This year was my twelfth year on Twitter. It's grown from one of many experimental social media platforms back then to something everyone has heard of. Despite its now corporate nature and the way it can be constantly abused and used as a channel for bile and hatred by the cowardly and the loud, there is still something about it I find compelling.


Many of the important features that have come to define the platform (@-ing people, RTing a tweet) were first invented by early users of the system and it's partly these home-grown origins that I like ("...the street finds its own uses for things..." William Gibson, Burning Chrome) but what keeps me coming back is something else, something personal.

I can of course see where the main criticisms are coming from but I disagree with them.

"Oh it's just boring, who wants to read what someone had for breakfast every morning?"

If that's all you're seeing then you're following the wrong people. It's a big internet, somewhere out there are (a) people who do want to know what @JennyHollister had for breakfast and (b) people who are tweeting about things you do want to know. If someone's tweets aren't to your taste you don't have to follow them. It's like complaining that you hate using the library because you don't like Westerns (and they have half a shelf of them next to the historical fiction).

"It's not real and distracts people from real social interaction. Put down your phones and talk to a real person! Stop being antisocial! These people aren't your friends!"

This is the big one. The one I disagree with the most.  But I can see why some people, people who perhaps don't have trouble socialising in real life, might think this. Why stay in hunched over your phone or in front of your laptop when you could be out partying or in the pub?

Well, there are many and varied reasons. I'm going to describe mine but I am sure there will be some overlap with other people's.

I've always been prone to anxiety in crowded social situations. I've never quite known what to say or how to engage people in conversation. I have learned conversational openers to employ but it's tricky remembering so many and calculating what to say several responses ahead can be extremely mentally draining. The news that most people did this without thinking was astonishing to me.

Then there's the noise. Social situations often tend to take place in pubs or cafes. If there are more than a few conversations going on around me I find it hard to concentrate on the right one. I start getting sensory overload. It's not that the actual decibel level is higher for me - that would be silly - but I do begin to have trouble processing it all at once, my anxiety levels start ramping up and sometimes when it is particularly bad I need to go and hide somewhere and take a valium.

As a result I find these social situations, this stuff that is so much more "real",  very exhausting indeed.

I can do it of course (even if I do make a hash of it and people end up wondering why I'm sitting in a corner not saying much) but can't keep at it for as long as some people. I need to break off and spend time on my own recharging my energy.

Even if you didn't already know from other posts I've made on this blog, some of this is because I am autistic. Not all autistic people are the same of course; however this is how my particular flavour of autism affects my behaviour and why I like to spend time on my own.

This love of solitude doesn't mean that I don't get lonely. I may find traditional social gatherings difficult and draining but that doesn't mean I dislike talking to people. Put me in a one-to-one situation with a person I gel with and there's nothing I enjoy more. The problem is that in a traditionally structured life this is quite difficult to engineer on a regular basis.

This is where Twitter comes in. By their very nature the people I follow are going to be people I have some things in common with and if we've been hanging around in the same electronic social space for ages, sometimes years and years, then of course they are going to feel like friends. I've even dreamed about a few of them regularly.

I've never met them in real life but I am happy to talk to them about quite deep and occasionally personal subjects; subjects I might not be comfortable talking about in person.

However sometimes I wonder if I am sharing too much. Should I reign in my comments on Twitter and restrict myself to puns, isn't this cool posts, politics and plugging? I don't want to appear attention seeking or needy, and some people have pointed out that there's a danger that any posts I might make about, say, mental health might be seen by a potential employer and put them off.

That's a fair point, but the only problem is - where else am I going to express them? I have trouble enough with small talk in real life. Many times when I've actually psyched myself up to taking part in a social situation I've found myself without much to contribute to the discussions about the partner, the kids or the car and end up in one corner within half an hour or so due to some sort of conversational Brownian motion. This even happened once at my leaving do for a previous job...

If I had to restrict myself to that on Twitter as well, where could I express myself?

I think talking about mental health and other serious issues is good for us; attempts to keep things light and frothy are in the long run just sweeping matters under the carpet and perpetuating the stigma.

