Life so far: growing up, autism, and 100 blog posts!

Years ago, I often thought about starting a blog. With my big dreams of becoming an author, it sounded like the sort of thing that all the high-flying writers are doing. Of course, it was just a crazy idea I had. Nothing serious. Right?

On receiving Blogging for Dummies for Christmas, I thought I’d at least show my appreciation by doing a quick summary of my world as a trial blog post. Now, four years and 99 posts later, my blog has definitely stood the test of time. It’s my way of reaching out, entertaining, and making my mark.

And this is my 100th post! So I thought I’d offer a much bigger summary of my life up until now.

Starting with Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday 17th March 1993 at 1.13pm. My parents joke about how typical it was of me to come out at lunchtime. To which I say, how many people do YOU know who were born in the middle of the day, week, month, and academic year, on their due date?

People sometimes ask me what I remember about Taiwan. Kind of awkward because my earliest memories include me and my (British) mum hiding from my (Taiwanese) dad after they had been fighting. But hey, I also remember playing with our pets, walking through mountain scenery, and my 4th birthday party. It wasn’t all bad!

Just after said birthday, my pregnant mother and I hastily headed my grandparents’ way – Cam, Gloucestershire. My sister was born. I started school, and was happily oblivious to my teachers telling Mum how weird I was and blaming it on bad parenting. Then we found a council flat.

A year later, while we were on holiday, my now-stepdad made his debut. From then on, he kept turning up on our doorstep. And we on his. This went on for about three years, until he and Mum married, and we invaded his house for good. Did I mention what a cute bridesmaid I was?

Now in Loughborough, I ended up at a school that was actually competent, and hey presto, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. My response to the news? “Oh…can I have a piece of cheese?”

Secondary school pulled my head out of the clouds with a jolt. It was a scary world of social hierarchies, sport, and teachers with varying levels of empathy. I struggled with friendships. I struggled in classes. Most of all, I struggled to accept that autism was nothing to be ashamed of.

But gradually, I got involved with various social groups at church, and I finally started to make friends and open up about my difficulties. Meanwhile, I was studying animal care at Brooksby College. It comprised manhandling animals of every size and species, essays, poo, and overnight lambing. Pretty grim, but I passed with straight distinctions!

Because I wasn’t ready for uni afterwards, I did a couple of years of home study, and realised that my heart was in becoming an author, not a vet nurse. The second year proved eventful when my Grannie died of cancer, and I still regret not visiting more. But it was also the year I started at De Montfort University, studying Creative Writing and Journalism. It was challenging, and falling out with my friend when we tried living together was hard. That said, I learned more about writing than I ever had before, and I don’t regret it for a second.

And now, here I am, coming to the end of my Christian bookshop internship. It’s been a great year, with great people, and I can’t help wishing I had more time left. But few things in life are permanent, and as I reflect on my significant life events, I do wonder what the next one will be.

 

 

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I remember…

Among writers, it is a pretty well known fact that one of the best ways to beat writer’s block is by doing a writing prompt. You know, a little exercise that gets you writing about something. Anything. So tell me this: how is it that, while writing this post, I spend about an hour deciding how best to write the beginning?

Well, enough of that, and on to a simple exercise I learned during my first year at uni. If you’re trying to get your writing brain in gear, or even just bored, set yourself a time limit and begin with:

I remember…

Having a boy at secondary school call me a “ch*nky”, most likely to impress his mates. I don’t know if he was hoping to get lucky, but strangely, I don’t find casual racism to be much of a turn on.

Not understanding why Mum was being so violently sick in the months before my sister was born.

My grandparents’ cats coming back from the vet and me not knowing why the female was shaved on one side and the male under his tail.

Visiting the Nottingham Christmas Market with my secondary school as a reward for good behaviour, and one of the boys getting caught shoplifting.

Calling potato wedges “wedgies”.

My thirteenth birthday party, in which I must have eaten a ton of chocolate, party food, pancakes and birthday cake. Not surprisingly, the party ended with me feeling a little peaky.

And this was before the food hangover…

Going to my Friday night Year 10+ youth club, and the evening coming to an unceremonious halt when a boy’s arm went straight through a window. His arm was shredded and spurting blood, and he was definitely crying.

Overhearing him at school some time later bragging to other kids about how it was just a scratch and how he’d laughed throughout the whole thing.

Recovering from the trauma of my (then five year old) sister being rushed to hospital with a broken arm when I realised I could watch any video I wanted without negotiation.

Saying goodbye to Mum after hers and my stepdad’s wedding reception, and trying not to show how much I was going to miss her.

Mum and I moving from Taiwan to England when I was just four, and not understanding how final this was after so many holidays with my (English) grandparents.

That “first day of school” feeling on my first day at university.

Learning about the Black Death at school and being afraid to sleep with my lamp off that night.

The first time I had pizza when I was little, and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.

 

So there you go. Besides getting you writing, this is also a pretty entertaining group activity. Just get your heads down, write down as many random memories as possible, and exchange. How weird does it get? Why not have a go and get back to me?

 

 

Coming out of the Asperger closet

When I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, my parents explained to me that I had a mild form of autism, and my brain was made just a little differently to everyone else’s. On hearing this, my mind was filled with a burning question. I pondered. I mused. And then I thought I would bite the bullet and ask outright…”can I have a piece of cheese?

Throughout primary school, I was dimly aware that I was different to everyone else. I spent most of my time alone. I had obsessive interests. Despite some negative experiences with other kids, my head was in the clouds and initially, my diagnosis didn’t change that.

Secondary school was a different world altogether. Suddenly children were less accepting and more interested in jostling for the top of the social hierarchy than looking out for a kid whose favourite conversation starter was cat breeds. Teachers were less understanding. I had a timetable and – worse – lesson locations to memorise. I made friends, then had no idea what to do when things went pear shaped. In short, I was vulnerable, and all too aware of it.

So from then on, I learned to hate the fact that I was different. I fought hard to form friendships, and often failed. As a result, I was afraid to talk about it to anyone because I knew I didn’t communicate well and was scared of being judged. I even compared telling people about my Asperger’s with talking about periods to a boy! And because they didn’t understand why I was different, people found me weird, stupid, or – and I quote – “boring”. Sound familiar? If I could reach out to everyone still stuck in this vicious circle, I would.

A few years on – the dreaded GCSE era – and things slowly changed. I got invited to a Christian youth event, and had one guy, now a good friend, take me aside and explain how having Asperger’s affected him, and that it was ok to have it. I wasn’t ready to open up to just anyone, but held on to that nonetheless. Several months later, something similar happened after church, when someone empathised with my difficulty with socialising, because she had Asperger’s. I began to talk about my own struggles, and from that day, I was able to explain to people about AS whenever the subject of social struggles came up in conversation. Six years later, and I’ve been wondering how people can’t bring themselves to talk about AS. Before remembering.

How do you tell people? Depends on the situation. If you are struggling in a social situation, just say: I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes it hard to read people/understand instructions/deal with change, blah blah blah. Want to explain what AS is? It is a condition that means a brain has more trouble reading people and understanding social interaction. Social dyslexia, if you like. And don’t feel pressured to tell or not tell. Just live your life and explain your condition when the need arises. Might seem hard, but hopefully it will become nothing more than another part of yourself that people discover.

That said, I still have AS based struggles, among other things, but hey, that’s what baby steps are all about (metaphorically). My message to those of you in the Asperger closet? There are people who understand, and people who don’t but are willing to try. You might be walking a different path, but sometimes that is the only way to educate the world. And the only way to go ahead with that is to start.

Me being a complete introvert and undiagnosed Aspie social butterfly at Kindergarten in Taiwan.