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  • I came across a post on social media, as you do. The thing is, now I’m questioning everything I know about my anxiety and how it impacts on the way I move through the world. The post shows a letter written by Vicky Bliss from Lancashire Autism Service. The letter reads:

“[…] Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1. […]

Level 1 is roughly akin to what used to be called Asperger Syndrome. It is the mildest level (there are three) and it is given to people who are intellectually able to cope with some social situations so well that others would not know there is any difference in the way they process information. If a person spends more than a little time with you however, they will then see there are significant areas in which you struggle to cope with social situations and in managing your emotions.

Very definitely me!

In brief, this diagnosis means your brain is simply wired differently from those who do not have autism. Because of sensory sensitivities and inattention to non-verbal clues, you might take in different information from your environment than a non-autistic person.

Not so much me. Sure, I have sensory sensitivities (e.g. loud sounds, bright lights, too many humans around me in a confined space…<shudder>) but I’m often quite aware of non-verbal clues. Too aware, sometimes. I’m taking in a lot of information. All. The. Time. And if I don’t have downtime to process it all… my brain gets too full and it freezes. Literally. I can get to a point where I simply can not take in any more information and I become dumb.

Your brain is happiest when you are working with certain types of information, which get filed very neatly so you can access them whenever you need them. 

Everything, yes!

Your brain is uncomfortable when it goes out into the world, because it becomes bombarded by information overload and by [the] behaviour of other people it cannot easily predict. If your brain has a chance to process information about where you are going, how long you’re going to be there, what’s going to happen, and other details, it can plan strategies for making a quick exit or coping with social difficulties. When you brain is under stress, it sends adrenaline and cortisol throughout your body and you experience the kind of anxiety that makes you want to fight, freeze or flee, even in situations that are not dangerous to you.

This is at the root of my anxiety! All the things. THIS!

Autism is not an intellectual disability or mental illness. […] It establishes you as a lovely person who has eccentricities, who is different from the ‘norm’ and who does not always follow the crowd. You may well become the person to whom others go when they want the truth about something. […] You may be the one who insists others think about and explain social rules that they never thought about before.”

Pretty much. Or so I’m told. <shrug>

Look, I honestly don’t know where this leaves me. I’m not declaring to the world that I am on the autism spectrum and that I finally have all the answers to all the crappy things that ever happened to me in social situations. But I am curious. Because it certainly would explain a lot. For a long time I’ve thought of myself as an empath (which explains the ‘picking up on other people’s vibes’ part), introvert (which explains the ‘I can’t deal with too many humans and need long periods of quiet time’ part), and prone to anxiety (which explains the ‘oh hell no! I’m not going out on the spur of the moment! I don’t have a plan!’ part). But what if it is a ‘brain wired differently’ thing? Because, somehow, that would make it easier to explain my (what I perceive to be) odd behaviour rather than dealing with (what feels like) nebulous personality traits. If it’s just biology, it’s acceptable? Relatable?

  • Anyway. LEGO. I haven’t been focusing much on the Great LEGO Codification because reasons that I can’t articulate right now. But it’s that time of year when Christmas trees go up. And all the boxes of unsorted LEGO currently reside where the Christmas tree goes. So, with some dejection, I must admit that the Great LEGO Codification is a failure. I’ve run out of omph and time. The Christmas tree must go up! LEGO will be sorted by like piece… but there will be no inventory. I am sad. But accepting.
  • Interestingly enough, I’m enjoying a series called Consumed –  it features de-cluttering expert Jill Pollack. I’m probably enjoying it so much because it’s giving Russell and I points to talk about. I think we’re getting to a place where we’re getting more comfortable with letting go of stuff. Sure, we spent a small fortune getting all our stuff to New Zealand, but in letting go of stuff, perhaps we’re making space for the ‘new life’ that is living in a different country. Maybe. It feels like it.
  • On a happy, ‘I think we should celebrate this’ note – I had a chat with Sophia’s teacher this week, and I quote: “Sophia is currently tracking at the expected level according to the curriculum in all learning areas.” This is amazing news because Sophia started her education in year two, effectively missing a year’s education and having to ‘catch it up’ over the last three years. We’ve caught up! Sure, she’s had a lot of support, and we can’t stop doing what we’re doing. But still. It’s a remarkable achievement. And somehow allows me to breathe a sigh of relief because we’re not playing the catch up game anymore. We’re now playing the ‘learning is amazing and oh, isn’t this interesting’ game. And that’s nice.
  • About the sewing project. I had a wonderful conversation with my mãe (mother) last week. I remembered how she had a book that includes beautiful line drawings and pattern making diagrams and instructions for some lovely garments that are very 1950s, going into 1960s. She bought the book,  Manual de Corte Oliva, when she was 19, hoping to study dressmaking with her cousin so that she could come to South Africa with some transferable skills. She still has the book! And now I wants it! I needs it! (Sure, the the instructions are in Portuguese, but I’m sure I can translate a lot of it with my handy Portuguese-English dictionary.) And, it turns out my mãe still has the original pattern she used to make her first dress once she’d arrived in Jo’burg – Butterick 4818.