Furthermore in recent weeks I've read Twitter threads on subjects such as people's experiences with autism before and after diagnosis, suicide ideation and people pleasing behaviour. I found all of these compelling and what is more important they made me feel less alone. I'd never met the people who wrote them but I knew exactly what they were talking about as I'd experienced those feelings too. These threads made me feel better about myself and more understood. Other people had gone through this before me, survived and thrived.

If something I write about mental health on Twitter makes just one person feel less alone then it's worth it despite how many might consider it Too Much Information.

It's unlikely that anyone is really thinking this—I don't for a second imagine that there's anyone hanging on my every online word—but it may have occurred to some people that I haven't written a blog entry for a while. What has caused this gap in the torrent of words pouring forth from my brain into this arena since 2006? Laziness? Writer's Block?

It's neither (not that I don't suffer from both on a regular basis). I have actually been writing elsewhere.


Last summer I was lucky enough to have my novel Comeback accepted by a publisher called Unbound. However this didn't mean it was all over bar the editing. Unbound have an unusual business model in that they crowdfund for their production costs before a book can be published. This means that—unlike more traditional publishers in today's understandably risk averse market—they can take chances on books, which is good news for someone like me.

At this point I think it is important to clarify a couple of things. Often when I tell people about this there are two common responses, both of which are based on slight misconceptions about Unbound (which I too shared before I got involved with them and learned otherwise).

"Why do you need all that money to self publish?"

I don't need it and it's not self-publishing. The money from the crowdfund goes straight to Unbound to pay for their production costs, including proofreading, layout, cover design, distribution and so forth. If I was self publishing it's true that I wouldn't need the money—but I also wouldn't have Unbound's marketing and distribution services behind me.

"Maybe I'll use them next time."

While this is a good idea because—as I detailed above—they're more likely to take a chance on a manuscript, strictly speaking I didn't decide to use Unbound as opposed to, say, Createspace. To reiterate, this is not self-publishing and I could just as easily have been rejected by them when I submitted my manuscript!

If the campaign doesn't reach its target then I may very well self-publish—and if that eventuality comes to pass no doubt you will be hearing from me about it on a regular basis! But at the moment I am committed to the Unbound crowd-funding campaign.

To get back to the main point of this blog entry, part of the Unbound campaign involves writing updates (i.e. blog entries) on the Unbound platform to keep your supporters and other interested parties entertained (and up to date on your progress). I've been doing so on an almost weekly basis since the beginning of August 2017 and have clocked up nearly 20,000 words since then. I've written both blog entries—often loosely writing themed—and short fiction. If you're interested you can read them all here.

If you enjoy them—and indeed if you enjoy my writing in general—I do hope you'll consider backing the Unbound campaign. A successful completion is one of my goals for this year. If you've already pledged—many thanks! If you could persuade just one other person to do so at the bottom level that would be fantastic.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Following the post I made at the end of last year which discussed my reaction to having been officially diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Condition (a.k.a. the Syndrome Previously Known as Aspergers), I've noticed that there are a few misconceptions that have made their way into received wisdom about how I must behave.

These are not true for many reasons.

For a start not everyone with ASC is going to behave in the same manner. Everyone is different no matter where they sit on the spectrum. It is perfectly possible to have ASC and be an introvert or an extrovert. Some people might exhibit certain symptoms whilst others don't.

One of the most common preconceptions that people seem to have is that I will take everything they say literally. That if they use an idiom or colloquialism I will think they actually  mean that someone has (say) eyes bigger than their stomach.

Well no, of course not. That would be silly. I have enough of a sense of the real world and what's possible in it to realise that when a nonsensical phrase like that is used it's almost certainly an idiom and - if I'm unfamiliar with it - a few seconds thought will usually enable me to work out what it means.

Sometimes these expressions can be a little opaque. For instance a very well known one is "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". Of course I do know that this means that it's not worth risking losing something you definitely have now in order to possibly get hold of something of a greater value, but even knowing that, it's still not what the expression says to me.

For a start in my head the expression definitely is about catching birds. This is something that - I suspect in common with many people - as a child I always wanted to do. There's something about a bird's ability to fly away that comes across as a challenge to small children. I'm sure I am not the only person who spent many fruitless hours of their childhood hiding in the garden holding a string attached to a stick propping up a shoe box under which a handful of crumbs had been scattered. But I digress.

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".

