It’s been a roller coaster of a month and I’m not quite sure where to begin so I’ll start with the bricks and mortar part of our lives… we had an offer on the house last month. It was considerably less than the asking price and I wrestled for some time over whether to accept it as it was such a massive drop.
We did the sums. We found a mindful mortgage consultant. We drove back to Wales. We trudged over hundreds of acres on smallholdings for sale over a two week period (my hips are not happy about this) and eventually, we found ‘the one’ (the twelfth property we looked at on this particular trip). With an offer accepted on a 14.5 acre smallholding, our house sold subject to contract and a complete vision on the eco village we would be building, I really thought it was just a paperwork exercise to now make the dream a reality.
People have always marvelled at how fearless I am when it comes to new ventures, but what they don’t realise is that when you are autistic, everything is scary. I’ve far more fear attached to having to attend a party than borrowing hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a smallholding.
I posted the details on our vegan eco village networking page and had such an overwhelming response from people wanting to join us that we literally had to create an index card filing system to keep track of everyone. We sent out ‘tribe seeking’ questionnaires and had several back straight away. It presented some challenges when we found out how many people just weren’t vegan (why did they join a vegan eco village networking page if they have no plans to ever be vegan?) but as part of the sieving process it started to look like it really would’t be hard to find ethical vegans to join us – we’d not advertised it externally at all and had dozens of applications to join us. I connected non-vegans with other non-vegans and pointed people towards other projects that I know are happening where they looked like more of a match for each other. I would love it if these people connected and good came of it. It makes me feel like I have fulfilled some sort of divine purpose when I hear amazing things have happened because of introductions I have made. Sometimes I get so busy making other people’s dreams come true, I forget I have dreams of my own.
I don’t know if it’s unhealthy detachment leading to my brain to disassociate from reality, or if I have achieved some form of wise old lady Buddhist detachment to the outcome of my endeavours, but when the sale of our property fell through and the smallholding purchase also falling through, I didn’t despair. In fact, I had an underlying sense of wellness that it was a positive thing. Like an angel just kicked me up the arse and then whispered ‘not yet’. I know it will happen. Just not yet.
It’s an autistic trait to endlessly pick apart the whys and wherefores of events and try to work out what went wrong. I like to consider whether I handled the situation correctly. Could I have done anything differently? I realised on reflection that I could have kept the buyers (if I reduced my price further) and that I could have advertised to find investors to then continue buying the smallholding, perhaps even manage to do it without the sale of my house. But the man buying my house was a bully and I felt anxious about doing business with him. He was already causing problems before we had invited solicitors into the fray. It didn’t feel good selling to him, so when it all fell through, I felt both disappointment and relief in equal measure before very quickly settling at ‘meh’. We are not so desperate to sell that we need to do business with sociopaths. And we’re not so desperate for a tribe that I will take money from strangers. Especially when the last two people I tried to help turned out to be very dark indeed beneath the fluffy exterior – but I will come back to that later….
There’s a possibility that my tolerance level when dealing with sociopaths and narcissists is potentially lower than for the majority given my history and over empathic nature (which is like having a target painted on my forehead to those who lack moral fibre). Paul and I have been watching a series on Now TV called ‘The Blacklist’ and the main protagonist Reddington is a sociopath, but because he doesn’t pretend he isn’t one, we, the viewer find ourselves rooting for him. Is it because he is authentic and doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not? Or is it that his rare acts of kindness are proof that he has a soul despite being a serial killer with little or no conscience? Or that he is willing to be held accountable for his choices even when it’s ugly. It’s prompted some interesting conversations at home over who is the darkest: the troubled dark soul who owns his shit, or the sickly sweet, polite sociopath who hides their selfish agendas behind smiling facades? I’d rather be dealing with the former, and in the current political climate it sure would have been good if politician’s true motives were revealed. Then we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this dystopian nightmare that is the reality of our current society. I’m deeply troubled by the way our government have lied and lied and yet people are still voting for them.
