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Alexithymia. A new word for me. A new word to get my tongue round and to understand in different ways. Alexithymia is the name for a condition that means people affected by it are dysfunctional regarding emotional awareness, social attachment and interpersonal relating. It is a condition that co-occurs with autism but does not share the same symptoms. Researchers are constantly debating which symptoms are related to autism and which are related to alexithymia. More can be read about autism and alexithymia and how they co-exist with each other by following the link: https://sites.google.com/site/geoffbirdlab/home.

In layman’s terms you have no words for anything, no emotions, nothing to say and nothing to talk about. It can be as if you are a shell just existing and literally going through the motions until you die. You have no life and spend most of your time alone wondering why you are the way you are and why people shun you. It drains you constantly wondering why people avoid you, don’t talk to you, cross the road to avoid you. You have no energy left to deal with day to day life. All you do is exist for reasons unknown to you and to anyone around you. You have no purpose in life, no reason to exist. All you can do is wonder why…

Dr Rachel Moseley from the University of Bournemouth describes alexithymia as: difficulty identifying what you’re feeling, difficulty describing what you’re feeling, and an externally-orientated, ‘stimulus-driven’ thinking style (which means that people with alexithymia don’t tend to be introspective about their feelings and emotions or spend a lot of time thinking about how others might be feeling – because emotions are very confusing to them. They therefore tend to think more ‘concretely’ about things that are going on (i.e. EXTERNAL stimuli in the outside world rather than INTERNAL feelings). And adds that this is the most common view but not the only view. This is a view I can relate to from my own personal experiences.

In my personal experiences I have been shunned by people at work and in social situations. In relationships I just sit there at the most wondering what to say or do, usually just staring blankly at a wall ignoring the person I’m with. It’s no wonder I’m single. How am I supposed to respond to questions of how I feel when I cannot interpret any feelings I have? And what happens when you don’t feel anything? How do you answer someone who asks you how you’re feeling when you’re feeling nothing at all?

Conversation does not come easy to me. I struggle to keep up with what is being talked about and quickly lose interest preferring to do anything but converse. If someone has a baby it’s so what, people buy a new car and I’m wondering why they are so excited, they got a new job or a promotion and I’m wondering if they will be so excited in a year’s time. I’m not interested right now.
Even if people are ill, injured or dying there’s barely a flicker of an emotion. Life goes on and these things happen. At funerals there’s no tears. I go because I know it’s expected, a social norm and because I know it means something to my friends. This could be seen as pragmatism and stoicism at an extreme most people cannot comprehend.

And yes I’ve felt lonely, isolated, anxious, stressed, depressed and suicidal all because I did not understand why some people wouldn’t talk to me, why some people shunned me, why I found social situations difficult, why I didn’t behave and express myself the same way other people did naturally, why no-one wanted a relationship with me, why I felt different and not in step with the rest of society. This is when you’re at your lowest, everything is too much to cope with and ending it all seems the only way out.

Yet I’m still here. The suicide attempts failed and after years of trying to find a purpose in life I did, study and research. I started an access course at college and now I have just started a PhD the highest qualification you can get. I have found something I enjoy doing and something I feel that I am good at and is worthwhile.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 41 in October 2008. This answered many questions, filled in gaps and helped me to move on and understand myself and others better. There still seemed to be something missing but I assumed it was my Asperger’s being unique to me and got on with life still wondering about some things and still making some mistakes the same.
Then in March this year I was diagnosed with dyspraxia and this helped move things on a little bit. A lot of it crosses over with Asperger’s but there was still something missing, one more gap to fill. Then the lead researcher on a study I had taken part in Dr Rachel Mosely emailed me the results of some research I had taken part in about autistics and self-harm and here was a new word alexithymia.

I read about it and I recognised myself in the description. All of a sudden it made sense why I was the way I perceive myself to be. Why I find social situations difficult, why I feel emotionally detached and why I find it difficult relating interpersonally. The final gap in my personal identity had been filled and I had a name, a label to attach to my feelings and identity. I could call them something, read about them and understand them. It’s how my mind works.

I felt that all the anxiety, stress and pressure had been lifted from my shoulders. No longer did I need to try to fit in and try and be someone else because I could not and cannot be that person. I can only be me. I don’t need to try anymore I can relax and let the things I cannot control go and concentrate on the things I can do.

I understand now why I struggle in relationships and social situations and why I don’t feel emotions the same way others do and I’m fine with that. I get why my supervisor at university says they want to see some enthusiasm from me and then stare at me wondering why I’m just sat there staring back at them blankly. I now understand so much more about myself, people and life and all because of one word.

