My limitations defined by my disability are likely to be the secret ingredients to my ‘success’ story. When I say ‘success’, I mean staying alive and generally well.
The closest friends and family who knew me since I was a child would describe me as rigid, stubborn, disciplined, and determined. Although I am only diagnosed with Asperger’s in recent years, it doesn’t mean that I am only autistic recently. It only illuminated the characteristics of my limitations and explanations on my years of survival.
See, my rigidity could be the very reason why I lived thus long. My self-discipline branches from the category of rigidity. I reached home at 1:30pm, I changed into home clothes, had lunch, did homework, went out to play (or not), came home, showered, had dinner, watched television program, slept. I formulate routines along the way, because predictability makes me feel in control. We didn’t know the term yet, but we have the innate survival instincts to cope – but it does require some level of cognitive abilities.
I never knew how to study; I am not trying to arrogant. My folks are uneducated, or received minimal education. They didn’t know how to coach us. I had never revised for exams, only because I didn’t know how. I have never been sociable, but when I had best friends in school, I spent all my energies trying to please them. They didn’t study, I didn’t need to study. I have relatively good memory, and excellent episodic memory. I didn’t fail any subject. My temperament as a quite child aided in not being distracted by classmates (making friends has never been my forte) or anything, since I wouldn’t have known if there were social activities.
Wanting to be More, Realistically
Things are different now. Knowing what I am, opens the door to enlightenment – imagine, opening a door to bright sun ray! Ok, a little dramatic there, but well, my life would be just colourless if I hadn’t splash some colours!
I understand my limitations now, I can look for ways to work around it. I am determined, remember? But, I also have genuine limitations that can potentially sabotaged my mental capacity.
I need a new study plan, or rather, affirmed and be ok with the different study plan from my cohorts.
I need to stop matching my learning progress with the cohorts. Their methods won’t work for me. My age puts me in an unique position and makes sense of neuroplasticity (I am surprised that I actually understood this term, given that I wasn’t really taking in much information during lectures because my mental space has been largely taken up to manage the new changes in life – but I refused to succumb, very stubborn, remember?).
It is not uncommon to have matured national students here pursuing their degrees, but it is rather uncommon to have an international matured student with disability pursuing her degree.
Understand that our brain is highly capable of moulding – adapting – according to the external or internal stimulus. This gives hope that my age is not necessarily a setback. It may give hope to people like me, that given all the disadvantaged features, we can still modify the brainwork and take in more than we have limited ourselves to.
Locating lecture halls, for example, means taking extra time to map the location in my un-mappable brain. I actually took a ‘trial’ walk to the lecture hall a day before the lecture, just to ease the potential anxiety of getting lost instead of attending the lecture. My brain is constantly reshaping now to adapt to the new environment and stimulus.
Oblige the Ambitious Self
I am ambitious. I am evaluating this process as I go. While nearly all the students are here to study, I am here to learn. I don’t have to sell everyone else of my ideology, it’s idiosyncrasy to them. Who would spend so much money to just learn and may not want something out of it? I don’t know, that’s where my dulled sense of numbers helped. I understand the concept of ‘more’ and ‘less’, I cannot always relate the exact impactful value that the numbers have on realistic context. I am grateful for the children who are not my children, and I have none (make sense?)! I can never plan their future in financial sense!
Perhaps, at the end of the journey, something good may come out of it; something for the greater good. At this point of my life, well, at any point of my life (since I have always imagined I was going to die in a few years, every year!), what we do is no longer just about us, but what we can be of value to others. I mean seriously, it’s a no-brainer, there is a limited life span on individuals, but it is limitless when we spanned across everyone else’s life spans across the future generations. Make sense? I know, the way I make sense of things can be very conceptually confusing. That’s why I am constantly striving to be simple, because I am a very complicated person entangled in a mess of perfect ideologies.
Schedule the Unschedule-able
People who do not have to struggle with numbers on daily basis, will probably never understand the inconveniences that I go through, Every. Single. Day.
