The hardest thing about looking after a baby is not a single, groundbreaking event like a giant poo or a sudden explosive scream just as you’re settling down to dinner. It’s not a night without once closing your eyes or an entire day of crying. It’s subtler than that, the accumulation of lots of little events, weeks of broken sleep, and the general running down of your energy reserves, but when it comes, it’s no less impactive than a Mike Tyson slap round the face.
One day you wake up and find that things just aren’t funny anymore.
At five this morning I came downstairs with the baby to discover the dog had, in her infinite generosity, left me some chocolatey gifts all over the kitchen. And not crisp, tempered chocolates, but some kind of squidgy, runny mousse that has somehow stained the lino black as though we’ve spilt oil on the floor. Normally I’d think, ‘Wow, what a great anecdote to add to my ever-growing pile of gross-out fun!’ Instead, I cleaned it up with about half a roll of toilet paper, disinfected my hands, and set about feeding Izzie.
I think the funk set in yesterday. I’m particularly good at what we in the autism community call ‘masking’. This is using your intellect to compensate for your condition and thereby mask your symptoms. It was the reason it took until I was 28 to receive a diagnosis. It’s not being dishonest, simply that we’ve learnt to hide the more ‘out there’ aspects of our autism in an attempt to fit in.
Unfortunately, the more tired I become, the less capable I am of consciously suppressing my autistic behaviours. Thus, if I’m not paying really close attention, I start taking everything literally; I lose the ability to understand when someone is joking; my social filter stops working; I start being pedantic and pernickety; I become paranoid because I can’t figure out why people are behaving the way they are; my mind starts to trip over the rapid flow of thoughts; and I act out my obsessive tendencies.
Yesterday we went out for coffee with some family and family friends. Because I pay close attention to every little detail in a social interaction to know when to speak, what to talk about, I don’t miss a trick, so I noticed that every time I spoke, two of the people around the table looked at one another, made a face, and laughed. I watched them while other people spoke, and nothing. I spoke, same response – they looked at one another, made a face, and laughed.
Thinking I might be paranoid, I went to the toilet, cleared my head, returned and tried again. Same thing. They were mocking me.
I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Was I speaking too loud? Off topic? In an odd register? Was I saying things inappropriate to the context? Sure, I was discussing how Izzie seems to have a hard nugget of poo in her rectum which backs up a sausage and a tin of mushy peas, but they had asked how she was doing and nobody was eating at the time. Then I was mentioning my orthodontic treatment as a teenager, how they wanted to break my jaw, bring it forward and insert a false chin to line up my teeth, but instead I opted for an agonising headbrace. I’m not sure what’s so amusing about that. One of them said they kept all of their child’s teeth and had them in a box – I said they should make them into a bracelet, but that was considered horrible. Well, you’re the one collecting teeth like a kleptomaniac tooth fairy!
Later, I had a row with Lizzie. As she is also autistic, she can similarly struggle to see things from another’s perspective i.e. mine. I didn’t feel she was giving me my due for doing the nights and allowing her to get a full night’s sleep, every night. In fact, I turned very much into a woman. ‘You just don’t understand how hard it is,’ I said in my whiniest voice. ‘You go out with your friends and come home and just watch TV. You don’t pay me any attention anymore. I feel like a single father. I just want a little consideration, and wah, wah, self-pitying wah.’
In the ensuing argument she grew defensive and said some things she shouldn’t have, and which I should have known not to take seriously, but I did. And all I could think during the argument was, ‘Why are you saying nothink? There isn’t a k in it, the word is nothing. And stop saying miwk, it’s milk. This Estuary English is entirely inappropriate for someone born and raised in Dorset!’
We made up, but when she went out in the evening with the baby, instead of having a rest I spent three hours obsessively looking up Spanish swear words on the internet. They mostly cast aspersions on the sexual behaviour of one’s mother. But I can think of better things I could have been doing instead.
So here we stand, or rather sit, with Izzie fixing me with her creepy unblinking gaze as she has done the past few hours. If she’d only cry, I’d be able to deal with it: why the hell is she just looking at me?
I need to regain my sense of humour. You lose that, next comes misery, self-harm and suicide. Or, at the very least, socks with sandals and an interest in snooker. And I need to find it fast: nobody can survive a baby without it.