On a daily basis this means I struggle to understand why some people seem to get on with others and make progress effortlessly , talking to others, making friends, making contacts whereas I struggle to do these natural, normal interactions and are quite often left at the edges of discussions and meetings looking on, wondering what I need to do to get my voice heard and feel involved in society. This includes my autistic friends too. Many of them have social skills that I am envious of and I can only stand and wonder at their ability to start and hold a conversation with others.

One skill I do have is that I can write. I can write about how I feel and what I see going on in society far more effectively than I can talk about it. I don’t know why this is, it’s just the way I am and I’ve long got past the point where I would lay awake all night worrying about it. I can read theories, apply them to autism and write about them. Once I’ve written about them I can talk about them all day long, until the topic changes and then I’m lost.

I am lucky too in that I have a good and varied circle of friends and I look at them differently now. I see them in a new light and realise how lucky I am to have them in my life. I am also very lucky in that I am studying for a PhD and if I’m having an off day I can stay at home and do nothing or go for a run over the moors and get back to being myself.

I understand and appreciate that not everyone would feel the same way I do. I know people who don’t like labels and are always trying to fit into society in as unobtrusive a way as possible and all they want to do is to feel accepted and that they belong. And I have been there too fighting a constant battle to be accepted and understood but it was a battle that drained me of everything and nearly destroyed me.

Now I’m just myself and if people like me they do, if they don’t they don’t. I understand myself now and understand why some people like me and some don’t. I feel so much better now and I’m sure people are noticing because more people are saying hello to me and smiling at me. It’s amazing how one word can change everything in your world.


Who has the power
To decide what is
And what is not deviant

Do they understand
The effect this has
On others different to them

That by labelling others
They view as different
They alter the perceived

Identity of that person
In the eyes of the person
And the eyes of others

They are stigmatised
Life chances are reduced
The edges of society

Draw closer
They begin to feel
Apart from society

Less of a person
No one to turn to
No one to talk to

Alone in the universe
Because someone decided
They were different

And used this power
To control how
Society sees them

Taking away their life
Reducing them to
Nothing


he watches the children
silently, patiently, intently
observes their behaviours and interactions
pays attention to their communication and play

making notes about his experiences
these kids differ from others
in subtle but important ways
thoughts churn in his mind
he knows he is onto something new

in a world of their own
alone and aloof
detached from the world
still a part of society


pulling the curtains back i see a runner
flowing effortlessly past my window
with pace, poise and grace
longingly looking on, wishing i could be out there
turning i twist my knee a reminder of why i’m inside
pain deep inside my knee that struggles to support my weight
tightness in my calf makes it difficult to bend my leg
they remind me that i’m an injured runner
frustrated, annoyed, irritated
about my powerlessness to be able to run
at my inability to be able to do anything about it
apart from rest, wait and hope i can be out running soon


It’s the night before another fell race and I’m sat here feeling sick and nervous at the thought of tomorrow’s race, the Mythholmroud fell race. Why though? It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve run this race before and know the area fairly well. I’ve run races before including plenty of fell and trail races so I know what to expect, tough climbs, mud, cold water, more mud and cold water and a horrible descent before I can get back to the warmth of Mytholmroyd community centre. So I know where I’m going and what to expect. So why do I feel sick and nervous? I’m not fit at all. Overweight, slow, carrying the usual niggles that every runner seems to carry so no chance of winning or even coming in the top thirty. Even if I was fit I still wouldn’t have a chance so that’s another reason out of the window but it doesn’t explain why I feel sick and nervous. In the end all I can do is assume that it’s just a natural thing to feel nervous before a race, part of the process of preparing yourself mentally to run and do your best on the day. There doesn’t have to be a reason, it’s just one of those things that you can’t control. So yes it’s another sleepless night of worrying unnecessarily over something I can control and I know what I have to do but I still worry and I always will.


Or more specifically why does the Upper Calder Valley which is the area around Luddenden, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, feel like the place of dreams and mystery to me? This is something I’ve been wondering about ever since I discovered the Upper Calder Valley a couple of years ago and now I’ll try and answer my question.

How did I discover this stunning place? It came by chance when I get into running a couple of years ago. I started out on the roads, pounding the tarmac 2 or 3 times a week, gradually building up my distance and venturing further afield. Soon though I started to feel limited by where I could go. The roads were stunting my development as a runner and person and I realised that I was running past places when I could be running through them.

I started out running round Ogden Water a local reservoir and quickly progressed to running to the Top Withens of Bronte fame high above Haworth. I still remember my first run up there on a calm April evening. It was hard work going up but on the down to the Bronte waterfalls it was as if I was flying. Running was effortless and I flowed from one footstep to the next. I was free at last. No one around to hinder my progress the only limit was my imagination and my bravery in where I went. Out here there are no limits apart from you.