I quite clearly visualise the bird in the hand and the two in the bush a little way off. I can't see why the captive bird is somehow worth more than the two that still have their freedom. If anything it's the other way around. This is partly because I am seeing the expression from the birds' point of view. The birds are the only real characters in this micro story, and while you might feel sympathy for the poor bird who's been captured by the nameless hand, the two still at liberty have far more potential, far more worth, simply due to the fact that for them the sky is the limit.

Most idioms are easier to decode though. Some are really obvious. For example "The early bird gets the worm" may still be about birds in my head, but its meaning when applied to birds is directly transferrable across to human situations. Others may be less straightforward but I know what they mean on an intellectual level and they don't alarm me.

But while many people use idioms as a kind of unconscious shorthand, I can't help imagining what it would be like if they were literally true. This ties into my sense of humour. What if her eyes actually were bigger than her stomach? What if a feast for the eyes actually did involve shovelling spoonfuls of trifle between your eyelids? Once I was watching the news and a reporter said "politicians have got to stop surprising the public". I immediately imagined an MP leaping out at someone from behind a bush. Probably the same bush that had the two birds in it.

Sometimes if an imagined scenario strikes me as particularly amusing I might make a joke based on one of these what-if scenarios. Unfortunately often people won't get these jokes. Their expressions freeze for a second before they embark on a detailed explanation of the idiom in question and what was really meant by it.

Well yes, I know. But wouldn't it be funny if...?


Do you remember the pointless lies you told yourself as a child?

I do. I remember them quite clearly. They were harmless but very powerful and sometimes I almost managed to convince myself that they were true. As far as I can see they served one major purpose: to make life more interesting and more like a story. They were micro-stories.

One that clearly stuck in my mind was almost convincing myself that I'd heard a cuckoo. Of course it was really a wood pigeon, but a cuckoo was more exciting. Cuckoos belonged in fairy tales and clocks, and how much more exciting would it have been to live in a fairy tale?

Or indeed in a clock.

The important thing was not to question it. Of course there was that tiny nagging rational voice at the back of my mind whispering "Pigeon... pigeon... pigeon..." but who was interested in pigeons? Pigeons were commonplace, part of the mundane, the everyday, the here and now. Hearing a pigeon was not anything to get excited about. Hearing a cuckoo - well in my head that was halfway to Narnia.

Sometimes I was nearly successful in convincing myself that the tiny lie was true. There was another occasion that now I remember as almost real. I can see it in my mind's eye. I was about four or five and obsessed with space travel. One morning I looked out of my window and "saw" a satellite. It was a silver sphere covered with long spikes - more like a sea urchin than space hardware - moving along swiftly beneath the solid grey cloud deck that passed for the sky for most of the early 1970s in the UK. I ran downstairs and told my Dad who was standing in the kitchen in his dressing gown making tea. His response was something along the lines of an indulgent "Oh really? That must have been exciting."

The odd thing is I remember so much detail but of course it has to be made up. For one thing no satellites had orbits that took them below the clouds in London N9. No satellites were in the form of giant silver sea-urchins. And for another I can't quite shut that tiny rational voice up.

"Pigeon... pigeon... pigeon..."

I had to have been making it up but the self delusion was so strong in this instance - and has now had so long to bed in - that this imaginary incident looms as large in my memory as many of my real experiences. It is just as valid a part of my background as watching Top Cat on TV, seeing Saturn through a telescope for the first time or the sheer panic I felt when for a few seconds I was convinced that my parents had abandoned me in a department store.

Everything is much more intense as a child anyway. We have yet to learn what our expectations of the world should be and so notice everything around us, sometimes spotting things that adults overlook. To make sense of this brand new complex universe we find ourselves in, our imaginations are supercharged, the Question Machine turned up to eleven. Any books we read and television programmes or films we watch are so much a larger proportion of our experiences than they would be if we'd read or watched them as an adult that it's no wonder the real world often doesn't seem to match up to the potential of our imaginations. There was a police box at the end of our street. One day it vanished, probably removed as part of the Met's program of phasing them out in the early 1970s. I almost convinced myself it had dematerialised. It's understandable that faced with yet another example of the mundane we might try on a more outlandish explanation for size.

