
Though it is all attempts to seem as functioning and as normal as possible, it is lots of energy before I have even left my house to start the journey.
Here is to me getting through the week, passing the presentation bit at the end of the week, and coming home in one piece. Without tears, complete meltdown, too much over-special treatment, wishes to come home/hide under duvet/run away.

Tomorrow it is an 8am start, so I should be getting to bed soon.

Friday, 23 July 2010

I'm nothing special

I'm nothing special.

People think I am though. For some reason that fact I rush from hither to thither and back again being a busy bee makes people think I'm special. I couldn't hold down a nine-'til-five job at the moment, sitting at a desk for that long would send me mad(der than before). So though I might do several hours of work each day, it isn't all one type of activity. So I might do 4 hours studying, then an hour at the piano, then teach for 2 hours, then do a choir practice. All of those things use different skills, and different things to test me. But each of the skills aren't anything special. I'm a mediocre mathematician, too-ambitious-for-my-ability musician, I'm a bonkers teacher and hugely under-qualified for leading a choir. I'm not good enough to do one thing full-time, even if my brain would allow.

I think the problem is because I've fallen off the rails and then got onto a bike and am now cycling alongside the rails, people think I must be something special. Must be in some way amazing to have got all these things "going for me". Everything in my life now is a case of sheer luck and fortunate timing. My reputation meant I could teach again, somehow my boss wanted me back when I started being able to ride without stabilisers. [Enough of the metaphor, surely? Ed.] Then I decided to apply for a music job, and they gave it to me. Which I'm sure was the most stupid decision these two people made ever (apart from one buying a yellow sports car...) however they did and it was just good timing. Maths-wise, I seriously thought I would never get a degree after blowing what was the chance to change into what I wanted. Thankfully, the one helpful thing my CPN has ever done (and to be honest will ever do) was to suggest the Open University. She thought it might give me back the belief that I hadn't blown my chances completely after the university I was at suggested I needed to be stable for 6 months before attempting to return. It currently is looking like a very good option, even though I'm only half way through the degree.

I'm not special. I've just gone about life in a strange way. After being the mad teenager, some had written me off for life. To be honest I had too, for a bit. However making a life (though not the one I intended) isn't special. Everyone does that, everyone. Every single person who is alive has made their lives, yep with intervention from others, guiding from others, with knockbacks along the way, but lives are what we all do.

I'm not average, I know that, but I'm not special.

I spent my schooling being either completely shunned for being different, or elevated to a position of awe by others. It gets very lonely being like that. Where people can't talk to go for fear you would make them feel stupid, which I never would (and actually the opposite would have happened if they just spoke to me), or people can't speak to you in case you have a meltdown when with them and they don't know how to deal with it.

So, if there is a time you feel inadequate because I'm flitting from one activity to another, it isn't because I'm talented at lots of different things, it is because I need to only dabble in each thing to not get found out that I'm nothing special. I'm sure one day someone will go "But hang on, how can you do that? you aren't in anyway qualified/experienced enough to do that, you fraud." and I'm sure I am a fraud. But I'm a fraud who wangles her way through, trying to make a little difference to the people whose lives I'm involved with in a little way. Because after all, they are making their lives too, eh?

I'm nothing special. I'm lucky that life has given me in effect a second chance. Well, actually after my attempts to end it, it is more like a 7th chance or something. ;) But yeah, I'm nothing special. Just a clumsy person with wild hair and stripy socks on trying to make a life. Some days it works, others it doesn't. But that isn't anything special.

Monday, 19 July 2010


Every time I sit at the piano now I remember there was a time when it was my lifeline, and a time when I couldn't play because my brain wouldn't let me. The pleasure of just sitting at a piano is so huge, I don't care what happens.

This is making for interesting playing. Improvisations which might sound hideous to an outsider but feel like me speaking the words which I would speak if I could manage to pinpoint the words to use. Fairly competent playings of Beethoven Sonatas, which get better with every run through at the moment (I know that will change at some point). Grabbing some music that happens to be on top of the piano and playing that. Sitting in the almost dark playing Nocturnes by dim lights.

Now, I identify as a musician. Sometimes just because it makes up the majority of my income, sometimes because I can't identify as a mathematician (when having a complete maths fail day). And to be a musician, I must play music. To sit at a piano and not want to get up and run away for fear of a wrong note, or a bad chord, or just not perfect playing feels amazing.

When I was about 14, I used to shut myself in a room in the music department of my school and just play. One person used to come and try to get some words out of my mouth by asking me questions as I played. Or just come and gently drum on the drum kit in there, so I knew I wasn't alone. They are now at one of the best music colleges in the UK. At that point I wore fingerless gloves every day. Another joyous feeling is to remember the first time I took off the gloves and played with bare hands. I wore gloves to hide scars on my hands, but naturally they impacted on my playing.

College required me to play, I was the pianist at the college, so was expected to. But it was a chore rather than a delight.
Then I stopped playing. Finished college. Hospital had knocked the hope out of me that piano playing could make things better. I didn't sit at the piano for months and months. I played my flute whilst in hospital, came out of hospital and didn't played it for months either.