I started to explore Haworth Moor and the surrounding area and soon I wanted somewhere new to go and I discovered the Upper Calder Valley.

I can’t remember my first run round there or even my first walk. I wish I could. I’d been to Hebden Bridge before but that was many years ago and it was a far away place to me. I began going back to Hebden Bridge when I went to a writing group there and maybe it was the drive over the moors that sparked my interest in running around there. Seeing the vast expanse of wild, untamed moorland, inviting me to explore its insides and spit me out the other side, made me went to do so. Me against nature at its best and worse. Nature doesn’t care if I don’t try because someone else will but try and nature will reward you with beauty and adventures beyond your imagination.

And so somewhere the area around Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden slowly drew me into it’s fabric, it’s heart and soul, constantly challenging me as a runner and a person to come in and experience a little bit more before sending me away to reflect and digest on what I have just seen and heard before I go back for more.

It’s not just the landscapes that seem to stretch for miles that inspire me and give me food for thought. Nor the fact that you can go 100 yards and you are in a different village, another 100 yards and it’s somewhere else, but it’s the history of the place that you can feel seeping through the ground under every footstep, the history of men, women and children who walked these footpaths and packhorse trails going to work in the mills, going to try and sell cloth and bread to feed their families in all weathers, hot, draining summer sunshine and knee deep snow with bitter, cold winds blowing in their faces. It is said a lot these days that people back then were made of sterner stuff, hardy souls who went about their business without complaining.

Maybe they did complain but it’s just not recorded and maybe they had no choice but to just get on with it and not worry about what may happen to them if they undertook these arduous journeys but worry about what would happen if they didn’t. But now when I walk or run around this area I can only imagine how it must have been for these hardy people who did these journeys day after day because they had to not because they wanted to. At times it must have been soul destroying, other times they must have felt as I do that they have entered the Garden of Eden.

And maybe it is this that keeps drawing me back, this feeling of history down every footpath and trail that I run up and down, a wonderment of how people survived in what at times will have been an incredibly harsh environment but survive they did and when the sun is shining through the clouds on the valley below I can only hope that at least some of those people experienced the same view I did and felt at peace with themselves and the world even if only for a few minutes, taking in the natural beauty that is the Upper Calder Valley.


There used to be more here
More walls of stone
More roofs of slate
More paths to walk
More noise from looms
More people coming into the valley
And then we had more water
More brought less
Less people, less looms, less noise, less stones
But less can be more
Now there is more trees, more plants
More insects, more birds
More peace and tranquillity
Sometimes less seems more
It all depends how you look at it


A coal mining child

My life is measured
By the hour I get up
My walk down the hill
To the coal pit at the bottom
The darkness of the opening
I stoop so low to enter
The crawl on hands and knees
Of hard skin and cuts
Through mud and water
To get to my father the miner
Sat naked digging at the face
To get coal to power society
In this blackest of blacks
No sunlight can penetrate
I must load chunk after chunk of coal
Onto the corve that I push
On my own, alone, back to the sunlight
And to air I can breathe
No time for rest I must carry on
Turn around and repeat this process
Till here are no more corves of coal
To push from the darkness
Sometimes it is dark before I finish
I have no food or water until I do
When I get home a quick meal
And then bed so I can repeat this
Process tomorrow
And the day after
Until I die

A corf (pl. corves) also spelt corve (pl. corves) in mining is a wicker basket or a small human powered (in later times in the case of the larger mines, horse drawn) minecart for carrying or transporting coal, ore, etc.[1] Human powered corfs had generally been phased out by the turn of the 20th century, with horse drawn corfs having been mostly replaced by horse drawn or motorised minecarts mounted on rails by the late 1920s. Also similar is a Tram, originally a box on runners, dragged like a sledge.


we’ve paid our money

watched the show

listened to the performers

enjoyed ourselves

we drink free wine

eat too much free pizza

talked about situations

we’ve never faced

and as i leave he lays there

partially hidden in the opening in the wall

he raises his arm

is he trying to catch my attention?

is it a last act of defiance to a

world that has been cruel o him?

his home a concrete bunker

is this the last place he will

breathe the fresh crisp air of a summers evening?

all i can do is turn away from him

walk past this bundle of flesh and bones

and immediately reflect on

what i could have done

what i should have done

to give him a glimmer of hope

that in this unforgiving world he inhibits

there is still some humanity

 

as i drive home away from him

i depress the accelerator pedal

to get away from him

to get away from the situation

get away from my feelings of guilt

of what i could have done

of what i should have done


i see life in black and white

there is no grey for me

where the black and white lies

can change day to day

black becomes white

white becomes black

depending on my interactions with others

different situations, new experiences

to an outsider if can appear

to be shades of grey

but inside, for me

it is black and white