I am very consciously aware of the importance and concept of timetable, my brain just refuses to register the significance of the numeric representation. I know what is a month, it comprises of (standard) 4 weeks, and each week comprises of 7 days, each day 24 hours, each hour 60 mins, each minute 60 seconds (trust me when I say, I actually have to use noticeably amount of mental capacity to recite that – that’s the kind of energy I need to allocate to simple number representation – they never become natural to me, that’s the difference between you and I, I remain at the new learners’ stage where some memory recall effort is necessary). So, understanding the concept but not being able to grasp the gravity of the significance translates into anxiety. I know it’s important, and I try very hard to make sense of them, but it’s not up to me, and it’s frustrates the hell out of me.
Still, I must cover all bases – do you see how much effort I have to put in for a simple task you only needed 5 minutes for? – so I went to see a student advisor and asked all sorts of questions. I am grateful that the people here are very understanding and not expecting me to have known by now (my somewhat youthful appearance helped, because it masked the stereotypes. Young = allowed to ask questions; matured = expected to have known.). It’s so helpful that she pointed me to the bookshop to buy the wall calendar that has shaded non-teaching weeks on it.
Food for Anxiety
Believe it, food is an immediate relief to anxiety, but not binge eating. I don’t really binge eat, but I need some familiarity so that I find comfort at the primal level.
The tub of ice cream has been in my freezer for nearly a month (I can’t really count, so it’s an estimation), but it’s psychologically fulfilling to know it is there if I needed it. See, I am very good in adopting preventive measures. I anticipate and predict, that’s what I do. I have successfully kept melt-downs and shut-downs at bay (well, the last melt-down was a meaningful one, so it’s ok).
Craft Therapy – Stimming
I am autistic, I stim to regulate. My form of stimming transforms over the years. When I was a child, I used the basic vocal stimming which annoyed the hell out of my mother. She actually reported that to the psychiatrist during the diagnostic interview. Vocal stimming – in my case, I made repetitive meaningless ‘hum’ for hours; then when I was punished for it enough (my mother reported that no matter what she did to me, I didn’t stop, but trust me, it did), I modified the stimming to physically rocking myself or tapping my feet – in less annoying manner that I didn’t get punished for, but soon eliminated because someone made a remark on my feet tapping.
Crochet has been my backup stimming plan. The thing about stimming, it’s like an escape to our overwhelmed world. It is one thing that we gather all our attention to focus in, in order to get through the overload. I crochet, and I’d never stopped. Aside, creativity feeds my self-worth. I feel more valuable as a person because I am capable to create something nice from ordinary material. I am still amazed that I can make a doll out of strands of yarns.
Maybe it’s not the perfect study plan (yet), but it’s the best that I can manage right now.
The first 4-5 weeks of lectures are the ‘inactivity’ period for me, whereby I try to orientate myself in the new batch of classmates, making sense of dates and datelines, and try to accelerate on the neuroplasticity activity – but in my case, I can get affected by too many new changes, like the student village irresponsibly surprised me with a new housemate, although the new housemate is really nice, the element of surprise takes a toll on my mental capacity.
Then, I will start to revise. The experts tell me about the numbers of hours of self-study commitment, which clearly makes no sense to me (people have to stop thinking that I choose not to understand), and I am going to ignore it. The usual standard really doesn’t apply to me, but I want to keep that in mind so that I know how far I have fallen behind, so that I can work harder than harder later. (One of these days, we need to make women stand peeing, and men squat-pee to understand how unnatural is it for me to force numbers into my head. Weird analogies, well, I excel in weird!)
Someone said to me today: “I feel that you are setting yourself up to fail”, in the context that I may be over my head on this degree, with the best intention.
I have lived half way into my life (if unlucky, if lucky, I would be more than one leg into the coffin! Know this, long life has no meaning to me, quality triumphs over quantity), I have gone distances to unimaginable places, and I have been made to believe that I am lesser than what I could be. Yet, here I am, so, while standard evaluation gives a practical insight into what can and cannot be achieved, let’s say I am willing to be the brat as always, and take my chances.
I won’t try to prove anyone right or wrong. They are unimportant to me, but I want to remind myself not to lose sight of my original objective – to learn. I want to pass the subjects for the sake of effective learning since I cannot progress to a higher unit unless I pass the prerequisite units.
I know everyone’s journey is uniquely trying, that’s why I am ok that I am spending more time than my cohorts to accomplish the same goal – ‘sameness’ is highly overrated here though. Perhaps others should be ok with that too, and not use that against me as a measurement of my intellectual abilities and capabilities.
Tolerance and compassion.