Next stop: Ukraine

You know when you have such an adventure filled time that you can’t wait to tell everyone about it? And when you get back and they ask, it’s like you’ve just developed travel memory loss? Yep. This is me right now.

And I still don’t know where to begin. So just sit back and watch, as I try to cram travel, stress, adventure, raccoons, toilets, friends, fun, prayer, culture, *deep breath* into one post.

To recap: as part of my Christian internship, I am doing a weekly discipleship course with other Christian interns. And last week, our leader was due to speak in churches in Kiev, Ukraine. Voila, my first mission trip.

If I’m honest, my attempts at being positive about the trip were wearing thin towards the big day. I find big groups a challenge. Airports even more so. What I hadn’t bargained for was having a panic attack just after take-off. Of all the places to be gripped by fear of the unknown, of vomiting publicly, of everything worrying me, it had to be thousands of feet above the ground, surrounded by people, with no way out.

Yet throughout the day, my friends cared. They prayed for me. Looked out for me. My friend Ruth stayed with me throughout the journey, and chatted to me when I felt bad again. I used to wonder how chatting could possibly calm an anxiety attack. I was wrong. It really takes the edge off.

Yes, being mildly autistic in a group of people exploring new territory was tough at times. I find it harder to form bonds in a group. I got fed up with needing help mixing, or understanding what was going on. I wanted to be on the same level as everyone else, but it wasn’t always possible.

You know what, though? I got the help I needed, and I’m fully grateful for it. Because that’s how a good group works, and I would do anything in return.

Besides, there was plenty to laugh at. Like the man with his pet raccoon*, who wouldn’t let one of my male friends take a picture, but was happy to take a selfie with a passing young lady. Or when Mary, who is Ukrainian, introduced me to Ukrainian public toilets: holes in the ground. I decided I’d rather wait for two hours.

In short, this trip saw me at my most exhausted, but there were times when I felt more exhilarated than I’d felt in a long time. I had late night, heartfelt conversations with the girls. I ran through sprinklers** like a fool with the others. I ate till I could burst. We laughed. We took photos. We were alive.

Last, but not least, we did what we came to do. We took part in church services. People at church got healed of physical pain. People on the streets got a chance to feel heard. Some believe, some don’t, but for me, the most important thing was showing them a bit of love.

In conclusion, I want to give my love and thanks. To Ruth, once again, and her dad, our leader, who was so patient with me whenever I was weary or confused. To our translators. To everyone who donated towards this trip. To my parents for their support. To the four friends who contacted me during the week to ask how I was. To certain people who helped me not get lost at the airport or the underground. To the interns whose house I stayed at the night before. You are all wonderful people!

 

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DISCLAIMER: the first and third photos aren’t mine

How does Asperger’s Syndrome affect me?

To recap: on my last post, I mentioned that, as part of my internship, I am doing a Christian Discipleship course. Which, last week, involved going on a weekend away. I often enjoy these things more than I anticipate, and knowing that this one involved a lot of socialising and outdoor activities, I needed explain to the group leader about how Asperger’s affects me.

Hence my parents persuading me to write this letter. For anyone getting to know me, or someone else with the condition, you might find it insightful. For my fellow aspies out there, feel free to use this as an example or template* when explaining your own needs. Here goes:

Hello,

I’m writing to explain how having Asperger’s Syndrome affects me. Asperger’s is on the mild end of the autistic spectrum, and is less obvious than other forms of autism. I am gentle and articulate, and communicate best through writing. I’m looking forward to getting to know people, and would really like to get the most out of being a part of this community.

My main struggles include social interaction, physical co-ordination, and taking in lots of information from different sources or with a lot of distractions. In a group setting I struggle to keep up with what’s going on. I may either keep asking or lose focus altogether. It helps if someone discreetly updates me on things I need to know, one to one. I am more likely to understand instructions/explanations that are a concise summary of the main points, rather than too much detail. I like being on top of schedules, so I hope I don’t seem pushy if I keep asking what is going to happen

Lively group situations can be overwhelming, and I don’t present myself at my best when I don’t know anyone. I tend to be more at ease and outgoing with a close friend. Once I am used to people, I am co-operative, friendly and motivated. I am better at mingling than I was, but I still sometimes drift towards the edge of the group without trying. I also find it hard to remember names and faces at first – just bear with me when this happens.

Despite this, I do want to connect with people. I try very hard to treat others well and care deeply for my close friends. Contrary to the autism stereotype, I am empathetic and intuitive to people’s emotions. It’s on-the-spot, face-to-face interaction I find harder, not to mention draining! It’s not that I don’t want to be with you personally, it’s just that I often need time to myself.

Being autistic means that I show signs of dyspraxia (impaired physical co-ordination). I’m good at long walking, running and lifting heavy objects, but have more trouble with team games, walking on uneven or unstable terrain and learning directions. My fine motor co-ordination is much better, meaning I am good at using my hands for small, precise tasks.

I know this sounds like a lot, but apart from where specified, I don’t expect anyone to do anything drastically differently. Usually I just want others to understand and be patient. When in the right place (literally and emotionally) I am intelligent, mild mannered, witty and a deep thinker, and I hope that I can make friends and contribute to the fullest.

Hope this helps, and thank you for reading!

Grace

 

 

*but not publicly as if it was your own!

Off to work I go…

You know that weird adjustment phase when you go from being a complete couch potato to suddenly being busy? And you have only a few days’ warning before you have to dive head first into the world of work? And suddenly you are that person behind the till, saying “That’ll be £9.99,” “Would you like a bag with that?” and especially “I’m sorry, I’m still new, I’ll just get my colleague!”

As it happens, I do. Having spent the summer haplessly job hunting, I heard on the Navigators Facebook page about an internship vacancy at a Christian bookshop. Full time retail experience and training – Christian literature themed, at that – complete with a Discipleship course once a week. Right up my street.

So I applied, and was subsequently interviewed. Nothing too scary, just questions about how I work, how I became a Christian, how my Asperger’s affects me, what books do I like. What followed was a period of increasing anxiety. What were my chances? Was I again to be turned down due to my special needs? Would they think that the books I’ve recently read – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Dalai Llama’s Cat – were for sinners? Irrational, I know, but how calm can you realistically stay?

Yet somehow, I was accepted. I was still in Spain, and annoyingly, the day I found out was the day my phone stopped having signal at Grandad‘s house. But my now-manager contacted Mum, who contacted Grandad, and only a few days later, I was off to work.

Working for the first time is an ample situation in which to demonstrate what you are and aren’t yet capable of. For example, I seem to be incapable of not breaking the price gun at least once. But on a positive note, I now know how to take sales. Here’s your receipt, have a nice day!

My Discipleship course so far is proving mildly stressful. The people there are all lovely, and in terms of of spiritual growth, it looks very promising. It’s just that, for all the non-autistic tendencies I have learned, I still don’t present myself at my best in a room full of new people.

Or when I am given an hour to write a five minute talk on a parable. I’m used to writing under pressure, I’m used to Bible studies, I’m used to social situations. Somehow I still panicked. Somehow, with extra time, I managed to complete and perform my talk. My audience was enthusiastic, and whether this was out of genuine admiration or sympathy, I really appreciate their kindness.

And on that note, I’m also raising a glass to all my more experienced colleagues, who have been endlessly patient with me. Hopefully I’ll learn how to get more ink out of the price gun without destroying it.