There’s being prepared for the end of the world, and then there’s being prepared for the end of your world.
Becca’s cynical resistance to her parents brainwashing doomsday philosophy strolls right past parental resentment into a full blown secret plan to flee to college on a scholarship and leave it all behind. But she can’t. Not when her Dad has an accident that leaves him in a coma, her mother doesn’t seem to care, and her little sister Katie starts to believe in the fear.
Becca’s plans for the future wither away all alongside Roy, a boy she’s been genetically matched to marry and continue the line of preppers. But a part of Becca’s assumption comes completely undone when the dopey boy next door turns out he doesn’t believe, and he truly loves her.
Discovering allies in each other, they’ll fight not only for their freedom, but each other’s happiness. But when the doomsday prepper community already has their lives planned out, how on earth will they escape?
I loved Becca’s constant pragmatism and resourcefulness, and not because it was how she was raised, but who she was as a person. Evading core beliefs around family is hard and this story felt very much like Becca was in a cult, but they didn’t have a conventional god, their god is fear. It doesn’t stop her grit, determination, or power to do what must be done.
Sling along side it Roy, the guy Becca’s pretending to love, except not only is he lying to everyone about his disbelief, including Becca, he’s not lying when he says he loves her. When the two start to realize neither of them want to be doomsdayers, its tainted by the fact that Roy loves Becca, but she doesn’t love him back.
This story tugged on my heart strings, as much as we want to say we’re prepared for the future sometimes we just aren’t. Sometimes it takes ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination just to get through a day, let alone the struggles that life can bring. I thoroughly admired these characters and the small window into their constricted lives, Mangle makes their journey emotional, touching, and laugh out loud funny, even when things are looking at their grimmest.
Scary in space has always spoken to me as being like Alien in terms of suspense; there is a monster in the dark, and you know its coming.
Tibbets places you on the page with an ominous whisper in you ear; its already here. It’s behind you.
There is no hesitation, no stopping, and no escape aboard the freighter Demeter. The gradual introduction of the crew while unknown havoc explodes (literally) across the ship promises a story of high stakes, and with more than one element of horror.
The main protagonist, Ensign Reina, speaks to many of us as putting up with an awful situation for the “job” until enough is enough. From a boss who constantly degrades her to make up for his own ineptitude (who hasn’t been there?), to a sexy ex who’s bad boy side is way badder than any of us wants, Reina’s got her hands full. But her patience is running out quicker than the crew has members left.
Alongside Reina’s struggle is chief science officer Pollux who’s drive for constant improvement allowed dangerous cargo aboard. Something that’s hidden among the greenery of her collection of alien plant life to bring back to Earth. And when it bursts out of those early pages of the book, I wondered for the briefest moments if this fluffy critter wasn’t totally misunderstood.
There are visceral moments of this book I won’t be able to scrub off my mind imagining. I’m not a big fan of bloody scenes, my empathy/imagination can’t hack it, but while the body count triggered my gross meter, it wasn’t the only vileness on the ship.
There is an alien on board. Its going to kill them all, and have I mentioned yet, that laser fire can’t kill it? Forget running out of ammo, throwing it out the airlock, or just plain wrestling it to death, lets start with the fact its invisible. You can’t see the damn thing. Pollux bought an invisible death machine on board and now she’s got to get rid of it.
Pollux’s zero BS attitude and Reina’s adaptability on a very dysfunctional ship give a hope that vanishes as quickly as the pace advances. Separated early on, the two differing viewpoints each add their own aspect of terror. Reina, side by side with her abusive ex, and Pollux, fighting off a debilitating rash that’s slowly stealing her thoughts.
For all their ingenuity, their struggle paints a horrible picture of how very f***ed they all are. And this was my one contention with the book. There were a couple of scenes were there was an over emphasis of the fact they had zero chance, but once that was done, I got on with seeing exactly how they were going to get out of it.
Because as much as you’re wondering what they’re going to do about this creature, it was only a part of the stakes. Reina’s ex Morven isn’t so much her ex as the guy from her past she can’t escape; from falling in love with, from still loving despite all he’s done, let alone what he’s about to do.
The two intertwining threads of Reina’s personal demons vs the actual one roaming the ship weave a tangled terrified stream through the story. How you can be mentally trapped, as well as physically, and the emotional turmoil trying to extract from that situation. Reina spoke to a part of me that has cringed when a man raises his voice.