The lies and underhand tactics behind false smiles are symptomatic of what’s wrong with the whole world – not just the world of politics. I’ve said it before, but to save the world, we have to all start owning our shit. It’s a joke how far people will go to avoid being honest, but the thing is, I have this innate ability to get the sociopaths and narcissists to reveal themselves. A lifetime of being a victim of gaslighting because I’m ‘not normal’ (my first husband’s catch phrase) means I always thought that when people behaved badly towards me, it was because I had done something to provoke it and that it was somehow my fault. It was almost always the people who appeared so nice to start with. The common denominator for so many dramatic outbursts of anger aimed at me, was – me. I believed the people who told me I was too sensitive, or that I pushed them away, or that it was me that made them behave badly because of something I said or did. I no longer think that. I do not say things to stir up trouble and nor do I look for confrontation, but I do speak the truth. Without hidden agenda. Unlike the glib charisma of narcissists, if I have any agenda at all, it isn’t veiled. I’m quite clear about what I want, what I’m after and what my boundaries are. I have kind thoughts. I like helping people. I’m flawed but I’m authentic. So when I encounter someone who is fake, it often doesn’t go well for them because in trying to find out what their motives are, and what they are all about, I often ‘out’ the narcissist.
Not long ago, Paul and I opened up our home to a young couple – foreigners relocating to the country for his research position at the University. A scientist and his wife (who would be looking for a job when she got here) arrived a few months ago and we put them up for a few weeks over Summer. They were vegetarian not vegan, but they promised that they would be vegan while in our home and that was good enough for us. We shared meals and spoke about veganism. We shared recipes. We talked about how cruel dairy was and they both agreed that being vegan was a good idea. She was excited about trying out new vegan recipes. They seemed a lovely couple and we got along fine. As we were very actively house/land hunting in Wales and spent most of the Summer away, we didn’t spend much time with them, but even when we were back home there very few challenges sharing with them; nothing awful and to be honest, I considered it all to be the usual stuff you’d encounter when having to share your space with other people. She didn’t do any job hunting that we could see and was home all day, every day. That was quite hard for me to start with as I work from home and didn’t expect her to be there all day too but I got over it. She liked to experiment with cooking and most of the days we were home, she spent several hours a day in the kitchen (which isn’t big enough for both of us to try and cook at the same time). In the end, I politely suggested a rota and she acknowledged without any falling out that she had been hogging the kitchen. All good I thought, even when she then tried comparing how much more wholesome her food was to ours. Oh, how we laughed at how she cooked everything from scratch when we often popped shop bought fake meat pies in the oven. (Clive’s pies my all time favourite). I resisted the urge to say I usually cooked all the time including days where I batch cooked vegan wholefood to freeze but not being able to get in the kitchen had stopped that. I just thought to myself that it’s only temporary and I could get control back of my kitchen when they were gone. That and any excuse to eat pie really.
She seemed lovely to start with, and there were a couple of times she opened up about personal aspects of her life. I won’t divulge too much out of respect for her, but I can share that she spoke at length at how awful her family were – both Paul and I could relate, as we both experienced abusive childhoods. Her variety of childhood abuse stemmed from being darker skinned than the rest of her Indian family; she was made to feel less – like an outcast and that she wasn’t good enough. Learning this helped me to be more patient with her when I started to notice that behind the giggly, softly spoken words there was a dark passive aggressive streak.
They talked about having a similar dream to us – living off the land in a sustainable way, but unlike us, she wanted to keep livestock for dairy and eggs. Paul and I talked to them both about exploiting animals but she was having none of it. To keep the peace, we never let it get heated and always remained polite, but she knew our position. If I’m honest, despite the politeness, I started counting down the days until she was gone. I wanted my kitchen back and she had also started to remind me of my narcissistic sister – all glowing and charming with softly spoken tones yet I had a growing feeling that she was hating on me big time under the politeness. She was petite and pretty but despite her outward beauty, she had nothing kind to say about her sister who lived in London (with a very successful career and two children, both of which seemed to trigger her). In fact I’d say she was rather scathing about her, yet was completely charming and wonderful to her on their regular video chats. I started to wonder what she was saying about me behind my back as I’ve learned the hard way that people who say bad things about other people may well be saying bad things about you too. I witnessed the lies she told her husband when he got home from work as to why she hadn’t found a job yet. I really tried to see her good traits and reasoned that the angry and bitter vibes I could sense behind the false charm was how she was holding herself together; I know what survival looks like with someone who is mentally unstable. Just like Paul’s sister and her vitriolic rants, I could see the damage and although I would prefer not to be around toxic people, I was careful to be as kind as I could. To show kindness when it’s a challenge is easier when you remind yourself that you don’t know what secret battles people are having. They moved out when we were in Wales and we only saw them once more when I said they could come back and use our internet while we were away as their new place didn’t have any.
It wasn’t until she posted information about her new vegetarian creative cookery classes online a few weeks later did it all fall apart. I simply stated that I’d love a vegan creative cookery class, but to her, I may as well have said ‘I’m superior to you because I’m vegan’ if the vitriolic messages I got later were anything to go by. I tried to explain that the whole reason I am vegan is because I do not consider myself superior to anyone, including animals which is why I do not eat, harm or exploit them. It didn’t help, and I as I could see this was not a battle I was going to win no matter how reasonable and calm I stayed, I stated it was time we stopped pretending we were friends and that I should have our keys back as she still hadn’t returned them after moving out. She ignored a couple of reminders over the next few days, then after a third, very polite message that we were able to collect keys that afternoon if she was home, she replied to say that she had just thrown my keys in the bin and I could go rummage though her rubbish if I wanted them back! She then ignored my reply telling her how unacceptable that was. I took a screenshot of her message and sent it to her husband, asking him to step in and help. The next thing I know, I get a phone call from the estate agent that we bought our house through. They had themselves just had a bizarre phone call from The Co-operative Funeral Care Co on Tiverton Road to say that a crazy lady had just run into their office, thrown a set of keys on a desk, shouted ‘Jenny will collect these’ and then ran out. As the keys still had the estate agent key fob on the key ring complete with the reference number from when we bought the house, they were able to ring me and I went down and collected my keys. I then later got an email from the husband telling me my keys were at the Co-op Funeral Care shop as if this is a perfectly usual way to return keys.
I thought this was to be the end of it, however she then tagged me in a post on Exeter Vegetarians and Vegans page on Facebook. She had got embroiled in another argument over veganism with a question that admin had raised, and then weirdly accused me of sending her hate messages because she’s vegetarian! I looked back over all our messages and all I could see was me trying to explain with kindness why dairy is cruel. The only hate I could see was coming from her. ‘You think you’re better than me’ was one of her accusations and it’s a common one that vegans hear. I may think my choices are better (in some areas) than others, but I never think I am a better person. I’m a different person, and different doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s like comparing an apple and orange and asking which is better. Admin had switched off comments before I came to witness the whole ugly thread, so I had to ask them to remove the slanderous comments that I sent hate messages. Why is it that toxic people accuse innocent people of the very thing they themselves do? It made me want to screenshot every damn page of all our conversations so everyone could see she was lying, but instead I wrote to her husband once more and offered to help. I asked him to look through the messages with his wife and wondered if they could discuss why she thinks I’ve been hateful to her. I even offered to go and talk it through with them to help get the bottom of her negativity towards me, because if her campaign of hate resulted in more lies and slander I would be involving the police next time. No reply, but then, I didn’t really expect one. Narcissists simply never face the ugly part of themselves and besides, it’s much easier to hate the person that holds the mirror up to that ugliness than face yourself.
Having woken up this morning to the news that the Conservative Party won the election yesterday, I can’t help thinking my experience with the vegetarian lodger is like a snapshot of what is happening politically in the world. Sociopaths and narcissists are not being held accountable for their behaviour and lies. We accept sociopathy as if it’s a welcome trait to make things happen. People seem to lie to each other all the time. This needs to change.
The symbiotic relationship between how our leaders behave and how the mass population behaves has never been more clear to me. That and the fact that we really are living in an Orwellian matrix where the masses really are shockingly easy to manipulate. ‘The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command’ (Orwell 1984) is scarily accurate to what just happened in this election. People can see quite clearly how bad things are, but still would rather believe the lies.
It seems to me that the foundation of our society is built on lies, so when someone like me comes along and speaks the truth, it doesn’t make me very popular. ‘The more a society drifts from the truth, the more they will hate those who seek it’ (also Orwell). If we start pointing the finger at who is lying in government, maybe we have to start looking at the lies and cruelty in our own lives. We’d have to look at the lies in the advertising we are exposed to, the false politeness of a society that is failing and of course the lies we tell ourselves so that we can continue to be selfish and never be held accountable for it. If you scratch the surface of the fake lives the majority are leading you will find that not many people are happy. Addiction fills the void where joy should be – whether that’s with alcohol, Facebook, consumerism, gambling etc – all symptoms of a lack of connection to each other and to nature. If people were more connected to the planet, I’m sure they’d be more awake when it came to protecting it.
It looks to me like we are mostly connected to each other by misery – I noticed this more than ever when I belonged to a group of women called the Singing Sisters. When I told Paul about the things the women regularly said at Sing Club, he renamed it Bitch Club! I made myself unpopular when I told the group I was very uncomfortable listening to them slagging off someone who wasn’t there. I said that it sounded like she had mental health problems and needed support. It wasn’t long after that that they were all discussing me behind my back and I was made to feel so unwelcome in the end, I had to leave. It was like being back at school. I noticed in my post mortem of my time with these women that when I was single and could complain about disaster dates or laugh about the latest narcissist I had invited into my life, everyone could relate. But when I met Paul and got engaged, no-one wanted to hear the romantic stories. My happiness was not welcome. This is not what I call sisterhood. The dictionary describes sisterhood as a connection between women based on common interest, trade or religion. I think the common interest in Bitch Club, sorry, Sing Club was to hate men. And people with mental health problems. People think I’m being mean when I hold up a mirror but often I’m just describing what I see.
We went back to Wales last week for a seminar on co-housing and made some useful contacts and got lots of great information for building our eco village. But, here’s the thing; I’m starting to have a wobble that I want to be around people when the more I do to share what we have and help people, the more I feel like a mole being bashed over the head in a plastic ‘whack a mole’ game. As part of the tribe matching service I seem to have inadvertently begun, I introduced two contacts to each other – one a lady that I suspect is on the spectrum and is overcoming all sorts of anxiety issues to be pioneers in a new sustainable life with her beautiful family, and the other an ‘earth mother’ type with a grown up son and having lived in many communities. I had hoped they would connect, but not only did they positively hate each other, the toxicity of the ‘earth mother’ type shocked me somewhat. I tried being a peacemaker but got shot down by her for my efforts. ‘Did you not see me radiating?’ the earth mother type said when I suggested rather than accuse my other friend of being toxic she could look to her own negativity that arose after their experience of each other. It didn’t go down well, and I have been deleted as a friend. I did my usual autistic post-mortem and pieced together the evidence of where it all went wrong for these two women. The anxious one in this equation is a vegan. The other, who believes she ‘radiates’ is not. Was cognitive dissonance at play again with a vegetarian thinking they have ‘arrived’ and not being prepared to examine their choices because they would find they weren’t all kind ones? Or was it that people like my anxious friend trigger anger in people that lack empathy? Ironically, while the ‘earth mother’ type was spouting her hate on her Facebook page about the toxicity of someone she just met, she failed to see her own toxicity. And she really didn’t like me suggesting it. Paul and I nearly fell out over it because he wants to protect me from people like her and was cross that I got embroiled when I defended a friend. ‘Better not to get involved’ he said while I spent a day in tears. But my tears are not a sign of weakness, and I told Paul that people like her are the very people I believe I am here to challenge. Some of the loveliest, most soulful people I know aren’t vegan yet, so it isn’t a vegan thing. It’s people who pretend to be kind, but the moment they are presented with something that makes them uncomfortable, they reveal the dark selfish individual they are. The ‘earth mother’ type who dismisses another person because they may have mental health problems is not one of my tribe.
The conclusion I am currently drawing from this is that those that pretend to be kind in a bid to groom others into liking them for selfish agendas are often the darkest souls of all. Give me an authentic mess who can’t hide their darkness over a simpering manipulator any day. I long for a day when people speak freely about what they think and how they feel. Even if it occasionally makes for an awkward moment, I appreciate honesty.
All this has held up a mirror to me too. What is my agenda? Why am I continuously trying to connect with other people when all I keep finding is nastiness? My vegan eco village networking page is more popular than ever, but I’m starting to think we need to scale down our project so that there’s less people. More animals perhaps. Because my experience so far of people is that ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ (Orwell again!). I hope that changes, but my disappointment in how our nation voted yesterday along with my own ‘whack a mole’ experience of trying to help people has sent me into hiding at the moment. It’s winter so hibernating seems natural anyway.
We will put our house on the market again at Christmas, and try again, but until then, (and perhaps until we go for it with the eco-village in Spring) I may not write again for a while. I have an idea for a novel and there’s a chance I will be writing articles on Autism and PTSD once a month if I get the gig so this is a bit of a signing off for now. I may publish my ‘neurodivergent’ articles here for those of you following my journey into conscientious living, but otherwise this marks an end to keeping my personal blog going. I shall leave with a positive note on some jolly good news so you don’t think I’m flouncing off in a huff:
Greta Thunburg has been made Time Person of the Year. As someone who is also autistic, outspoken and passionate about saving the planet, I hope people like us start getting hailed as role models instead of weirdoes or ‘not normal’. I feel this is the beginning. Change is coming.