It’s nice – the similarities between us. How she learnt to sew by trial and error, and how that’s probably going to be a large part of my experience too. Also, it turns out my avó (grandmother) was an amazing seamstress. Apparently she could make patterns for new clothing based on existing garments. Just like that. Mind-boggling! I don’t know. Maybe this love of garment history and construction is a hereditary thing. And that somehow makes it all the more special because it runs in my veins. And the book is the physical representation of our shared history. Nice, yes?

Oh, oh – and very exciting news! I may just have found a fully operational straight stitch treadle Singer 66 from 1913, with Lotus design. <squee!>

  • Also, I discovered LP (the stage name for Laura Pergolizzi). Her song ‘Lost on You‘ is all the things! Go and listen. And might I add that George Ezra’s album, Staying at Tamara’s, makes me very happy. Like singing out loud in the car, happy. <smiley face>



This is one of my favourite pictures from our (very) Roman Catholic wedding. It gives me *all* the feels! The way we were (are?).

  • Tomorrow, 2 June, marks our 16th wedding anniversary. (This ceremony, unlike our handfasting, included the ‘legally binding agreement’, what most people think of when they talk about wedding anniversaries.) We celebrate both days as being significant to our being together. It is good, this marriage. <dreamy smile>
  • Also, marriage brought this ray of sunshine to us:


Eight years, and so enthusiastic about stuff. 🙂

  • I’m reminded of how my mãe wanted to make my wedding dress. I remember her working late into the night, hand sewing the lace onto the white velvet, and then accentuating the detail of the lace by stitching beads to the edges. So many beads. Such patient work. I still have my wedding dress. I couldn’t give it away because it has so much of my mother in it. Perhaps one day, should my baby girl choose to marry, we’ll take pieces from my wedding dress and put it onto her wedding dress.  That way, she’ll have a little bit of me and a little bit of her grandmother… her bloodline, with her. (Is that macabre, or sentimental… or… perhaps just… symbolic?)
  • There is a lot of sentimentality in the ether at the moment. I’ve been pouring over my Portuguese cookbooks and listening to a lot of Mariza* lately. It’s odd because South Africa has a proud Portuguese community, but New Zealand does not. I somehow feel lost, like my Portuguese-ness has no place here. And that makes me sad. (Also, because I was never formally educated in Portuguese (my reading and writing ability is, well… pretty much zero), and I don’t have the opportunity to speak the “kitchen” Portuguese of my childhood, I’ve lost a lot of the language… I’ve lost much of my connection to the community. There is a weird heart connection there, though. But still. I’m an outsider.)
  • My thoughts have also turned often and much to the Self Esteem = ‘I am lovable’ + ‘I am capable’ equation, specifically the ‘capable’ part. I don’t feel capable at the moment. Far from it. I remember my mãe sewing so many items of clothing,  doing her crochet and embroidery. All of it, so detailed and magnificent. I don’t feel like I’m as good as she is… but I can be, I think (maybe?). My mãe tells me my grandmother was especially good at clothing construction. Better than my mãe. (<wide eyes>) And then I consider my skills as an instructional designer and how I feel like I don’t meet the grade here in Wellington. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t know how my diploma aligns to the standards required in New Zealand (which can be easily remedied by having the Qualifications Recognition Service assess my qualification… at a price, of course), or because I don’t have much experience with several software packages (e.g. InDesign, Storyline, Captivate) that are so typically used to develop online learning content these days (again, that’s a skill I could learn). But do I want to? Do I want to go to the expense and do I want to put in the effort and time to bridge what I think are gaps in my skills when I don’t know that I want to return to instructional design? (Or do I not want to return to instructional design because I don’t feel capable of doing the job anymore?) (Did I mention I’ve pretty much given up on the full time, permanent job idea because that would leave me with no time or energy to pursue the making of clothing? Well, that’s what I’m telling myself for now… hm.)


* Mariza – a popular Fado singer.

