You Have Memories To Look Back On Today…

Rumpus original art by Teresa M. Beatty

Among my Facebook “memories” this weekend was an article I wrote for Global Living Magazine in 2012. Scanning my bubbly endorsement of Toronto’s winter social scene, I marvelled at how far I’ve come in the intervening years.

When we arrived in Canada in 2010, I slowly began to take up space as myself again; began to rediscover old loves sacrificed in service to being a good daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother.

Writing was one of those loves, though I never realised what a lifeline it was for me until much later. I never imagined myself a writer or visualised writing a book, even my diaries as a young girl were subject to protracted ‘comas’, where months would pass before a breathless entry apologetically attempted to explain all that had passed in the interim. I wrote poems—just a handful, nothing prodigious—but it was in writing down my feelings that I found the most value.

From my very early teens, I experienced extremes of mood and reason that left me frightened and bewildered; a transient, intense joy so excruciatingly sublime I thought I might split at the seams or bubble over like a milk pan on a stove, and lows pervasive as Scotch mist and twice as persistent. Consumed with self-hatred for all my perceived shortcomings, I weathered many ‘dark nights of the soul’ where the absurdity of carrying on seemed both cowardly and pointless. I talked myself in and out of suicide, over and over again.

Nobody realised this emotional dysregulation was a symptom of undiagnosed autism. I was given a short course of counselling and expected to deal with it.

Unfortunately, another common component of autism is alexithymia – difficulty identifying and describing one’s internal emotions. So my reality continued to be hi-jacked every so often by a truckload of emotion I couldn’t process and had no real ability to communicate to anyone else. Discovering words to describe my inner turmoil in books and then writing that shit down was all I had.

When I finally received an autism diagnosis here in Canada at the ripe old age of 37, writing was my way of processing and coming to terms with this new world view, of being different, yes, but not unforgivably flawed. And many of you kept me company on that journey, here on Expatlog.

So when Facebook reminded me I’ve been getting my work published for over a decade, it prompted a moment of quiet (okay, maybe not quiet—I immediately found my husband to share it with him) acknowledgement of what I’ve achieved, purely through my own ability and motivation.

I’ve penned articles for glossy magazines on the ups and downs of expat life, had blog posts featured on Mumsnet and HuffPost, and received paycheques from UK newspapers. I’ve helped raise awareness with pieces written for the NCT, MIND, and Autism Ontario. I’ve placed in contests and read to audiences.

As a child, I sometimes took down a particular book from my mother’s shelves, “Tomorrow’s Poets”, and flicked through the pages to find her words within it. Now my own bookshelves contain anthologies where essays and poems of mine nestle. I’m slowly accruing a portfolio of work published in literary magazines.

The Rumpus is my latest literary conquest, with a piece that grew out of a blog post, developed to illuminate an undiagnosed autistic child’s jarring transition from Nature’s classroom to the austere school system of rural ‘80’s Ireland.

I’m sharing it here with you now in celebration. Not bad for a curly-haired day-dreamer from Kildare, eh?

Rumpus original art by Teresa M. Beatty

My autism, unknown to anyone in eighties rural Ireland, meant I lived largely in the boundless realm of my imagination where I reveled in the sensory stimulation and glorious indifference of the natural world. At five years old, my still-wild senses thrilled to shifting air currents, ion-heavy before a storm, the momentary cool of cloud-shadow on a sun-dappled day, the rich exhale of the earth after rain.

I lay, with my ear to the ground, feeling the slow Paleozoic heartbeat thrumming up through the earthworm tunnels. To me, the land was a great living creature sodden with sleep, beneath whose bogland and soft moss Time accumulated in its earthly form: peat, inching over granite and limestone in the slowest of tides. I had only to push my fingers into the sun-warmed soil to know that the bones of the land were my bones, the veins of yellow ochre making loose stones and protruding rocks seem touched by fire, a contrasting echo of the blue-green tracery beneath my own pale skin.

I was part of the bedrock of this mythic, windswept landmass, so firmly rooted and thoroughly immersed I had to be re-tamed when I came in for meals, the earth washed from the ridges and whorls of my skin. All the same, my mother took me to Shaw’s department store to buy a dress and shoes.

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.

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