Tibbets proves there’s more than one way to scare a reader and I’m not ashamed to say I kept the lights on and watched Disney after finishing this book. Thoroughly recommend for the well balanced characters you can empathize with in their weakness, the science fiction elements made believable, and the kind of horror that leaves you terrified of the void. When science advances far enough for intergalactic travel, nobody sign me up for space botany.
There’s things no one tells you about writing your first novel.
Forget technique or story or genre. Forget characters, plot, or moral. Forget whether you’re fifteen writing fanfic, in your twenties with that book that cries to be written, or older, greyer, cynicism a streak you can’t always replace with kindness.
Writing a whole novel, an honest over 70k full and complete manuscript, tears out your soul.
You start with an intent to finish, maybe you abandon it, you come back, keep plugging away, you work at it. Because you want it all there. You tell your friends and your family and the ones who don’t laugh or mock you become your rocks (and they stay your rocks, never forget those ones).
You climb along the branches of your own life to borrow experiences made up of leaves of emotion you chew and chew and chew. Each bite holds its own bitter sweetness or sweet bitterness. And you swallow every mouthful and spit it back out. Build until the book worm is fat, until it is full, until its not a worm but a caterpillar ready to utter the phrase THE END.
And you write those words… and a little, or a big, piece of you… dies.
But its not dead in a way that a caterpillar isn’t dead.
It turns to goo, to mush, to a few cells simmering in a fabricated pod made up of “this is a complete book.”
What do you do with that book? What goals did you have? What colours of the infinite rainbow of possibility did you imagine when you started out? What wings were you going to unfurl from that pod? What possible dreams lie in store for you?
I’m telling you now, that shouldn’t matter as much as what you’ve already done. You wrote a book.
The wet tendrils of multifaceted cells can unfurl. You wrote a book.
The pages are there, written, complete. You wrote a book.
You can leap off that branch and fly.
No one can take that book away from you, no one can say you didn’t finish. You saw your goal, you saw it through, and then you’re left with the tenuous question… what now?
You could query, or self pub, and all the research is needed for both but there begs a different question once it’s done.
Do you want to write another?
The posts that come after break my hear but they are there;
That’s it, this is the book I have in me. I’m done.
I can’t do this again, it hurts too much.
I don’t care what happens now, I did what I came here to do.
Nobody will ever want to read my book.
That last one tho…
I’ve seen talented writers who’s work I loved walk away for that reason alone. So hollowed by self doubt that when the chrysalis of their caterpillar’s cocoon split open there was nothing left inside. Just the shell. Just a book they’ll never give to anyone.
Because what writers who’ve weathered more than one book don’t tell you is that you aren’t a butterfly.
And you don’t know this until you’ve burst from that first shell that cocooned your story.
You’re a reptile. A lizard, a snake, a gecko. You shed your skin of one book, new and improved a better writer than before, and you do it again. You learn from it, and know that some scars of the book’s world still linger on your scales but you keep going, shedding, building. You grow bigger and braver, so much stronger than you’ll have ever realized.
This path is different for everyone, but the more you write, the more you improve, the more you show that you can hunt in the night, eat readers with delight, and sagely say to yourself that while you can doubt your writing, you don’t doubt that you are, in fact, a writer.
Writers always wonder if they’ll ever make it, if their story matters enough for people to want to read it.
None could be so phenomenal as watching J. Elle bring Wings of Ebony to us all.
I met Elle a few years back over Twitter, a fellow author, she was querying a book I was later to learn she’d revised NINETEEN TIMES. I couldn’t imagine being that dedicated to one story – but Elle picked up an agent and I was delighted for her. The story was important, she believed in it, and I congratulated her along with the rest.
This was the step; an agent taking your book seriously as you did was an opening door, but there are others behind it you don’t really see quite as often. The submission to editors to get the book picked up is even harder on the nerves than the search for agent, or so I’ve read, I’m not sure, but Elle did it with the panache and positivity of everything she does.
She believed in her story.
When the book was picked up, I along many were thrilled, sent her congratulatory messages and then… Wings of Ebony began to take off. With astounding dedication and diligence, I watched in wonder at this new book. I wanted to know what it was about. I’d seen the years in the making to get to this point, from way back in 2018 when we followed each other on Twitter, right up until this moment.
I preordered the book, waited for its release, sat down and… was enraptured.
