Category: Cats

Penzance, Hollywood and a Different Way of Loving – a response

So yes, here I am, yet again stuck “up country”, living in a caravan with a life that feels very much as though it is “on hold”. Getting through each day requires the most enormous effort.

In her post Teresa commented “it’s unspeakably hard for him”, and that’s the trouble, it is unspeakable in as much as I find it impossible to describe, that is, I am unable to find language I can use, which means it can all too easily seem as though I am fine. I am not, but you’ll need to take my word for that.

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Teresa tells me that Ferret is clearly missing his Papa-Bean. How I transformed from a lad from Billingham (North East England) into an Italian is not clear to me – and as for the topic of my emotional relationship with Ferret and his with me, that’s best saved for another blog.

So, this being my response to Teresa’s post, my first question has to be, why has she used a picture of the wrong train? It is clearly not a sleeper. Granted, it is a picture of a train and it is standing at Penzance station, so surely that’s good enough? Well, no it isn’t, not for me. I let it pass when we put up her post, but I don’t like it being wrong and when I can get a photo of my next sleeper, I will fix the problem. I cannot find the language to explain to you just how much of a problem the “wrong” train is, but please trust me, it is far out of proportion to what you’d expect.

Where was I?

Ah yes, Hollywood. When it comes to things like railway platform greetings, I’ve spent years learning to fake it. Ok, not fake it exactly because the feelings are there, but I don’t have a set of physical actions and reactions that automatically switch in to match those feelings. Instead, I have a mental list of actions that may be appropriate to express such an emotion. Given the range of human emotional responses, I need a vast list, a list that I constantly have to add to and which I cannot possibly hope to remember.

Seeing your truly-missed loved one on a railway station after a long absence, is most definitely an emotion I know well. I am aware of the Hollywood response, but I have no understanding of how appropriate it is, what variations there are, which ones to use, and when. I end up so tied up in trying to work out the right thing to do (consulting that inner list), that the moment passes and I’ve done nothing. So, my poor love gets no information as to how much I have missed her.

Not fair is it?

But not fair to whom? In fact, both of us. It is clearly unfair to Teresa, but it is also unfair to me: how am I supposed to know how to communicate what I feel? The rules required are incredibly complex. I don’t have them built in, so I have to think through every possible permutation. Is it any wonder I freeze?

I need rules for that list of mine and it’s so long and complex that they need to be really simple rules – e.g.

  • When meeting Teresa at a railway station, do ‘Hollywood’
  • Teresa will be happy whatever version of Hollywood I manage on the day.

Every waking moment in which I am called upon to interact with other people, is like this. I am constantly trying to gauge the right response to every situation when there is an infinite number of subtly nuanced possibilities.

Just to get you started, let’s look at the “simple” instruction above:

  • When meeting Teresa at a railway station, do ‘Hollywood’
    1. Does that mean if the meeting is not at a station, I don’t do Hollywood?
    2. What other ‘meeting’ occasions might require the Hollywood response?
    3. How many variations are there on Hollywood and which one do I select?
    4. Is it the same if I’ve been away for the day as it is for an absence of a week or a month?
    5. Is there something other than Hollywood I should sometimes be doing?

This can go on for ever, and is an example of my own personal perpetual-motion machine. There are an infinite number of nuances to human emotional response and so I have to enumerate (maths talk for ‘work out’) every single one!

So if at any time I don’t react to you as you might expect, the chances are I’m busy trying to compute the correct response to such a simple greeting as “hello”. What is the appropriate facial expression? What words should I use? What body position or action? Do I hug, shake hands, kiss, … On a bad day, my brain literally melts and I just freeze (which is an interesting combination of activities). You may think I’m being rude and ignoring you, but I’m not, I’m just trapped in that infinite loop.

The more tolerant you are of me being over/under the top, the easier it is for me to do something that approximates an appropriate response.

So that’s how the average greeting is for me and if “hello” is that difficult, how do you think questions like, “do you love me” work?

This constant computation is exhausting. Writing this is exhausting. I really think I need to go now…

LIFE IN A MIXED MARRIAGE – pussycats and autism, a response

How do I compete with pictures of cats? Pop in some of my own I think 🙂

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Above: The Gus I knew

Well, first of all Teresa and I met online, her profile said “must be cat tolerant”; she didn’t mention that they would sleep with us and between us. She didn’t mention how they seem to like interrupting other bed activities too. Tolerant, I would say so!

I have often described our relationship as me accepting I was #6 on her totem pole of important people (after her dad and 4 cats). When her dad died I was promoted to #5, after poor Gus went I thought I was promoted again to the dizzying heights of #4, except I wasn’t, Gus is still on that list. Now young Ferret (Dinsky) has arrived I’m back down to #6, oh well nothing changes 🙂

Gus’s death was devastating for me for two reasons, first it was devastating for Teresa and seeing her go through that loss was awful, trying to support her, difficult. It was also awful for Gus, he may be “just a cat” (don’t ever try saying that too close to Teresa 🙂 ) but he was rather special. Unlike most cats Gus was friendly with EVERYONE (shouted from the rooftops). Teresa called him a tart and he was, a tickle from anyone was welcome, the more the merrier. He and I did have our routines and I loved them, we kept them going till the last day when I stroked him in the bed (where he slept all the time at the end) and he didn’t respond, that was a very sad day.

So, cats and autism, well there is a book “All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome” (Kathy Hoopman 2006), but that’s not the point here. Cats are not human; they don’t react the same way as humans. I’d go further and say that they don’t react the same way as neurotypicals. Autistics don’t react the same way neurotypicals do either and in a sense, we sometimes have more in common with the cats than the other humans! Our world makes sense to us; it is only when it bumps up against the NT world that confusion can occur.

Gus had me fooled, I thought it was maybe possible that I could find a way to communicate with SOMEONE (even a cat) and we could share a bit of common language – even if that’s only affection.

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Above: Jane was never this cute again 🙂

But Gus was special, Jane (my first cat), she’s a madam, I stroke her and she walks off, guaranteed; stroke Gus and he’d just roll on his back and ask for more.

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Above: Baby Burlington finding his own way onto the worktop, sometimes he fell into the bin!

Burlington (my second cat), all I have to do is look at him and he runs away. Spook, well Spook is most definitely a one woman cat and I have to fight him for space in the bed, as far as he is concerned our bed is for him and Teresa and if I’m very good and keep out of the way, he’ll tolerate my presence.

So, yes, Gus was special. I hoped I might learn how to let a new kitten get to know and trust me and accept me for who I was. You can have no idea how isolating autism can be and how important such little things can be. Nobody could replace Gus, but it would be nice for 1 in 4 to notice I exist, please! Ferret is a darling, he is affectionate (like Gus was), he and I have been intensively together for the past week, but he’s ours not mine, he’s his own cat, but I have hopes and cross my fingers. All those lacerations all over my body have got to be worth something surely?

Accepting that Mrs Felimones (aka Teresa) would always be more attractive to any cat (Ferret included) has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. After all, if you could choose between a neurotypical who can understand you without trying or an autistic who struggles and has to work hard at it, which would you choose? Learning to do what I need to do to not frighten off young Ferret has so many parallels with the problems I have in not knowing what to do with human relationships, no matter how desperate I am to have them and will, I hope, maybe help me a bit with some humans too.

Are cats autistic? I don’t know, They certainly like routine and most definitely don’t react the way neurotypicals do, but if you can accept their difference even when they can’t explain it to you, maybe you can find a way to accept mine too?

 

LIFE IN A MIXED MARRIAGE – pussycats and autism

Cats and autism have more in common than you might think, but before I elaborate on that…

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there has been something of a hiatus in these posts and that requires an explanation.

Cats. I’ve had cats all my life and all my adult life I’ve had Siamese cats (until 7 years ago when I encountered the wonder of Orientals, but that’s another story). When I met David I told him he needed to be ‘cat tolerant’. He had no idea just what I meant by that but he did get the bug and as a result, since 2008 we have had four cats between us. Three weeks ago my old boy, Gus (fourteen and a half) died after a two-month illness.

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Above: Gus in his younger days

Losing Gus hit David and me very hard, not least because of all our cats (David’s two included) Gus was the cat who loved him most: the two of them very much had their own way of being together and (very important for autistics) their own rituals. Chief ritual was ‘tickle tower’. Let me explain. We have a cat scratching tower close to the door from our living room to the kitchen and Gus had only to detect the merest hint that David might be thinking of going in that direction to hurl himself at the tower and roll around until David went to make a fuss of him. Believe me, Gus was insatiable when it came to tickles.

Anyway, fourteen years is a long time for Gus to have been part of my life and losing him has been devastating – but at least I have the other three to console me, in particular my Havana, Spook (one of said Orientals).

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Above: Spook looking for trouble

I have always said to David that in the past, having lost one of the cats, I tended to get a new kitten with what some might consider to be indecent haste – in part as a distraction for myself but also because Siamese are social beasts and you can’t have just one. However, on this occasion the other cats had one another and I had Spook so I wasn’t moving as fast as I had led David to believe.

So, from an autistic perspective, he had lost the one cat he could relate to (bearing in mind how hard it is for autistics to know the ‘rules’ for connection be it to humans or animals) and I was not behaving as I’d led him to expect me to behave: I had, in his language and according to his frame of reference, ‘lied’ to him.

All of which led to much heart-searching. I was not (and to a large degree am not) ready for a new kitten but if, as I did seven years ago, I got a new kitten for Gus who was distraught at the loss of his companion (he became very needy and took to sucking my thumb) how could I do any less for David?

Not that he was sucking my thumb, you understand…

Much of the subsequent conversation between David and myself took place during a long drive from West Cornwall to Cambridgeshire and the outcome was that I rang the breeder Spook had come from to see whether he had any kittens. He did and a week later, Ferret (aka Dinsky), an Oriental Caramel, entered our lives.

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Above: Dinsky making himself at home

The big plan is that Dinsky/Ferret should be David’s cat. To this end I needed to give them plenty of time to bond and be very ‘hands off’ – not easy when kittens make me broody and David describes me as ‘cat cocaine’. Not sure about that one although I admit that I do seem to give off felimones (as opposed to pheromones) …

At this point I would ask you to trust me, this may seem like an article indulging my cat obsession but there are some serious points here regarding autism.

To this end, let me tell you a bit more about Spook. As a kitten he was a real live wire but didn’t really have a handle on this loving lark. A bit like an autistic. I sensed that he wanted to be loved but just didn’t know how to go about it (I was reminded of a friend’s two daughters, but that’s a story for another day) so I set about helping him and as a result he is now a very loving cat but mostly only towards me. He is also a magnificent specimen, lean and muscular and when he races round the house playing with the others the floorboards rumble and the house shakes.

I say ‘plays with the others’, but I mean with the cats he has grown up with: Burlington, Jane and whilst he was still with us, Gus. Dinsky however is another matter. Dinsky wants to play: he runs and jumps and turns somersaults and I can see that Spook is desperate to join in but it’s like he’s not sure what to do and he also seems to be a little frightened of the kitten. My Spook, it seems, has a vulnerable side. It was there as a kitten when he wanted to be loved and didn’t quite know how, but I’d lost sight of that in the presence of the boisterous and confident boy he had become. Seemed to have become. I confess to loving him even more now that I have been reminded of his vulnerability.

A bit like David (you see, I promised another autism connection). There was the David I first met, a little vulnerable maybe but the persona he wore in order to function in the neurotypical world was one of confidence, assurance, unflappable calm. Only under stress did that fall apart. Only in coming to understand the reasons for that stress did I start to get an inkling of what his world was really like. Just as I anthropomorphise when trying to understand Spook’s behaviour, so I anthropomorphised David, in other words I treated him as though his view of the world was the same as mine. Understanding that it is not, gaining some appreciation of how exhausting the neurotypical world is for him, fills me we awe and as a result, I seem to have fallen in love with him all over again.

Like I said, just like Spook.