But eventually we become adults and the sheer quantity of our experiences in the real world starts to outstrip our supply of more fanciful imaginings. The tiny rational voice is no longer so tiny.

"Pigeon! Pigeon! Pigeon!"

And the small lies we almost managed to convince ourselves were true? They start to get recycled for more sinister purposes. If we're not careful they might start playing a part in getting us to ignore injustice, rationalise our selfishness or justify hatred. I think it's far better that we return them to their original use and every so often entertain ourselves with micro-stories of what the world might only be like if... The rational part of our brains still has a very important part to play - fighting injustice, practicing altruism and battling hatred.

Cuckoo.

Anyone who read this blog in May 2010 might have seen a post entitled Intellectromagnetic Spectrum in which I wondered - having read up on some of the symptoms for reasons which are not going to become readily apparent again at this juncture - whether I might in fact have Asperger Syndrome.

From what I could see I considered it likely, but I couldn't quite silence that little nagging voice at the back of my mind. You are probably familiar with That Voice yourself. It's the one that constantly puts you down and emphasises your worthlessness. In this instance it was whispering Of course you don't have Asperger Syndrome! You're just saying that to make yourself seem interesting, you're using it as an excuse for your social failings. You don't have it at all. You're just shit at life and don't you forget it.

Hardly the most cogent of arguments, but there's always been something convincing about That Voice. No matter how much you might try and dismiss it as pessimism, there's always a part of you that fears it's speaking the truth. This is partly because when good things happen we take them as read and think nothing of it, whereas when bad things happen we remember being warned about them by That Voice. This is an evolutionary trait - our ancestors survived by being pessimists.

So we've been conditioned to trust That Voice but the problem arises when other aspects of our personality - such as self-loathing - employ it. Thankfully in recent years this self-criticism and inability to recognise one's own achievements has been identified as an attributable personality trait in itself which has become known as Impostor Syndrome. So that all helps, right?

Unfortunately not. Now That Voice simply says Of course you don't have Impostor Syndrome! You're just saying that to make excuses for the fact that you are, in actual fact, shit.

And so it goes. In this instance the opinions swirled around and around in my head for years. In better times I considered that I was probably right about having Aspergers, in worse ones I berated myself for being such a lazy, worthless, excuse-making fraud.

And then in spring this year it changed. For another completely different set of reasons - which also are not going to become readily apparent at this point - I saw a mental health practitioner who thought that one of the reasons I might be having the problems I was having at the time was because he could see evidence of autism. As such he referred me to a neurobehavioural clinic for an assessment.

Six months later I finally had the assessment. I found it quite interesting - there were a number of questionnaires as well as an in depth discussion of my life so far and what I thought about it. I even brought up my fear that I'd only self-diagnosed to make myself interesting and to use as an excuse for the fact that I was simply crap at social stuff. The practitioner said that he had indeed seen people come in for the assessment who seemed to want the diagnosis almost because it was "trendy" (the mental equivalent of the hipster beard) but I on the other hand actually had Asperger Syndrome - he could tell that just by talking to me.

Except they don't call it Asperger Syndrome any more. It's now Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). That's fair enough. I like a good acronym. As long as no-one refers to it as ASC Condition I think I'll be fine.

So everything was OK after all. I had it and I had a piece of paper to prove it. Despite its ongoing attempts to undermine me, I now knew that I could ignore That Voice and that my problems weren't because I was Simply Shit At Life. I had a reason for people finding me difficult or hard work. And oddly enough having received the diagnosis I actually found social situations slightly easier. I panicked less and the awkward feelings I experienced weren't backed up by an undercurrent of self-loathing. I knew why I felt like this.

Of course with the official diagnosis come a number of other issues. Even though it has entered into the public consciousness, many people still have misconceptions about the condition. For some it seems to be simply another label in their vocabulary that they can toss about to demonstrate just how well educated they are and use to classify anyone rude, thoughtless or selfish they might come across.

No, someone rude, thoughtless and selfish is just an asshole.

They may well have Asperger Syndrome as well, but being an asshole is unrelated to this. Tying rudeness to the syndrome makes about as much sense as tying blue eyes to deceit. Anyone can be an asshole.

There are other misconceptions too, but I can save them for another time. In the meantime I can say that it does feel good to have discovered one of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that I call me.