  • This last week has been a bit of a whirlwind. There hasn’t been any applying for full-time jobs or much going on in the Great LEGO Codification arena. We have the beginnings of a Pricky Scale, and a list of things to do with appropriate Pricky Scale allocation. So that’s a step in the right direction. (Yes?) Also, things are going well with organising my (our?) life using all the Trello boards. I have noticed how I am starting to breathe a little easier, now that things are being written down in an organised way, being acknowledged. It is good.
  • But back to the whirlwind. I posted this on Instagram on Tuesday:


forestwyf I’d like to sit outside for a while, in amongst the trees…but it’s raining… and it’s cold. And… I am sad. Sad for my dear friend who said goodbye to her mum yesterday. Sad for her mum’s passing. Sad for my cousins who lost their father and will say their goodbyes on Friday. Sad for my dad who has lost another brother. Sad for having lost my uncle. Sad. I want to give them a hug. But I can’t. Because physical distance (… they’re in Jo’burg, I’m in Wellington). I’m sad I can’t be there in person to offer comfort. Just. Sad.

Wednesday saw me in bed, because migraine. Thursday saw me better, but bone weary and heart achy. Today? Today is my uncle’s funeral. (There’s a little candle burning in memory to him as I write this.) It feels very heavy. We lost Tio Manuel about a year ago. It was heartbreaking and sad. But with my dad being in hospital for three months, and now Tio João passing away… it feels more poignant. My parents are getting older, more fragile. It changes you, when you realise your parents won’t live forever. Worse still, I realised that it would take me a minimum of 24 hours to get to my parents if I wanted to be by their side to say my final thank you and farewell. They’re not a mere 30 minutes away anymore. No one tells you this when you emigrate… and even if they could express it… would it change anything?

  • Sophia is eight years old now. She’s growing up. She’s becoming more of an individual. She’s always been an individual, of course, but she’s not needing me as much anymore. Whilst this is a good thing (because it’s just the way parent-child relationships work), I’m left feeling a little sad. There’s a certain innocence that’s shifting and changing within her. Our conversations are becoming more complex. I like that. I like that she’s becoming a little human being with whom I’m beginning to have more of an actual relationship, but I’m also very aware that she’s still a little fragile and naive.
  • I work very hard to give Sophia a balanced perspective of the world. The burden of mothering is changing. When she was a baby and a toddler, it was about changing nappies, feeding her, and sleep! Now we’re having conversations. Conversations about subtle things, like good vs. bad vs. the thing in between that no one seems to have a name for, how boys and girls are different but that difference doesn’t (or shouldn’t) define the things one does or pursues, and how I might get upset (or downright angry) with the things she does, but my love for her doesn’t change, my wonder at how she expresses her ideas and the things she creates doesn’t change.
  • Mothers are ‘meant to’ love their children from the moment they become aware that they are with child. I am not one of these mothers. I am a reluctant mother. My becoming a mother was more of a ‘deer in the headlights’ experience than a ‘the heavens opened and angels began to sing’ experience. I’m a little surprised then that I’ve come to love my child. The aching heart kind of love. The mama bear kind of love. The ‘oh my gosh, how did you work that one out because that’s really smart’ kind of love. Sophia surprises me. And that’s… heartwarming.
  • We kept Sophia’s birthday celebrations low-key this year. Last year was the epic birthday-party-at-a-party-venue-with-screaming-children-too-much-sugar-and-not-enough-time-to-actually-enjoy-the-company-of-friends birthday. This year was the play-all-day-with-dragons-and-LEGO-Dimensions-and-Disney-Infinity-whilst-the-adults-cook-and-chat birthday. It was nice, for everyone. I feel like this is what birthdays should be like – more parents enjoying the day as much as their children instead of parents working bloody hard to create ‘an experience of joy and wonder’ for their children.
  • Sophia was also delighted to get a phone call from grandad and nana first thing in the morning, and a stream of WhatsApp messages from avô* and avó**, Tio Luis, Madrinha and Caitlyn during the day. It’s bittersweet though… knowing they miss Sophia so much, celebrating her birthday from a distance. Sure, technology helps, but it’s just not the same as warm hugs in person. It’s just not. 😦


* pronounced “a-voh” (grandpa)

** pronunced “a-vaw” (grandma)

I chose that heading because my uncle has passed away. (He was born in Madeira, so something in Portuguese seemed fitting.)

I found out about his passing when I saw a status update on my brother’s Facebook timeline. I then noticed that my brother had tried to contact me on WhatsApp. Although I’ve had a brief conversation with my brother on WhatsApp, I haven’t spoken to my parents yet. I haven’t heard their voices yet. It’s times like these where I fully appreciate how the time difference between Johannesburg (South Africa) and Wellington (New Zealand) makes having a conversation so much more tricky; how it makes connection difficult.