Nothing can prepare you for this book, whether you’re a stranger to American culture, the undercurrent of racism, or its familiar as your own back yard. Elle takes the plot from the first line and creates a world that was familiar but altogether foreign for me. I could not put it down. There is such a sense of rawness within the pages, threaded through this magical world and Rue, who’s power is breathtaking, so much more than just the magic she wields. The lines with the book are pure poetry at times, whilst completely shattering emotionally. Its worth reading, even if YA urban fantasy is not your thing, because Rue’s story is a story of so many black girls being told who they are and should be, and Rue’s not here for it, and proves that beyond a shadow of doubt. A fantastic read, and should be required reading.
I cried when I finished the book, not because I was saddened, but because I was amazed.
When someone presents a story with their whole heart, and so much dedication, I was amazed and honoured to have watched this incredible journey Elle made. In some regards it struck me that its’ not unlike Rue herself, and the importance of such stories was brought home for me with Elle’s writing.
I urge you to pick up this book if you believe in the strength of a writing journey like Elle’s. I insist as a reader that you get this book for the epic journey of black girl magic. Most of all, read it for the voice, the power within the pages in unputdownable, and Elle does it all with heart racing pace that leaves you breathless.
Every writer has their toolkit of stuff they use for a host of things that never occur to you starting out. Books, webpages, resources that help with everything from finding the name of a bar, to working out how to rephrase letting go of a breath you didn’t know you were holding.
We’re all guilty of this one, don’t even pretend you’re not.
People will occasionally talk about their resources or what worked for them, so before I launch into what worked for me, this comes with a warning for all the advice I give. Find out what works for you. Not every tip/trick/harebrained font change is going to work out well for you or your writing. Trust your gut, and go with that, and you’ll make the right decision.
IDEAS & INSPIRATION – Springhole
So you want to write/you’ve written a book, and now its time for the next big thing. Except… wow what an effort. Where do you even start? I mean the age brackets of children, middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult is just the tip of the iceberg. Then you’ve got genre, word count, lots of figuring out and you haven’t even got to the good bits!! (names and mood boards – we all know they’re the good bits).
When I’m feeling too much pressure to write a particular thing, or have a couple of different projects on, I’ll go to the genre blender and use it to either push me towards one project, or try something new. It might last half an hour, or I might come away with a brilliant idea. There are a lot of different generators on this list so have a play, it could be fun!
PLOT vs PANSTER – Save the Cat Writes a Novel
There are two ways (no there aren’t, there are many ways, these are typical), to write a book. You can plot it all out, in great detail, until everything is certain, or you can just start writing and not stop until you type the end. Both are valid. Both are not defined by those traits alone, it is the stereotypical joke of writers.
Plotting is good because you can end up saving yourself from things like predictability, pacing issues, and plot holes. I’ve adopted the Save the Cat Novel Writing methodology, which was useful to me after finding some soggy middle stuff in recent scripts.
That’s not to say I don’t pants, I do, most of my ideas are sparked by just pantsing. But once I’m sure I love the story, and kinda know where it’s heading, I use the beat sheets to help navigate. Like the writer, Jessica Brody, demonstrates in the book, you don’t have to stick to a plot. You may find it goes slightly off beat and that may be a good thing.
WHATS IN A NAME? – Behind the Name
Ok, super secret time. When I come up with a main characters name, its always what they represent to me. Ayla, from my Queen of Spades series, came about as a variation of a name that means Tree of Life. A kind of secret I kept to myself throughout the books (which I can now talk about because book two is out, and what do you mean you haven’t read it? Don’t shout spoilers at me, you can buy book two here.).
I have a few different generators I like to do this, but my favourite will always be Behind the Name.
They have a huge variety, can do different countries of origin, full names, different mythology. There is a lot to take away from their name generators.
HASHTAG MOOD – Pintrest & Collage
A key thing a lot of authors are doing, and even some agents are asking for these days are mood boards. They help build and set tone, add a few key lines to create interest on social media, and can keep you goals focused. I created mine for Raven Lady, a scifi opera about hacking and virtual reality, as per the bellow.
Most have fewer elements than this, they have usually 9 pictures all evenly spaced in three lines of three images. These allow for a great social media post, very attention grabbing and creates an interest in the story, which might indicate which fellow writers might like to beta read the script once its done!
WRITING IS HARD THO…
Yes, dear reader, it is. But it gets easier with time, daily habits, preparation and writing springs.
Carry a notebook around with you/use notes on your phone, so that if you are somewhere awkward you can’t get to your story, and you think of a cool fix for that plot hole, you can write it down.
Make a plan to write a set amount per day/week/month. Nobody gets to dictate these to you but you, but once you work out something that suits, you’re the one that has to commit to making those goals.
Speaking of – don’t start out stating you’ll Stephen King this and write 2k a day when you aren’t used to writing ten words. 2k is hard. Start soft and grow your goals as you would any other new learning curve. Start small, and adjust as you go.
Writing sprints are a fun way to commit to the time, by telling yourself a simple rule; I will only write for this time period. Every time you alt tab you smack your own damn hand, and go back to writing. At first this can be hard, so like with writing goals, you make the time period smaller. I started out at 100 words in 15 minutes, and can now write nearly 3k in an hour. Some of them are garbage, but I’ve got some gold nuggets out of those sprints.
With all these things to get yourself started, it wouldn’t be fair not to talk about the end. There is a long road of work ahead of you, no matter your goals. Remember that whatever you intend, trad, self, indie published, or just to hang onto it, there are ups and downs there too.
But nothing will ever change that you did it. You wrote a book. These are just spring boards to help you along the way though, the rest, is up to you.
You ask any older autistic person, and they’ll have THE line.
The line everyone says when told that the autistic person is autistic;
“I didn’t know/you don’t look/is that’s whats odd about you?”
Do you know why that might be? And why what you’re saying is the most harmful and degrading thing you can possibly offer, that actually makes that person feel a hundred times worse?
Because they’re not just masking their inner selves from you, they’ve done it for decades. They’ve spent their whole lives, many undiagnosed, in a confusing world that chafed their sides and left parts of them raw, scarred, and hard. It left them vulnerable afraid, but able and adaptable to do whatever it takes to fit in, not be judged, and to try to find their place in a conflictive and chaotic world.
Let me use a completely different story/analogy for this to make sense which coincides with my writerly audience.
There is a story that’s gone around about how a guy went to his therapist, to complain he wasn’t good at writing. When the therapist asks how long he’s been a writer, the guys says three years. The therapist then asks him; do you expect a three-year-old to be an artist? The answer is of course not, they’re just a child. Then why lay the same expectations at the feet of himself when he’s only been trying three years?
Its meant to be encouraging for younger writers, no matter their age, that you are only just starting to learn how to do something.
A child’s autism can be seen as much more obvious because we are more aware of the signs and are better clued into the mental health of younger generations, than those who were born earlier.
Do you know what people with aspergers and autism have done their whole lives before such awareness was more commonplace, or those that still do it because they dont have access to a health system that recognizes why they are struggling?
From the time we are children and join schools and start social interaction something is… wrong.
There is an undefinable sense beyond childhood embarrassing awkwardness that tells us we aren’t like everyone else. From needing down time struggles to stimming being taken as fidgeting, we aren’t okay. But we’re made to play in a loud group of noisy unaware children who aren’t like us. We’re told we’re drama queens, unnecessarily sensitive and emotional yet in a handspan of heartbeats are chastised for lacking empathy and compassion.
So we do what we’re told; because many of us, especially women, should only do as they are told.
Don’t make waves. Make friends. Be interested in other people. Nobody is interested in you. Remember all that information. Don’t talk about those fascinating things. Find a hobby. Don’t become obsessed. Fix yourself to fit in with everyone else.
Many of us went undiagnosed, and many still do. Why? Because we did what we were told.
We’re good at it. We’re so good, women aren’t usually diagnosed until late twenties, early thirties, and many not until years later, if at all. And those are the ones who are seeking therapy, trying to find answers beyond; you’re stressed out/depressed, take these tablets and get out of my office.
We’re very good at covering up who we are. We’ve had years of practice listening to people tell us we are wrong. We build on it, learn to hold our tongues, take a step back, so by the time we’re old enough, confident enough to say; this is more than just the way I am, we’re shattered to find out the world lied to us. All those years, all that time, all that chaffing, and scratchiness, and WRONGNESS was not our fault.
We made mistakes, but we are also not at fault.
The comfort in my diagnoses didn’t give me the strength to come forward. Other people with Aspergers gave me the strength to say to people, at a time I was comfortable, my diagnosis.