I'd much rather get the train to Scotland than fly but it's just not financially practical any more. For some reason the main advantage of flying these days is no longer that it's quicker (although it still is) but that it's far cheaper. Time was when air travel was a luxury you indulged in when time was of the essence whereas students on a budget went backpacking around Europe by train.

No longer.

For some reason low-cost airlines are a thing whereas low-cost train routes aren't. Why is that?

Mind you, if you fly on a low cost-airline you can certainly identify where they're cutting the costs. The fares themselves are cheap but everything you might want is extra. Hold baggage? Extra. Drinks and food? Extra. I wouldn't be surprised if they start charging for the use of the toilet soon. Everyone should experience flying by Ryanair at least once if only because it will make them realise that Easyjet aren't actually that bad...

One thing Easyjet are still charging for is Speedy Boarding. Once upon a time I could understand why people might want this. The airline used to operate a choose-your-own-seat policy which meant that there was a definite advantage in getting on first - it meant you could pick the seat you wanted (in my case usually in the aisle near the exit). But then they changed the procedure so that all seats were allocated at check-in (usually online).

And yet not only do they still offer Speedy Boarding, but some people still pay for it, even though all it means these days is that you get to stand around in the jetway for longer waiting for the plane doors to be opened.

There is no advantage to it whatsoever.

If you're a standard ticket holder and are canny enough to sit near the boarding doors in the departure lounge then you will be immediately behind the Speedy Boarders and effectively getting the same service as them as you walk to your pre-allocated seat.

Surely it's time to abandon this add-on, especially given that pick-your-own-seat itself is another add-on offered at purchase? I suppose the only reason they maintain it is that there are still people who will be taken in and pay for this non-privilege.

No, Speedy Boarding is a complete waste of time.

One thing I definitely would pay for however is Speedy Disembarkation. It would be preferable to the current free for all. The aircraft coasts to a standstill and even before the seat belt signs have been switched off, a wave of clicks sweep down the cabin as the impatient get ready to stand up and scramble for the overhead lockers. Most of the time I seem to end up bent double wedged between the aisle seat and the lockers waiting for the doors to open and for people to start shuffling out.

Of course there are those smug individuals remaining in their seats looking down their noses at everyone else as if to say "What's the hurry? You're not going to get off any faster by standing up, you know..."

I appreciate that this may well be fine for someone of a more relaxed persuasion, but I have anxiety issues and the sooner I get out of this claustrophobic cramped metal tube with my single piece of luggage the sooner I can confront the stress filled situations of passport control and customs. I know I'm not sneaking into the country or smuggling hard drugs but nevertheless the fact that these checks are in place at all feels like a silent accusation which upsets me. It's only once I'm out on the arrivals concourse that I can relax - unless of course it's late in the evening and I have to rush to the station to get the last train...

I can't see Speedy Disembarkation working though. No matter how many times the aircraft crew tell people not to unfasten their seatbelts until the light has been switched off it still happens with monotonous regularity. If people are unwilling to obey even this simple instruction can you imagine the furore that would occur if they were told to remain seated until the Speedy Disembarkers had got off? You can hear the self-righteous complaints even now.

Then again after people got used to it I suspect it would be such an attractive proposition that almost everyone would pony up the cash for this extra add on. And so, even though the resulting situation would be the same as the current one, Easyjet would have an extra £15 or so per passenger in their pockets...

Everyone has experienced The Confusion.

We all know what it's like. We're on our way home from work after a long day. It's later than it should be. We're sitting on the top deck of an overlit bus. Outside it's dark and it's pissing with rain, the hateful hiss of tyres on wet tarmac a cosmic background radiation to our fatigue.

Red traffic lights shout their noiseless commands into the chaotic evening, fragmented into violent splatters by the rain drops on the window. Sleep drags at the back of our eyeballs and we close our eyes, leaning our head against the glass. But the vibration of the engine makes dropping off impossible, our skull reverberating from hundreds of tiny impacts.

The traffic is moving so slowly it would probably be quicker to get off and walk, but there's the rain to contend with so we stay on board until the last possible moment.  It's only a short walk from the bus stop to our flat but even that's more than enough time to get soaked through.

