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I made it! I turned 40 last week. It has been over the years a bit touch and go, but there I was surrounded by cards, presents and balloons. The day itself was pretty much my usual one, then in the evening people started ringing and my parents came over to the flat. My big present is a new set of golf clubs, which are on order as I write. The actual choosing of the clubs was quite difficult but I think I chose the right ones. I have been worrying all week – did I order the right grip? Will they make it the right size? Will these clubs improve my game? Anyway they should be ready soon, I can’t wait!!

I went out for a birthday meal with my family at the bank holiday. I just had steak and chips but the rest of the family went seafood mad. Even my 10 year old niece tucked into a bowl of mussels. I was very nervous so I didn’t eat much and the sauce didn’t taste very nice. Fortunately it came in a separate jug so I just didn’t eat it. But the steak was really nice sauce or no sauce. And I’m so glad I had a celebration with my family, even though it was very daunting.

Then with my niece trotting along, we went to a garden with the National Garden Scheme during the Garden and Health Campaign. Every year garden owners open their gardens to the public. This year the campaign was about getting active in your garden and we went along to a garden in our area earmarked by the National Autistic Society. Thus we found ourselves at Wild Rose Cottage in Lode, Cambridgeshire. There were actually few roses but there obviously had been some pretty vigorous planting because it was just packed with plants, sadly few flowers. The garden was divided up into “rooms”, my favourites were the veg patch (a huge pumpkin almost ready to be picked) and a brilliant pond which looked packed with wildlife. There was also a lovely summer house where you can imagine sitting with a glass of wine and a good book.

I do love a good garden. As I have gotten older I enjoy a good nose round a garden be they National Trust or National Garden Scheme or just open to the public. I’m particularly keen on Rose Gardens and cottage gardens. I like flowers that attract wildlife and I like my planting a bit haphazard although I’m sure most of these gardens are well planned. As for roses – I do love a Rose!! The other day I went to a National Trust property called Anglesey Abbey. I go there a lot but don’t necessarily stop at the more formal gardens. Anyway we decided to take a look at the rose garden, which was lovely. I love the smell and the gentle beauty of the flowers. These days I don’t groan at yet another garden. I have learned to appreciate how great they are, even though because of my OCD I’m unable to get my own hands dirty.

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My support worker and I were outside our local Asda when we noticed a cat carrier box, as we are both cat lovers we went to have a look and what was inside? A tiny 10 week old kitten who’d just according to the owner who was with it had just had its first injection. Immediately we started talking about our cats when they were kittens. In my mum’s book “Tilly” cats are featured, mainly Gilbert who my parents had before me and my brother where even born. Gilbert died when I was 11 years old and I was devastated, however, he was soon followed by Flo who had a completely different personality. Flo died 20 years ago and I still miss her.

So my first experience of pet ownership was rather accidental as was the fact that my parents had a cat at all, they are not natural pet owners. But once we got passed the tail pulling and general mauling of Gilbert when I was small, Gilbert soon became my best friend. Once Gilbert sat on you, you knew you were sat on. He was a big tom cat, all black but still in my eyes adorable. Gilbert was a bit of a wimp and was rather bullied by other cats. He very much did his own thing, going out a bit then spending the day asleep. He enjoyed being stroked and had a quiet purr, he also “padded” before he sat down. This drove my aunt who is a lot younger than my mum to the edge of madness. He would do a good five minutes before he could settle. He was also the subject of many of my early art works and well reported on in my “what I did at the weekend” book on a Monday morning. Gilbert was my first experience of that kind of unconditional love but was also my first major death. I could cry for Gilbert many years after he had gone. He was a very important part of my life and very wise. I used to tell him everything and he would make me feel better.

Flo on the other hand was in many ways what Gilbert was not. She meowed and purred loudly, making her presence known. She was small and all white and was bossy. If we visited a friend in the street Flo would follow and meow outside their house to be let in, even if they had a dog. We had to hide when we went out to outwit her. She hated not to be where the action was and would throw herself against any closed door demanding to be let in.Unlike Gilbert she was friendly with other cats and enjoyed nothing more than sitting with her friends on a garden wall. But Flo was highly strung. She would “nuzzle” into your armpit as if getting milk and in later life developed an OCD thing which left her bald on her stomach through constant licking. I think it must have been hard for Flo. We got her just as my problems started to be serious rather than just “well that’s interesting”. She witnessed it all and even saw me self harm which must have been destressing for her. Flo only lived to 12 as opposed to Gilbert’s 15. In some ways she was a damaged cat from the start taken from her mother too young, nearly dying of cat flu but how I loved her. She again was my best friend like Gilbert but was so entertaining and loveable.

Having these two pets enriched my life in so many ways. They say pets help with many different illnesses and disabilities and I would definitely agree. Ok I haven’t had a pet now for twenty year but it’s not for want of trying on my part. We’ve moved around and my flat now doesn’t allow pets, not that I think I’m capable of looking after one. I do have a carer from the NAS who tells me about her cat which I love hearing about. So maybe I just have to remember Gilbert and Flo and cling to their memories – the happy times, the snuggling times. Maybe they will always be the only ones who ever understood.

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I survived! My parents went away for 2 weeks and I got through it. I had carers every day, sometimes twice and what with them and pure guts I got through. It was weird though! Drinking gave me the burps (unlike normal) and I completely lost my appetite. I kept having moments when I thought I was going to vomit. Which is normal but this was worse than usual. Ideally I just wanted to stay in bed but my carers took me out on trips including “Build a Bear” and the Botanic gardens. My most nervous moments were the few days before they came back when my anxiety and panic attacks reached new heights. But pretty much the moment I knew they were back I started to feel better. It’s taken a good week to start to feel normal again i.e. my usual anxious self but I did make it and that’s a great feeling. In most ways I’m glad that I let my parents go on holiday. Yes it is a challenge but there is nothing like a recharged and relaxed carer. So now we are back to normal apart from one of my favourite carers has taken the second week of Wimbledon off to watch tennis and I’ve lost my rota so I have no clue about who is coming on Monday.

As a treat for surviving their holiday my parents took me to see historian Lucy Worsley talk about Jane Austen at a history fest at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge. As I may have probably said before I’m a bit of a history fan and combine that with a favourite author, Jane Austen, and you have a match made in heaven. I have actually seen her before talking about George II but this time I queued and got my book signed and my mum took a photo. I did embarrass myself slightly by gushing all about my favourite topics in history. After reeling off my passion for Russian history and Queen Victoria she looked a little surprised when I said my latest read was a history of ancient Egypt. The whole thing was quite nerve wracking, sitting in a hot marquee for an hour with worries of needing the toilet on my mind. But she is a great speaker – funny, easy to understand and not afraid to be popularist. But just to have met her and tell her how much I enjoy her work was a real privilege in fact maybe I should have told her to do something on ancient Egypt next time!!!

I have also been looking at ways to expand my life. There is a project named Red2Green in an outlying village which works with autistic people. My mum already knew the manager and I thought I was going as a celebrity having had a book written about me. Anyway it soon became apparent they wanted me to sign up to something and my mum, who accompanied me, is desperate for me to improve my computer skills. So pretty soon I was enrolling for next term which starts in September. As you can imagine I’m in two minds. Firstly my precious routine, I am very worried that it will interrupt this – when will I play golf, read or listen to music. Secondly, germs, it has taken me four days to settle after the visit. I am scared stiff of germs and being around people means germs. I have got to fight this fear because all the people we met were lovely and I can see myself maybe being part of the community. Everyone I’ve told about it is very enthusiastic, so roll on September and refreshed computer skills!!!!

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Oh the election!! Did you get sick of it? I actually ran into some Labour people outside my flat on the day and joked that I predicted a hung parliament and what happens? Hung parliament!! But what does it mean for autism? What can politicians do for us. I think the biggest things are social care, benefits, adult services and mental health provision. We must fight against cuts in all these areas. I think voting Labour was a vote to safeguard and improve some of these things whilst what we now have leaves us in a precarious position. I had the social worker round the other day and we are all desperately trying to hang onto the 16 hours care a week I get and desperately need to be able to manage. As for mental health services – well what can I say? Where are the community nurses, where are the hospital beds, where is the therapy, the OTs etc. etc? The only service I see working is the Clozapine clinic which runs pretty efficiently on a Tuesday morning. But it does get you thinking of the future. What are my options to get out of this world where I’m at the mercy of people who have no clue what I go through on a daily/weekly/forever basis. The whole thought scares me. I think maybe getting in touch with your MP might be a good idea. Invite them to your groups, say what we want, see what they can do, make them aware. I have actually met our Cambridge MP and would love to sit down in a group with other autistic people and him and talk about the issues to say what’s important for us.

I am facing a huge challenge over the next couple of weeks because my parents are going away. Fortunately I do have some extra banked hours which I can use and I know that everyone will be helping me. But it still feels like Mount Everest without oxygen. I have strategies to help me to cope. Having carers every day, listening to music, watching television, the odd round of golf, knowing I can phone people and planning a treat to congratulate myself. And I tell my carers that sometimes I won’t feel that I can go out at all and they say it’s fine just to sit and watch TV or a film.  I find it very reassuring that they understand and think that’s OK. And I may be getting a bit better at rationalising – like, is this bad thing going to happen to me, don’t panic, let it flow and see what the consequences are. But that needs a lot of practice. And I have a folder with everything in it like telephone numbers, websites, Mum and Dad’s itinerary so I know where they are. And I put out a pile of DVDs I enjoy. It’s really helpful to have everything at hand because when I’m stressed and panicking I can’t think straight or remember where to find things or what helps me to calm down.

Anyway, I’ll tell you how it’s gone when Mum and Dad get back. I keep telling myself that three weeks today everything will be back to normal.