And when I did, people hurt me by disregarding or pointing out my flawed nature. My wrongness.
You dont look autistic.
It’s because you taught me not to be myself in front of you. Every one of you. That if my mental health problems were invisible to you then it suited you better. And it insulted every single person on the spectrum, visible or not. It teaches everyone who can hide what they are to do so, and its still happening.
The next person I tell that I have aspergers and they say that to me, I’m going to tell them what they’re saying is harmful. If you’re strong enough, tell them its hurtful. Because there are so many people out there who aren’t confident in their diagnosis/suspected diagnosis to come forward about being autistic, let alone asking for the space they need to survive.
Every writer I know keeps a space for the things to put on the wall. Or at least an e-corkboard of some description. Notes, images, inspiration, and accomplishments. Of failures too.
I have a wall. In 2020, it held a secret, one I didn’t see coming.
It’s a blue wall, it’s the only coloured wall in the room. It’s a dusky sea blue.
In the middle I hung a white board, and on it is the poem I wrote that started this writing journey. The Last Prophecy. It has the books that match the parts of the poem written beside it. It isn’t a guilt trip because I’m not currently working on that series (but I will be in 2021). Its encouragement and purpose for why I began in the first place.
Above, below, and to either side is pages upon pages of A4 paper. All covered in black texter.
Above is a single A4 piece of paper. It has my two contracts signed to Literary Wanderlust.
Underneath is a list of all my projects, and I put a tick next to the complete ones.
On the left, directly above my desk, as a reminder to keep doubt away, I put the year’s accomplishments. Not goals, just stuff I did. Like publishing Queen of Spades I & II. That a dev editor loved Echo of the Evercry, and Meg will never know how much her words still make me shake.
On the right is a single line of four quotes.
Never give up on a dream you aren’t willing to let die. ~ E. J. Dawson
Value yourself, so the world will value you. ~ Unknown
No one but you is allowed to dictate what you are worth. ~Anne with an E
There are no heroes in history. Only villains who told their story first. ~ E. J. Dawson
Above it is the goals. But they aren’t things I necessarily intend to succeed at. Just marking the attempt. I put books I query up there, competitions I enter, people in the industry I approach. Above those quotes I put building blocks of my progress. An ever increasing tower of possible success.
But towers crumble. Not every one is built to last.
Under the quotes are all my failures. When I think enough time is passed, two lines strike through, with a short note about what happened or what I think happened.
There are more A4 pages beneath the quotes than anywhere else on the wall.
Why, Ejay, why would you keep all those failures? Why remind yourself of all the times you didn’t succeed?
Because success is not made of what you think you accomplish or fail, its made of trying and not giving up.
THAT is what the A4 notes represent to me. So when I put the good things on the left side I feel accomplished. That when I look back at it I can say to myself I tried. I did my best, I followed my dreams.
And at the end of every year, I take them all down. The successes that aren’t beyond that year get filed away to pull out when I’m miserable, a reminder of the good things. Unfinished goals get retired to the failure or success pile depending on how far I got with them. The failures get moved down to make room for more failures. But they stay up there. They represent years of trying. There are… a lot of them.
When I pulled down the wall to prepare for 2021, one of them wasn’t a failure. It was an entry to a short story competition for a story previously rejected by a few magazines and competitions. But when I read the attempt, saw the two slashes to mark a failure, and noted the comment “no response” I realized with a delightful surge of giddiness I was wrong.
It took months to find out, and it wasn’t quite important to anyone, but I was a finalist in that competition. I got invited to submit other stories. They liked my voice and wanted more of it.
That failure was a success I hadn’t know at the time.
Imagine… for a moment, you feel like a failure. Imagine… for a moment, you were wrong.
That crumbling brick was forged anew. Solid, sturdy, something to stand on while I kept this inevitable climb. I reason to keep trying in 2021. This is why I keep the failures. This is why I don’t give up on people who say no to me. This is why I have a wall of my failures so when I look back I can see EVERY SINGLE TIME ANYONE SAID NO TO ME AND ALL I EVER OVERCAME.
Keep writing. You never know when that failure might be a success.
The words on everyone’s lips right now is that 2020 was hard. For many people they weren’t sure they could endure.
