“Why do you want to study Psychology?”
One of the most commonly asked questions that I received these days. The simplest answer is that it’s my keen interest, a passion; but the deeper meaning is really, ‘I aspire to inspire’. I don’t just want to understand people, I want to make a point.
The Positive Side of the Diagnosis of Asperger’s
I can cry you a river about all the hardships of being autistic, and even after I have been diagnosed, I continue to suffer a great amount of sadness and a new-found loneliness (I was never acquainted with loneliness; I had a friend named aloneness, there is a difference).
Since I cry over things like numbers and assignments – literally – crying is not such a great story to tell, is it? So, let me tell you my super fighting spirit instead.
I Am Not Stupid
One of the best things that follows my diagnosis is that I realised and acknowledged that I am not stupid! (Not stupid doesn’t automatically makes me intelligent, just so you are clear, I am not highly intelligent; my intelligence level is probably just average.)
That is a very powerful acknowledgement. It’s like uncovering an invisible but weighted lid, and allowing me to take the bold step and finally leaping across a hurdle that had been obstructing my personal growth.
Many of us on the spectrum suffer from low self-esteem, and it’s no surprise, since we seemed to have made countless of social mistakes since we were children. It’s hard to have a high self-esteem when we were always criticised and punished during the formative years.
So, I would never dream of even trying to reach for the cloud, let alone the stars. Now? I feel that even the skies is not a limit, the only limit is myself.
Don’t Stop Fighting
I fight, not (just) because I have a condition. I fight, because I am worth fighting for. I fight, for me. I fight, to live this hard life to the fullest. I am already alive, there was never an option to begin with (not like my mum asked if I wanted to be born!), so I make the best of it, no matter how hard.
Easy life, hard life, we only have very limited time (thank goodness!) here, we may think a hard life makes the journey longer. The truth is, a bad day ends in 24 hours, a good day, ends in 24 hours. We are rational thinkers, so go figure.
Living in a giant city, an urban jungle (overcrowded one) forces me to fight even harder. I have options, we always have options. I can avoid crowd and other sensory stimuli by staying home and do nothing; but I won’t get my stars. To get my stars, I will fight along with other people.
I Am Going Places
I have traveled to places from nearby countries to far far away places. I have been to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Genting Highlands, Malacca), Indonesia (Bali), Hong Kong, Thailand (Krabi, Phi Phi, Phuket, Bangkok, Chiangmai, Hua Hin), Vietnam (Aonang), Cambodia (Seam Reap), South Korea (Seoul, one night stopover), Australia (Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, Darwin), United States (Las Vegas, Disneyland, Los Angeles, Laughlin, San Francisco, Portland, Bend, Grand Canyon, and possibly other place that I don’t remember), Denmark.
I traveled solo (flights, not exactly fully solo on land, I usually have friends to stay with or meet up with) to some of the countries. Why am I mentioning this? It’s quite an achievement for people on the spectrum, because of our ‘super powers’.
For example, I have superman’s supersonic hearing power (less the coolness, because it doesn’t exactly benefit me in anyway; unless I am trained to be a spy!) so the noises of people at the airport, and all the small sounds on the plane, can be overwhelming – ear plugs are godsend! I also have other sensory sensitivities that can cause high level of discomfort.
Look Past the Discomfort
In spite of my limitations, I am going places. There are stars in places outside my comfort zone, and I want those stars.
Traveling to difference places broadens my horizon and outlook in life. No doubt, the transition can be highly uncomfortable, but it’s worth the fight. Why waste my sensory sensitivities when I can put them to good use? I take in more than the regular people, so chances are, I learn more and my otherwise mundane life becomes richer, and the pages of my book of life is filled in with more experiences that cannot be felt through books alone.
I Am Elevating
Not as in physical elevation, but mentally and in knowledge. I go back to school, because before I was being diagnosed, there was this annoying little voice named ‘Damper Trapper’ that told me I was too stupid to go further than where I was.
Now that I have slain the little damper, I will study what I want to learn, and if I am not good enough yet, I will keep trying. If it took longer for me to finish the course, so be it. I am not aiming to study, I aim to learn, and by learning, I am living my life. My life is not put on halt just because I am going back to school. Sure, a large fraction of time and attention is dedicated to it, but I remember to live.
I will be lying if I were to say it was easy. It was not a wise choice to take more than what I can chew. Three units for the compacted trimester are way too heavy for me; but it is what it is, so I try to work around it as best as I could.
No matter how optimistic I am, it’s important not to forget that I still have my limitations. It’s translated into more time required to regulate my emotions and sensory overloads first, then, I can start working on the assignments and studies. I didn’t say it’s easy, I make it sound easy, but believe me, it’s nowhere near easy.
Know the Limitations, but DON’T Let the Challenges Limit Your Achievements
Similar to forgiveness (which does absolutely nothing for me), knowing our limitations doesn’t mean letting such notion limits what we can accomplish. We can only deal with a challenge effectively if we identified the challenge first. Many people with Asperger’s have intelligence above average level, some are of genius equivalent (nope, it’s very unfortunate that I belong to neither of them! Boo hoo!), so it is reasonable to assume that we have better problem-solving capability – higher self-efficacy!
The only time when our limitations are weaknesses is when we allow emotions to get into the way.
