I’ve welcomed in an old friend this morning, and she’s happily making herself at home. At the moment she’s lying over my chest making each breath a shallow grab.
I don’t like her, but instead of kicking her out, I’ve fed and watered her, and you know what happens when you feed someone; you make them feel welcome.
Her name is guilt, and I don’t have the space for her, nor the time to entertain her – she’s very demanding. I don’t want her here, she reduces me, but I haven’t quite found the right words to convince her to leave.
Why did I invite her in? Because I didn’t complete the task I had set myself. Because I didn’t live up to my own expectations. Because I failed at achieving the arbitrary level that I had chosen for myself.
It’s been a long weekend.
More than that… it’s been a long few weeks.
The past couple of weeks have been fuelled by my visitor. She has been driving me to do more, contact more, get on with more.
She does not inspire action, she beats the energy out of me. She takes the things I enjoy and empties them of their purpose.
I’m not giving all the information I should be – this weekend was the final Fringe Theatre performance of my play, The Duck, for this year. It was to be at a small Fringe Theatre Festival in Stroud (about three hours’ drive from where I live) and I needed to market it.
One of the activities that I’ve always found soothing is origami. I love the gentle fold of the paper. The clean lines, the slow growth of something three dimensional, from the emptiness of a flat piece of paper.
It started with flowers. I would make hundreds upon hundreds of paper lilies or roses. So many that I had to find ways to give them away. I would appear with bunches of paper flowers for all occasions.
Origami is a magical thing. When you are sitting in public, it becomes acceptable to keep your eyes down, and your concentration visibly elsewhere, when your hands are creating beauty.
It brings conversation to something I have an interest in. It leads social interactions in a route that suits my natural drives. All without me having to reveal anything. All organically. I am being artistic, not anti-social.
It seemed a natural step for me, to create flyers for the play that could be folded into ducks. It was another way to show the patterns of my autism, it was another way to show who I am and how I think. This play is about being an autistic woman, it is about someone like me, so everything around it should have meaning; it should have a purpose.
But last week demanded that I fold enough ducks for the audience and to hand out, and in the demands that my visitor placed upon me, I lost the joy of the smoothness in my fingers. I found paper-cuts and imperfect lines, and lost my purpose.
This is what I fear, anyway, but it’s not true. Not completely. Yes I placed demands upon me, to do something I otherwise love, but that didn’t mean that each duck created didn’t get a moment of my consideration. I wondered where they would end up. Who they would be? Would they be discarded and lost, or seen for the love that they are? Each token a gift from me, just as important as my words.
But I know that other people don’t work the same as me. I know they don’t notice the details, and I have no expectations that my offering will find a home. Gifts stop being about the giver once they have been given, they have their own path.
I leave the house, and she tags along. The air is heavy with water. Cobwebs hang low and tinkle like diamond necklaces. I am wrapped in the soft rhythm of dripping water, from a dew so weighted that it emptied the barrel of all it had.
Sound is deadened by droplets, and it makes me feel wrapped up and held close. I smile.
She gets into the car with me, and sings along as I drive.
She turned up the moment that I gave myself permission not to stay for the last performance on Sunday. She didn’t care that I’d spent hours on preparation; that I’d been running at full capacity for days; that I was beyond exhausted and had done so much already.
She didn’t care that I have a life to lead. It was as though she hadn’t even watched my play – she was so convinced that I deserved the label of “lazy”.
The problem is, that I invited her in, because I wanted to be there. I love speaking to people afterwards and hearing their reactions and realisations. I love it when people feel validated, or begin to understand. I love the growth and the emotion.
I let her in because I felt that I missed out, and they missed out, and it all would have been complete if I could have just held on another twelve hours.
Realistically, what would that time have cost me? Honestly? Days.
I could feel the telltale signs of my limits, and the migraines and pain that would follow if I didn’t ease back.
I could feel the bone-weariness, and the loss of processing, that leaves me vulnerable and empty.
I let her in because I wasn’t strong enough to keep her out, but I was strong enough to say, ‘Enough! I am tired and need to stop now. I am allowed to stop now.’
She’ll leave if I ignore her for long enough.
As for the rest, was it worth it? It was. The play was beautifully performed by Lucy Theobald. She held the audience alone, and connected, and comforted, and moved the words from here to there with such power. I am always in awe.
I got to meet a whole host of fascinating people; old friends and new. I got to overhear people discussing the play – not knowing I was there – and the passion and seed of understanding that had been planted in the non-autistic mind was nothing less than joyous.
I got to be welcomed into the warmth of a new home, and shown kindness and care and generosity of spirit, and that is always a beautiful and affirming thing.
I got to speak to a man who stated he had no way at all with words, but then described the beauty of a train-ride through architectural history, so vividly, that there was no way his first statement was true.
I got to see a stone wall, swaying and crumpled with age. Bowed and crushed and undulated by its presence through time.
I got to see beautiful graffiti that captured the essence of a smile more perfectly than the Mona Lisa ever could.
I got to watch the world pass by, and made ducks with strangers who gave me flowers in return.
I got to be fully present in the moment, and when that moment was done I got to watch people react to my life on stage. I got to see people laugh at the ridiculousness of humanity. I got to see their discomfort and their tears at things some of them would never feel, but with the right words, could imagine.
I marvelled at the power of the arts to impart wisdom and knowledge. I marvelled at how vulnerable, people make themselves when they connect. I marvelled at humanity. I marvelled at my people who came from far afield to be a part of my world and to feel reflected or acknowledged.
I wanted more of the same, but my limits had other ideas, and I made the right decision at the right time.
In the not-so-distant past I would have handed my visitor a stick to beat me with, and let her propel me into pain and loss, but not now. Now she will sit a-while and politely make uncomfortable small-talk and sip from a china teacup.
Maybe sometime in the future I won’t invite her in. I shall see her passing by, and wave through the window, but keep my door closed. I hope so. Guilt is a terrible guest to have – she never brings biscuits or wine, and she drains the fun from the room.
After this cup of tea, I’m going to tell her that I have plans. I’m going to find the right words to usher her out the door. This weekend was a wonderful thing, and I’m tired of her badmouthing it.
She’s not a true friend.
Not at all.
To find out more about ‘The Duck’ you can visit the Autact website where there will be details of any future performances.