There has been a lot of death lately… I’ve experienced it through friends who have lost their mothers this year.  I have witnessed the loss of family before – a cousin when I was maybe 17 years old and an aunt when I was in my early twenties. The hollowness that I’m feeling today at the news of my uncle’s passing should not come as a surprise.

But it does. It’s a strange heaviness. A numbness. A foggy presence. I’m not altogether here. Willing myself to do mundane stuff is near impossible. Staring out into nowhere in particular feels comforting.

A friend on Facebook put it so eloquently: “I feel like I need to hug everyone but my arms are cut off.”

I wish I could hug everyone.


I want to write about something happy, because I think that’s what people want to hear about. I’m in a beautiful country that still feels like it could be just a little bit wonder-filled. My mind tells me I should be out there exploring it all, and telling you all about it. Because there is magic out there. I know there is.

But here’s the thing. Walking around with an aching heart has become my normal. I can’t put a time and date to when my heart broke, but I think it’s been broken for a very long time. Coming to New Zealand did not break my heart. It has made the hole in my heart more discernible, but it did not break my heart.

I want to be able to phone my family in Johannesburg and tell them about this interesting thing I did. But I don’t. Because I know they miss us. And I know that the conversation will slowly turn to how we miss each other. I don’t want to talk about that anymore. Because it hurts. It hurts more than the joy of doing the interesting things.

I am skilled at closing the heart. I find myself contorting again. Bending, holding. Waiting. Waiting to exhale.

More than anything else, I know Sophia is missed (very much so). Her stories, her laughter, her curiosity. Her playfulness. All of it. I know they wonder if she will forget them.

I know I made holes in their hearts. I know I made a hole in her heart. She misses her family. She misses her Caity and Madrinha, her tio Luis, avô and avó, nana and grandad. Her Peyton. She wishes they’d come for dinner. (And I wish I could make it so.)

It’s difficult finding the joy in this adventure. Because creating this adventure also created holes in hearts.

People will tell me, no doubt, that I do need to find the joy in things. And they’re absolutely right. But…

…when your normal is an aching heart, joy feels strange. Foreign. Invasive. Guilty. I don’t know how to hold all of that in a fractured heart. Not yet.

Today is my father’s birthday.

I’ve only ever seen or heard my father cry twice in my lifetime.

The first occasion was at a family wake when we lost a dear cousin to a freak car accident. The memory is faint, I was young and I didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t understand the sense of loss that was being expressed by the entire family.

The second occasion was on the day we left Johannesburg for Wellington. I knew my father wasn’t coming to the airport to see us off. I called from my sister’s house to say my farewells. There was the usual superficial chatter about how we were, the weather and if were all packed up and ready for the flight. Deep conversation has never been something we do, mostly because we don’t have a common language with which to express complex ideas and feelings. My Portuguese is rudimentary at best*, and my father’s English is a charming mix of odd words and expressions that he’s picked up having lived in South Africa for 40 years. Also, my father isn’t good with expressing emotion of any kind. That’s just how he is.

After wishing us well, he began to cry and he said in a choked voice: “I’m going to miss you.” He spoke in English as if to impress upon me his meaning.

Today I miss my dad. I miss that we won’t be going over to my folk’s place for lunch in celebration of his birthday. I miss that he won’t sweetly chastise me for giving him a present instead of saving the money for something ‘more important’, and yet he’ll be smiling so broadly because I remembered. I’m sad because we won’t gather around the table to eat my mom’s roast chicken, and he won’t pour a straight whiskey on the rocks for my husband and brother, even though they object a little too much. He won’t offer my mom, sister nor I a tot of aniz**.  We won’t eat too much, and then an hour later have coffee with a thick slice of my mom’s bolo de laranja***. And just when we’re about to leave, my daughter won’t take a little walk with my dad down to the spaza shop and help herself to a little chocolate, a bottle of bubbles, and a packet of chips. My dad won’t absolutely insist that we take some pimpinela or couve from their garden, or leftovers from Sunday lunch, home with us. And I won’t stand outside with my mom and siblings, hovering at the car doors, having one last conversation that lasts 45 minutes whilst my dad darts in and out of the house gathering more food to send home with us. None of that will happen.

And I am sad for it.


*we were never formally schooled in the language

** a traditional aniseed liqueur made in Madeira; each bottle typically contains a dried aniseed stem with lovely crystals that form around it.

*** bolo de laranja = ‘cake of orange’; this is a recipe of my mother’s making. pimpinela = chayote. couve = collard greens.