Yes, yes, we are all angry at something or someone, or some people. I fight the system all the time, but I always have a threshold limit.
Like the wise Buddha said (and I cannot attest to the accuracy, but if it’s not the Buddha, it would be some very wise man, I say),
“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.
How aptly put! I am not saying that we don’t fight the system if it were wrong. We fight, but remember not to drink the poison and hope that the baddies die. We fight because we (or whoever we are fighting for) are worth fighting for, BUT, we are also worth living for! Know this, the people or the system (that makes it worse, system = non-living thing, how stupid to stay angry at system?) are most likely not as affected as we are; the people would be having parties, celebrating weddings or festivities, getting drunk and laid, and having too much fun, while we stop living, just to wait to see if they get what they deserve. Now, maybe, perhaps, one day, many years later, they may finally get what they deserve, and the punishment may be just losing their jobs, so they find new jobs. We? We lost the many years because we took the poison and hoped they die. Get my drift?
Defocus from the aggression, and embrace the wonders of positivity. Life is really short, we can do something good about it, or waste it on others – unimportant others. It’s not wrong to choose either, it’s really up to you, I am just saying that at least establish the options, and then make the informed decision, and be okay with the consequences. Always remember that for every decision that we make, there is an opportunity cost (or costs!).
The people who stayed angry and stopped living for themselves, eventually become angrier because of the lost opportunities and time. I know we are rigid, but we are supposedly more superior in intelligence, so we can bend this, focus on our superior qualities, not the limitations.
For example, for those of you who are familiar with Singapore, we endorse self-reliant governance, it means, there is little (or none) or insufficient social welfare support, especially for people (adults, specifically) on the autism spectrum. I can dedicate all my time fighting for support and refuse to do anything else, especially that will be a proof that they have indeed destroy my life. Then, maybe one day, I finally get that support, but I would be too old to use that support for education (for example). Or, I can fight it, but also train myself to work around it, and when the time comes, I may have a more charming story to tell the world that despite the lack of support, I go far. My relentless effort in coping with the hardships due to the lack of social support is proof enough, and an inspiring story gets more media exposure. I am still the winner of the battle.
Bring Out the Viking in You, But…
“Fight Fiercely, but Fight Wiser” ~ Sun (just me, I don’t know if anyone has said that before, it’s impromptu!)
Fight for the right reason. Fight to live bright and full. Like I said, I fight the system, or the questionable authority when I need to, but I set a threshold, because they are only worth so much of my time and effort. For every time slot that I give to them, it’s the time slot I lost to do something for me or meaningful. Fighting with them is probably purposeful, but to what end?
Ok, so maybe Viking is a strong character, I don’t really know what Vikings were capable of, but I know they fight hard and they fight till the end. Fight by all means, but choose your fight wisely.
If I lived in the medieval period, I may choose to die fighting. I would be named an honourable hero(ine), and legacy be left in my name. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely swear by the spirit and morality, but alas, this is not that time, and I will uphold the integrity and moral values, but practicing it in full strength will kind of waste and insult my (mere average) intelligence, no?
My Personal Battles
If you think I have reached a stage whereby I am no longer bothered by my asperger’s traits, if you think I were trying to tell you that it’s easy peasy; then you are never wronger.
I still deal with social repercussions. Once I warmed up to the class, I can get ahead of myself and that’s when the broken recorder starts to play when I get home. I would do a seemingly stupid thing like sending an apology email to the lecturer for what I should probably not have said, because it’s probably disrespectful but I didn’t mean it that way. Or, I will spend an hour (which in most cases drags into hours) regretting over-sharing a personal story that made the classmate(s) uncomfortable. The truth is, I still don’t know what is socially appropriate.
I still have to manage my limitation with numbers – dyscalculia – that makes reading psychology based articles extremely challenging. What it does to me is that I have to repeat reading the paragraphs that my brain automatically skips over because it’s plastered with too many numbers (I am guessing it’s a coping mechanism which I have absolutely no control over). Then, I get too frustrated at myself and start crying, then, I motivate myself to pull myself together. The cycle repeats. So, I do take much longer to finish reading one article which I have to re-read again whenever I have to report findings or compare the statistics results.
I still have to fight the personal battle at home ground, and sometimes the amount of mental capacity taken to fight this battle can devour all my spirits and I will have to go into therapeutic activities – drawing, crocheting, or blogging etc. (Do try to develop some activities that can help distract you from getting sucked into the hurricane of overload. Personally, the overloads that are derived from relational issues have been the most damaging for me.)
So, it’s not easy, but I am willing to go through all these, because I have eyes set on some very pretty stars, and I am determined to get them. I am worthy of the stars, I am worth my fight.
I will continue to learn from people and life experiences. I integrate the good and the wise from history and incorporate with today’s knowledge.
Now, I sound quite wise! Very intelligent people say that about me all the time, and I know it’s because I don’t have high intelligence to rave about, and I think (too much) and develop (unorthodox and weird) concepts that confuse people, and that can sound a little bit more philosophical and deep = wise.
Jokes aside, if we see everything that happens to us as learning experiences, perhaps even if our deepest desire to connect with another person, the soulmate per se, could not be materialised, we may be fine, because (quoting my lecturer’s recent favourite phrase) at the risk of being labeled as a nag, I will repeat this, life is very short, spend it well, or waste it. Your choice.