Then last September, the person who was in my job before me announced his resignation. One thing led to another, and I applied and got the job. It meant learning how to play the beast of all instruments confidently again - the organ. Having to sing in front of others again. Having to be a musician again. But the piano became more and more important. At first it was a way of trying out organ pieces for a flavour of them before going to play them on the organ. Then I got out my old piano books. It took until about May before I could start even thinking about playing something new to me on the piano.

Now though, the piano is my companion again. Sounds crass, but it feels like I can play it again. I probably will always remember the time when the piano haunted me as I walked through an unused music room, but now it is part of me again. I can hardly walk through the room without sitting down at the piano to play something - even if just a few bars. Time gets lost as I sit and just enjoy the piano. Lunchtimes rarely are just eating lunch, they include 40 minutes of playing some days.

It feels new and exciting and I'm appreciating it so much more than when I started playing. Today I chose a pile of music a foot high that someone is trying to get rid of to "good homes". Concertos, short pieces, long pieces, nocturnes, stuff that people may want if I ever play "background" music at events again, old pieces, more modern stuff. I'm excited to have it. It feels good.
I'm OK with the wrong notes, the majority will be right. I'm OK with stuff not quite working, tomorrow it might. I'm OK with the piano, that feels just great.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Feelings and Things

To quote a title of a Chick Corea & Gary Burton piece.

Today I feel autistic. It happens less often now as the over-riding feeling, as I just am me, but today I feel autistic. I was in my old secondary school in a professional capacity, and the reason why I was there was great, it was a successful day. However, teachers there now who were around 5 years ago remember me. One wondered where the 4 years since I left have gone went. Another was really happy to see me interacting (hmm). Another just went "Ooo, hello", others went "Nice to see you." I wasn't exactly an easy student, I screwed up. I took up valuable time of people whose jobs it was to run a school when they had to get me safe. Or coordinate meetings about me. Or send memo's to all my teachers. Or search high and low for me when I disappeared. Or ring up poisons units, or psychiatrists, or my parents. Basically I was a bothersome student. Who wasn't exactly average (most qualifications at the end of the time there from my 200-strong cohort, 42% attendance record for the final year there - thus screwing up statistics completely) but did survive through something just short of a miracle.
Anyway, I was in this school, and though some things have changed (room numbering system for one, very confusing) it is still a place with huge memories for me. Trying to be professional when in that environment means seeming more non-autistic than most other people so they don't realise you are still as much of a mental as you were. So staring in corners isn't allowed. Stimming is only allowed if done in a discrete way (no rocking, no odd actions over and over and over). Oh, and perceived eye contact, so the hair lines of people have been focused on today.

On a day to day basis I don't feel *that* autistic, it doesn't impact on all that much negatively as I've created a life suitable to me. I've got my strengths focused on (only physical interaction is music and maths based, bar mental health professionals) rather than my weaknesses (9-5 job, anyone? Socialising in noisy places with mind-screeching music? Erm, being a functioning boring human being...) However when I need to seem non-autistic, then the problems start. I came home after the day and had to sit and stare at something for a while. I sight-read Beethoven sonatas to just be calm, I ate food that wasn't pressured by being watched by others, I basically had to unwind from the day.

For me when I *have* to be a less quirky, more functioning, non-me version of me, it makes the things that make me me seem all the more obvious. I would never choose to sit in a staff room, if I worked in a school (which I may do one day, but not this one) I wouldn't do the staff room unless it was necessary. I'd have to get out of the buildings and disappear off for 10 minutes. I guess this rules out working in a school in a more fixed contract based teaching-classrooms-of-children role, as sometimes things happen in breaks. It is back-up plan for life number 3, so hopefully won't be put into action any time soon. [In case you are wondering ideal plan 1 is being a maths lecturer at a university and living in a place in the middle of nowhere with a piano and not much else, whilst 2 is doing music teaching + SpLDs one-to-one stuff. Plan 4 is to get a job as a crematorium organist, which may just be slightly too morbid for it to be considered acceptable with my background.]

So I feel autistic. And as a result of today, it is 0220 and I am still awake, in my day clothing, and nowhere near ready for sleep. Some things never change, my sleep pattern is always mucked up. While I was a student at this school, I didn't sleep most Sunday-Thursday night times at all, took short naps during the day when I was sent home for being unable to cope, slept all of Saturday afternoon after teaching Saturday mornings, and some of Sunday, before realising school was the next day and being in panic.

I've got another 2 days in the school this week. And a mental appointment in under 8 hours. My room is a tip. I've listened to "Feelings and Things" a few too many times in the writing of this post. So, I bid you a farewell for the day which started as Tuesday, and move onto Wednesday by initiating Mission: Sleep.
From this autistic, quirky, weird, non-"functioning" being, it is time to type for the time being "Me, Out." as if I had a lovely clunky radio in my hand. (except I'm not "Me" then, I've got my own call sign when conversing with my family via radios as we do at times.)