I had my own problems, my NYE celebration was under a red sky of an alien planet as we waited for evacuation orders due to Australian bushfires. We were the last car to be allowed passage from the greater area, the police closing the road behind us as the way forward became dangerous. We got home, and after just a week back at work I realized my life needed to change, and started looking for another job. But the replacement fell through just as I’d terminated my existing employment, because of covid. For a brief period I nervously called myself a full time writer while we relied on one income and savings. I spent four months not getting as much work done as I wanted, before a new job came around. Our shower broke… it seems so inconsequential, but I haven’t had a shower in 9 months because of covid and lockdown and not wishing to put anyone in a difficult position. The daily mental strain of not having that small convenience was so hard. But everyone’s 2020 was hard. There were personal emotional struggles at home, and with my books, but the one thing that I got out of the year was boundaries.
I know what I can and cannot do anymore and I’ve amended my website to reflect that. I’m not offering author interviews or book features as separate pages, I’m going to make it a part of my blog. I’m not going to review here, I’m going to confine my searching to Netgalley, recommendations, and ARC requests to review on Netgalley, Amazon and Goodreads.
One of the most important things to me that I am stepping away from is beta reading. I got so many requests this year I overpromised on many of them and shouldn’t have. You are still more than welcome to submit to me, I will still look at 5k samples and may take on more work, but it will depend upon demands of 2021 and there promise to be quite a few.
Most of all, I am not walking into 2021 with any expectations. There is always the NYE promise, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s 2020 was blown out of the proverbial water. I am moving forward with hope, or at least a positive outlook that I’ll do the best that I can.
With the promise of helping the many writers journeying with me. With the joy of seeing my work into paperback form. With more stories, and one that has ripped me to shreds over the last few months, but I’m proudly announcing my ND self to the greater world.
2020 wasn’t a fire we walked through, not an inferno we buckled under. 2020 was a time where climate change caused disasters, centuries of inequality broke forth in riots against long held traditions of racism, and the changes in our behaviour and attitude to health were thoroughly re-examined under the wave of a plague. It forced us all to re-examine our lives, and purpose in the world. How every day mattered even as they all bled into one another as we stared at the same four walls for months on end.
I’m sorry if your year was rough, not a blanket statement to everyone, just to you, because I don’t know what you went through, but that you’re here, reading this, matters. That you didn’t quit, or even if you did, that you still went on, matters. If you kept writing, hobbies, dreams, lives, afloat this year I’m proud of you.
I want the best of 2020 for you, hope its brighter and full of laughter, and if not I’ll still be here for you.
I get it. The pressure, the time, 2020, its not like you need to give me your excuse.
Because you don’t need one. Even typing that word, “excuse”, makes me cringe.
Looking at 2020 and everything that I’ve managed to do, there is a very simple reason Nano didn’t get done; I didn’t have time.
But I sure watched a lot of Trublood, played games for more than a few hours, took a week off work for writing projects.
I’ve done Nano for the last 7 years but this 8th year I was too busy finishing off the edits for the last book in the Queen of Spades, and do you know what? I was sorry. I’m not anymore.
I didn’t fail Nano, I chose to do other things with my time.
That streak proves to me that I know where my priorities lie. That I know where in my writing career I need to knuckle down and focus and if that means starting a new project I have zero emotional investment in needs to be dropped then so be it.
Joining Nano is about creating daily healthy writing habits. Its about sitting down and finally committing the time to the story that you love and have always wanted to write. Its about getting a whole novel down and actually finishing the fucking thing.
Maybe you didn’t do any of those things and there wasn’t a real reason, it just didn’t happen. You know what? It’s a personal commitment. You aren’t competing against anyone else but yourself.
If you think you were just lazy and you need to do better, you can commit to yourself to right 50k words any month you damn well please.
Nano is a chance for us to do it all together. You can do this anytime you like.
Go on, finish your novel, you’ve got 26 days until this year is over. 2020 has rattled your cage, put you down, beat you up, and ripped away so much happiness. Write about hate, revenge, rage, despair… turn it into kindness, protection, love. Wrap the words around your heart and pour them onto the page.
The only person stopping you, is you.
Yesterday at the dentist I had a breakdown.
A full on public display of my autism.
He was putting a needle in the roof of my mouth for root canal work, and I was breathing slowly and painfully through it. He told me to keep breathing, to breath with him, and I did but he went too fast.
I lost it.
The mask slipped through my fingers, my tenacious grip failing as I slowed down my breath again to let him finish. When he was done I sat up, and began flapping my hands, rocking, and crying. Apologizing that I had Asperger’s and I just needed a minute.