Once inside we turn on the heating and hang our damp clothes on the radiator. We're still knackered and the idea of lying down for a few minutes appeals. After all, we've already got undressed. Just half an hour and then we'll get up and start preparing some food...

The bed is far more comfortable than it normal is and the darkness soothes as it washes over our forehead.

There is a noise. There is a bell. Something is ringing. The Confusion is wrapped around us like a sticky shroud. Is that the alarm? Is it time to get up for work? The numerals on the digital clock don't make any sense... looks like we've overslept. As we fight our way free of the uncertainty all becomes clear.

We've been lying down for about twenty minutes. And that noise? The phone you idiot.

We get up and answer it. The voice of our friend on the other end does much to ground us in reality, but all the same a slight uneasiness remains. On the one hand it's as if we've been granted some extra time - the belief that it was morning and time to get up was strong and now we have the whole evening ahead of us. On the other... there was a fracture. The part of our brain that counts the hours has been fooled, it seems that time is not as consistent as we might otherwise have believed. And all it took to pull aside the curtain was sleep.

Maybe time is a function of consciousness? Without the ordered march of our thoughts across the singularity where the "self" intersects with the "now", it appears that time is not so linear after all, not as central a part of the mechanism of the universe as we thought. Perhaps it is just a way of looking at the universe, an emergent property of the way our brains organise information.

Some theories of the nature of consciousness are pertinent here. As has been covered before in this blog, the brain flips causality and reverses time upon doing something so as to give us the illusion that we're in control, to fool us into thinking we made the decision rather than the decision making us. However this theory assumes that linear time is a constant and that subsequently we're living in a series of tiny loops awkwardly sewn together and struggling against a constant temporal current.

But if Time is simply part of the Whole Sort Of General Mish-Mash then perhaps the brain is using it in a non-linear manner (just as a computer can store the data of a single file on a hard disk in multiple fragments, using up the free space as and where available) and on a very minor level can access it non-sequentially. Even though the very word "sequential" means nothing under the circumstances.

If Time is as much of an emergent property of the brain as Consciousness then perhaps they are in cahoots. Sleep is the great liberator, it frees us from both of them allowing whatever it actually is that passes for our "selves" to simply be rather than adhere to the rigid structures we've built up to understand the universe.

And perhaps they don't like that. Control can be very addictive. And thus Time and Consciousness conspire to prevent our escape, the result of which is Insomnia.

Insomnia is the reverse of The Confusion described above. Instead of compressing vast chunks of unconscious time into what turns out to have only been twenty minutes, Insomnia wants to make sure we're aware of every single dull second.

Tick-tock. It's slightly too warm. It's slightly too cold. Tick-tock. Our nose itches. Scratching it drags us back just that little bit closer to full wakefulness. Tick-tock. Where did that ache come from? What's causing it? Tick-tock.

After a while it occurs that we've been awake for a very long time. We're almost loathe to check the clock - wanting to avoid the bad news - but eventually give in. Fuck. It's 3am. We've been lying here staring into the night for over two hundred minutes. And we had to live through every moment, our brains whirring, going over and over those things we'd rather not think about, telling us all about what we should have done rather than what we actually ended up doing. Reminding us that one day we are going to die. Reminding us that one day we will be lying there with less than twenty four hours to go before we cease to be and that there is nothing we can do about it.

Time and Consciousness are not simply our jailers; they want us to suffer as well. However, dreaming is the point of sleep, essential for the continued healthy function of the brain. No matter how much Time and Consciousness hate us, they can't afford to let us go mad. So - while still making sure we are chained to the awareness of the passing of time and our presence in the increasingly uncomfortable bed - the permit us to start dreaming in parallel.

These dreams are at best dissatisfying and at worst nightmares. We're fully alert to the fact that we are lying there awake and increasingly upset but at the same time these confusing little narratives run underneath the experience. We can't concentrate on them enough to enjoy them, but at the same time they nag at us, adding an additional layer of discomfort to the already intolerable experience of a night's Insomnia.

Eventually we give up and abandon the idea as getting up and facing the day is marginally less unpleasant than continuing to lie there. After all, it's already getting light.

And we get to do it all over again the following night.



Image by Faisal Akram from Dhaka, Bangladesh (Insomnia) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons