Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life

I want two things out of my life. 1) I want my life to have meaning; 2) I want to be able to comfortably earn enough money to pay everything that needs paying and still have a bit left over at the end of the fortnight. So far I'm a far stretch from either of those goals.

I'm not a greedy person, and I'm certainly not aiming for anything unreasonable. So why is it so hard? Why do I keep stuffing up so badly along the way? I have all these dreams and aspirations, but only rarely does anything positive come out of them.

I'll be 24 in 3 months. By the time my mum was 24 she had a 5yr old child (me), was working a dead end manual labour job to pay the bills, and usually didn't quite manage to pay them. But she was independent, she made things happen, and she was reasonably happy. She's still pretty much in the same position now, except now she's a single mum of 3 kids under the age of 12, and still working labourous jobs she hates and never being able to stretch the money far enough.

I look at others my age, those I went to school with. Around 95% of those I know about have partners and/or kid(s). Those that don't have steady jobs that they've been working in since not long after leaving school. I look at the jobs they have - beauty therapist, miner, police officers, retail assistants, childcare worker. These are the jobs these people wanted, and they went out and got them. Me - I wanted to be a high school maths teacher. I dropped out after 18 months of that course. I was failing because I hadn't been going to the classes. I couldn't handle those social situations. The following year I ended up start a primary ed degree, and loved it. Decided being a primary teacher was definitely for me. Then I got introduced to the world of research, and decided that is the career path I want to follow. I also realised that no matter how much I may want it I can't hack the school staff environment. So now I'm a qualified primary teacher but research is the career I'm pursuing. But then I wonder whether I've got it right this time, or if it'll only last until something else strikes my fancy?

Which brings me back to where I started... I know it's a financially viable option, but will a career in research contribute to giving my life meaning, and making a difference in this world? Something to contemplate further another day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ridiculously misplaced jealousy

It was my little sister's first day of high school today. She's the next youngest under me. She did awesomely. She woke mum up at 6.50am screaming "it's ten to 8, I'm going to be late!!", but then when the time came she very confidently got on the bus, said hello to the bus driver and sat with a group of kids and started talking. From what she said she had a fantastic day. She loves her new teachers, already has a large group of friends to hang out with both in class and at lunch time, and managed the two-bus trip home without any worries. She was beaming and bouncing with energy when she got home.

I'm so proud of her and so happy that she is so confident and sure of herself, and so socially capable. I'm really really glad it has been such a great start for her. I love my sister to bits and always want the best for her. But part of me is incredibly jealous of her. I know how ridiculous it is for a 23 year old to be jealous of an 11 year old, but it's true. My entire first year at high school was absolute hell. From day one I dreaded it. Teasing, bullying, verbal and physical abuse, being the 'weirdo', being put in the 'special class' for those that had 'social problems'. That year was absolute hell. But my little sister just breezes through it.

It's strange. I don't wish that I was like her, it's not that kind of jealousy. I'm happy with who I am. I accept that I will never fit into the 'normal' category but I also know that I am a good person, and am very successful in my own way. But a horrible part of me feels like, why should she get it all? Why does she get to be so 'normal' and fit in so easily, and be the one that everyone adores? If she can have that why can't I have it too? Mentally I realise how pathetic these thoughts are, but I can't help feeling this way.

Every since my sister was born, we all knew she was 'special', in a really good way. She was the one everyone wanted - her dad's first child, her grandparent's first (and only) granddaughter. She is talented in music and art, and academically gifted also. She's the sort of kid that everyone loves and gets along with straight away. She really is a great kid.

On the other hand there's me... mum got pregnant with me when she was 18, to a druggo who beat her up. After I was born he would take all the money to buy drugs, and mum had nothing left to feed herself or pay for baby formula for me. Eventually my grandfather (Pa) realised this and dragged her and me out of there. She went back at one point... but when the druggo threw a bookcase down and it nearly crushed me, she decided to leave. That's the story I've pieced together over the years... how accurate it is I will probably never know. Apparently he kidnapped me at some point also. I don't remember him at all, but I always knew about being kidnapped, even before I was told about it. Must be one of those things that stick with you I suppose. Anyway, point is I wasn't exactly planned, expected, or even wanted. My Pa was the only one happy about me being born. I really miss him.

I'm the screw up, the weird kid who never fit in, and never really tried to. Even now, I can't hold down what my family consider to be a 'normal' job (fast food, customer service etc) due to my poor social skills and social anxiety. But they don't get that. They think I'm just not trying. They don't understand how hard it is for me, how much energy and mental energy it takes for me to do the things that come to others so naturally and easily. Things that are so natural and easy to my sister. She's a lucky kid. She's the one who will go far, if this underclass family doesn't bring her down first.

I know that I'm very capable and successful in my own ways, in my fields of expertise. It would be nice though if my family could understand that, even just a little bit.

Normal is overrated. It's unfortunate so few others see it that way.

Monday, January 31, 2011

One mark

One mark. That's all I'm waiting on. One mark. But that one mark, it could change the rest of my life.

I finished my honours coursework late last year, and now I'm waiting on my mark for that. If I get the mark I need I'll be starting a PhD in four weeks' time. I've already been accepted which in itself is a huge honour, but acceptance is conditional upon that one mark. If I get it, it could mean a whole new life for me, in a whole new world. I'll be moving interstate, have a chance to work with other academics and become a part of an academic community. It's everything I've ever dreamed of and more. Plus there's a substantial scholarship. It'll mean financial security for the first time in my life. That, to me, is huge.

But what if I don't get the mark? What then? I don't really know. I'll kind of have to take it as it comes, and that really really frightens me.

And as I write this... the email arrives that gives me the mark. 83% - Second Class Division One. It's the second highest possible mark, after First Class. First Class is what I needed. After a phone call to the uni I'm now waiting on a call to find out whether or not I'm still eligible for candidature and scholarship... if there is something I can do to 'tip me over the edge' or if it's automatic exclusion. So now it's not one mark that I'm waiting on to determine my future, it's one phone call.

There are only two people who understand what that mark means, and who have any understanding of what it means for me and how disappointed I am in myself. I feel like I'm a total failure. The first person who understands is my research supervisor. He's the one who helped me to get to where I am. I emailed him, telling him my mark. He gave a very neutral response, simply saying that he'd be interested to see the markers' comments. The second person is my one and only close friend. I've emailed her but had to keep it short and not make it all about me... because she has had a huge day herself today and has so much going on in her life... I can't burden her with my problems right now. I feel so alone right now. As lame as this sounds I just really need one of those two people to tell me that's it's ok, it's still a good mark, and to tell me that I'm not a total failure. But that isn't going to happen. I'm on my own with this one. Completely on my own. And it feels lousy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Family on the spectrum Part 1

My step-brother has autism. He's just turned 20 and my mum and his dad have been together for a bit over three years now. He's on the low functioning end of the spectrum. Since hitting puberty he also suffers from undiagnosed mental illness - undiagnosed primarily because of inability to communicate due to autism - and has to be medicated for this. The doctors never seem to get the medication or the dosage right, so his dad has to 'play doctor' at times to adjust it to his son's needs. When too heavily medicated he will sleep all day and night making his dad housebound, he looses all interest in food (normally there's not enough food in the house to fill him up), and he becomes almost non-verbal. But when his dosage is right he is a whole different person, as has been the case in the last few weeks. At times it's a bit like having a 6ft tall 3yr old in the house. He's cheeky, says the funniest things, and wants constant attention... but doesn't know appropriate ways of getting it.

For the last few weeks every time I have seen my step-brother it has been pretty much the same scenario - his dad and he arrive and my step-brother makes a beeline straight for me to say hello and tell me a sentence or if I'm lucky two sentences about what he's done that day. Then the usual proceedings are him following me around the house trying his best to get attention and communicate but not having the ability to have a conversation. So he tends to state the obvious - e.g. "you're doing the dishes!", "that's a dog!", or ask a meaningless question where he knows the answer e.g. "what are you doing?", "what are you doing that for?", "why can't you ... [something he's been told not to do]". It drives his dad and my mum crazy because it's so constant. But it really doesn't bug me. I get it, and I feel for him. He wants so badly to communicate and have that interaction but he's not sure how. Oh boy do I know what that feels like. Not to his extent obviously, but do know the feeling.

The talking's fine, I'm happy to play along and acknowledge his statements, answer his random questions. He comes out with some pretty funny stuff at times too, and in the past week I've noticed he's been coming out with some really appropriate stuff which is awesome, e.g. asking my sister, brother and I who we barrack for when we were passing the ball around in the backyard, and asking me who I like in Shrek (I said donkey) then a few days later saying "you like donkey in Shrek". It might sound trivial, but seeing him go from barely keeping his eyes open long enough to eat a meal to this is absolutely fantastic.

There are two things that I find a bit difficult though, ironically both as a result of my own autistic tendencies. The first is the issue of eye contact. Whereas I have never felt a need for eye contact and only do it because I know it's expected (and like to keep it to the barely acceptable minimum), he has an overly strong need for eye contact. He constantly wants eye contact, and won't accept anyone talking to him without the eye contact as well. Which means I have to make that conscious effort with him more than I would anyone else, which really does wear me out at times. The second issue is that he often wants to shake hands or be hugged, and likes to get attention by tapping me (not so gently) on the arm or shoulder. Problem is I really don't like to be touched, by anyone. The only exception to that would be my three young siblings. I don't want to be mean and push him away, but it does make me really uncomfortable at times. I can usually get him to settle for a high five instead though which is pretty cool.

I've been wondering what it is that has made my step-brother sort of hone in on me lately. I'm not sure if it's that I pay him a bit more attention than most do, if it's just a primal instinct thing of knowing I'm a female roughly his age (a very real possibility), or if it's something else entirely. Maybe a combination of factors.

It amuses me that his father shows so many signs of being an Aspie. He's fascinated with trains (how steriotypical is that!), has a very literal, logical way of thinking, and is totally anal about the way things are done. I've seen him on a number of occasions have some trouble in social situations too.

My little brother also has many Asperger's tendencies. When he was younger he walked on his toes, his voice is always just a little too loud, he seems to think and view the world so differently from anyone else, has trouble controlling his emotions, is very intelligent but his grades don't reflect this, and is very often socially inappropriate for his age. Him and me either really click or really clash - depending on both our moods on the day.

Something else I find amusing - my sister isn't at all autistic, she's a great kid, a little lacking in confidence but very 'normal' for her age. There is one thing she has always done though - she hand flaps! I've never heard of a neurotypical person stimming in a socially unacceptable way, but my little sister does. She only does it at home now though which is good.


Needless to say there are constant references to the autism factor in the daily life of my family. It's not at all uncommon to hear any of us refer to another as 'being autistic' or to reflect on something someone has done with 'that's the autistic genes'. It's all in good humour. We're all very aware and accepting that autism is a part of our daily lives and that's just the way it is. So I'm not sure why I'm so scared to tell them that I actually am on the spectrum. I'm waiting until I have the official diagnosis, because somehow I feel like I need that to back me up when I tell them. As much as all of my family are affected by autism in our daily lives, I'm not sure how my mum will take the news that her eldest daughter has Asperger's. I'm also not sure that I want to tell her. Some things I need to contemplate I think.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Facebook

I'd like to invite anyone who's interested to check out the following Facebook page, and please join if it applies to you:

Aspie Women - Adult Diagnosis

I've set up this group in the hope of uniting women with Asperger's who were not diagnosed until adulthood or who are adults now considering the possibility that they may have Asperger's. There is so little info out there about this ever increasing group of individuals, so I thought it may be useful if we could learn a bit from each other.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can write a first class academic thesis but can't handle a job at KFC

I finished my internship in mid November 2010, and won't be registered to teach until sometime in 2011. So I did what was expected of me, I went and got a job to bring in some money until I start studying again and/or teaching. I got a job at KFC. As the manager knew my mum because she had worked there previously, there was no interview as such, it was just 'ok, you start as soon as your uniform comes in'. I did my first shift about a fortnight later. I psyched myself up, telling myself that the job didn't mean anything so I didn't have to stress about it, just turn up, do the job, and get paid. I walked in on my first day and without any training or anything was put on the front counter to serve. That meant simultaneously trying to work out where the various meals were on the computerised till, what to pack in the various meals, and dealing with general customer rudeness and stupidity. For my brain that thrives on order and knowledge, and with my trepidation of pretty much any social encounter, this was absolute hell. After a four hour shift I was completely emotionally and mentally exhausted, wanting to just crawl into a hole and stay there until the rest of the world just disappeared. I had no intention of ever going back, it was just too much. I lied to my mum, saying that they hadn't rostered me on again. Then she decided to intervene on my behalf, coming home a few days later to tell me I was rostered on for a five hour shift the following day. So I went, because I knew that was what was expected of me, and I couldn't find a way to explain just how hard it was for me. My second shift was profoundly worse that my first. Because I was so stressed/nervous about not knowing what I was doing my hands were physically shaking, so bad that I was dropping things, spilling chips etc all over the place. I packed many of the meals wrong, and had one particular customer abuse me because I had mistakenly given him extra chips. I couldn't help myself, I asked him why he was complaining about EXTRA food that he got for nothing? The manager wasn't impressed. Apparently that's poor customer service.

I didn't go back for another shift and I have no intention of doing so. I just mentally can't handle it. When my mum found out she gave me a lecture on how sometimes we have to do things we don't want to. As much as I tried to explain she just didn't get it. It's not a case of not wanting to, it's that for me that situation is unbearable to a point where it impairs my functioning in the rest of my life, and I just can't see that it's worth it for any amount of money, but especially not for $19/hr.

I communicate best in writing, always have, but even now I'm struggling to put into words how and why it's so difficult for me to work in a place like KFC. Any customer service job that I've ever had, I haven't lasted long. It's partly the poor people skills, and the fact that I forget to smile (I only ever smile when I'm genuinely happy, which obviously I'm not when at a job I hate), but it's also the fast paced multi-tasking that does my head in, especially when it involves tasks that I don't feel competent to do.

On the other hand, I have found one thing that I do incredibly well. I'm not trying to blow my own horn, so to speak, but for the first time in my life I can honestly and proudly say that I have one thing I enjoy doing and that I feel confident and competent in doing. That one thing is academic writing, and the research process along with it. Fingers crossed, I'll be starting a PhD this year. In 6.5 weeks' time in fact. The beginnings of what I hope will be a successful and enduring academic career. I know that I need to put my all into it, because it's what I want as a way of life, not just a job to go to to earn the money that puts food on the table, but something that does that and more. A career where I can make some small difference in this world and all while doing something I love and am good at. I can finally see where I want my life to lead, now I *just* have to pull out all stops to make it happen.
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