And after a couple of minutes I lay back down, and let him finish his work for another hour. I walked home, put on the kettle, checked my dogs hadn’t destroyed our back yard, got a glass of water because tea felt it might be too hot, and cried.
I cried my heart out.
I’m a thirty seven year old woman and I’d just openly broke down in my dentist’s office.
But that wasn’t what I was crying about.
It hit me like a brick, a car, a freight train of thought clear and sudden as a shaft of sunlight in a storm.
I wasn’t ashamed.
I was crying because I’d had my melt down in front of strangers and it was okay.
For the last ten months I’d been alone. I spent four months unemployed due to the covid crisis and a new job falling through, writing while applying for jobs before I found one where I could work from home.
I live in Victoria Australia and our premier put us in harsh lock down restrictions to stop covid. I’ve rarely seen other faces that weren’t over the web, twice I’ve seen my husband’s family, and once two friends visited us. No co-workers, no family, nobody else.
But I did spend the last year coming to terms with my Aspergers in a better way than I had in the seven years since I first found out about it. I remember the big click for me was reading Asper Girls after my therapists’ diagnosis and thinking; yes. This is me.
Not everyone took the news well or with much understanding. Many refused to think that it mattered because I was mostly normal, or normal enough as long as I kept my mouth shut. What happened after my diagnosis was a few years of spiraling into a depression that nearly cost me my life. Nobody but my husband and family saw it as a real issue.
Because I was an adult you see; I had a job and could function normally.
No one saw me stim because I’d do it in private or in acceptable manners; clicking pens was a favourite, swinging an office chair from side to side rather than rocking. Any meltdowns were in the car driving home from work screaming until my throat was raw. Staying up too late, listening to the same song over and over at 2am and crying in the dark. I’d get up the next morning and go to work like none of it ever happened. Things I’d done to mask who I was all my life because they were habits already and provided I acted like an ‘adult’.
I wasn’t very good at it. At work in one place they called me “Wikipedia” for all my useless knowledge. I struggled to make friends and still only have a handful from university. I hate social situations and often drank through them just to stop feeling so fucking out of place all the time. It’s taken years to unlearn how to do this, how to undo so much of the behavior that was self-destructive and hurtful.
Then 2020 hit and I was alone.
And I’ve honestly never been happier.
I openly stim at home, have had more meltdowns this year, asked for compression hugs and become so familiar with my own boundaries in the safety of my home I can go outside without a mask (and for the Aspie inside I’ll clarify that the only mask I’m wearing now is the one on the outside of my face because covid).
I tell people new people I know that I have Aspergers, including for the first time my employer.
But having a minor meltdown at the dentist was the first time in public with strangers I didn’t know. Everyone was cool about it, the dentist left for a minute to let me breath, the nurse stuck around and got me water and tissues (she was so lovely about it), and they just accommodated me.
That won’t always happen. People will probably get unsettled, distance themselves, or refuse to take me serious or think I warrant the space. I’ll find myself leaving situations where I don’t feel safe; I know all this.
I’m holding onto my mask, but I’m choosing now when to put it on. It’s not sitting under my skin as the default lie I’ve lived my whole life. I’m not hiding who I am or what I think or how it affects the world around me.
That’s why I cried; because for the first time in my life I could be 100% me and not be ashamed of my behavior.
I can’t promise I’ll always feel like this, but if you do please know that you are not alone.
There are things we do to fit our amorphous shapes into the proverbial square holes, and much of it makes us extraordinarily unhappy.
This isn’t perfect, and it may not last, but its freeing in his own way. For the first time I feel like the person inside is okay I can work on the person outside, and my health and fitness, without being made to feel ashamed for being clumsy or unathletic. I don’t fit into boxes and wasn’t picked for teams but I know who I am and what I can and can’t do and for once, just this once, its OK.
I wanted to finish this blog post by saying; I get it if you can’t.
It’d be easy to gloss this over with some positive bullshit about “you be you” but it doesn’t always work like that and I know. I’ve been there, I’ll probably be there again one day. But I can tell you that coming to terms with it, to accept myself for who I am, was freeing.
If you can try, if you can’t… one day I hope you can let go, to have the space to be yourself. I’m wishing that so hard for you right now.
I wasn’t easy, or without trauma, but I do feel like a part of me for once has unclenched. I can just sit here, without a mask, and be me.