07 February 2016 marked the one year anniversary since I moved to Perth. Although it would be more accurate to state that I have been through massive and drastic changes since February 2013, it justifies to say that in reviewing 2015, it was a year of turbulence.
My Pandora bracelet tells the story of my new beginnings. It started on 08 February 2014 (I know, all things start in February!) when I landed in Denmark, and spanned out a lifetime plan which took many twists and turns. I was supposed to end up in Denmark, but here I am in Perth Australia. It is not to say that it will not end in full circle, the story is just starting. I have learnt to keep an open mind for new possibilities. Some day, I may still end up in Europe, for the same original reason, or a new purpose, we can never know until the time has come.
Happier Yet Inconsolably Sadder
In a grander scope, I am happier in Perth although I have placed myself completely out of my comfort zone in geographical sense; there was no real comfort zone back home in Singapore. I am happier now because I am starting anew on my own terms. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike everyone back home, I just have a desperate need to shed that emotional and mental burden that I started to carry on my shoulder since I was a child, and that bag was piling up rapidly. This is not unique to me, it should be familiar amongst the Aspies.
Even though I am still connected to the ‘old’ world of mine through social media platforms, I am physically removed from the place that I survived through modelling after social norms. To start anew successfully, there will be new rules to follow, but this time, I set the rules; this time, I follow my rules not for approval or validation, but for personal protection and liberation. I have made some mistakes along the way, and I shall touch on that later on sharing living spaces with people.
Despite the new-found joy and independence, 2015 surprised me with 2 inconsolable losses of very dear friends. My best friend passed away in July and I was left in the most emotionally vulnerable state that was easily exploitable. Months have passed, but no time has passed at all; I feel the pain of loss, every single day. Excellent episodic memory has been more a curse than a blessing for me. On the last day of 2015, another dear friend passed away, as unexpectedly as my best friend did. These 2 friends were the very few people that I shared my woes with; now I have gone back to my faithful pillow to indulge in taking my tears and soundless screams.
Despite my poor social etiquettes in many social situations, I believe I am quite likeable; I just don’t do much to maintain friendships. The signature of a good episodic memory is that I remember events as they were, predominantly the emotions that were being attached to the events. That creates a discrepancy between my feelings towards friends and theirs towards me; mine is fresh while theirs are fading incrementally with passing time.
Resilience and Acceptance
Life is hard for everyone, life can be harder for the minority, any minority group.
When I just arrived in Perth, the university made a blunder pertaining to my admission and equity support. Despite being aware of my need for special accommodation to my academic structure, I was put under tremendous and unnecessary stress. While still navigating in a new and foreign environment, I faced fear of potential deportation due to the blundered action of theirs.
On the second semester, I had to deal with an appalling event of discrimination while grieving for the loss of my best friend as well as dealing with emotional avalanches in a new property – I moved from the student village. For the benefit of the visual thinkers, imagine struggling to find a stable ground, only to find shrinking pieces of ice under your feet.
One year, 2 semesters, and I have filed 2 formal complaints against the university. I had resolved all the outstanding issues on my own before the complaints were filed; I filed them anyway. I am highly resilient by experiences – which in many cases, I have Singapore’s lowered social and welfare support to thank for – and most importantly, I accept that life is imperfect, systems are flawed because human race has created the most flawed excuse – to err is human.
I accept that regardless of my agreement or disagreement with how the world operates, and how I feel I don’t belong, I am still part of the bigger climate – flawed world. It doesn’t mean I am giving up in trying to make this less hopeful world a more compassionate society, it just means that I also have to be realistic that there are realms of the world that I have no control over.
I filed the complaints to create red flags on the flawed systems to help prevent future (disabled) students to be in similar predicaments as I was in. I accept that it may not eradicate the problems completely, but I can only do my best and if within my capacity, pursue further. However, I will not lose perspective of my purpose here; I will not fight to win battles only to lose the war.
Sharing Living Spaces with Others
I was invited by Liane Holliday Willey, the author of (my favorite) best-selling book on Asperger’s – “Pretending to be Normal“, to contribute a guest post on her blog. I chose the topic “Leaving the Comfort Zone to Live Independently Abroad in Pursuit of Education“, because I truly wish to inspire and encourage my fellow Aspies to weigh the pros and cons about traveling and to see from my perspective of possible independent living.
It would be ideal if I could have my own personal space – sanctuary, however, cost of living in Perth is high and since I am incapable of managing finances and numbers effectively (dyscalculia), I feel it’s better to keep main expenses lower.
>> Rental – Sharehouse
To keep rental lower (and I am still on the higher end, but it is the farthest I can go with sharing – we need to understand our limitations), I choose to live in properties that share common spaces with other people. When I was living at the student village managed by private property management, I shared the apartment with one other housemate, including the bathroom and toilet. I found out that I really don’t share bathroom and toilet well with other people – I didn’t have to share bathroom and toilet back home, my parents have their own en suite bathroom/toilet.
I moved to a private property in July. The house was shared with one other person; I occupied the back of the house, but we shared common spaces like kitchen, lounge area etc. I moved to another house in December, nearer to the campus. It’s a double storey house with 4 rooms, currently 3 rooms (with en suite bathroom/toilet) are occupied.
>> Disclosure of Personal Information
Before I left for Perth, I was put in contact with the managing director of the student village. He advised to disclose my condition to the housemate as in his experiences, it yielded better understanding and outcomes. With his advise on my mind, I was forthcoming with my housemate (that the village surprised me with) at the student village and the other housemate in the private property that I moved in to in July.
Speaking from experiences, I would advise fellow Aspies to NOT disclose your conditions to your housemates, at least not from the beginning. See, when we disclose our disabilities, we are also leaving doors opened for exploitation. Whenever we tell someone about our conditions, we are exposing our vulnerabilities to them. We are also placing great trust in them that they now understand; they may try but most likely they won’t in long run, no matter what they say.
Understand this, we look normal, many of us are highly intelligent, we are most likely outperforming them intellectually. In their minds, social intelligence and cognitive intelligence are the same thing. If we can acquire knowledge better than they could, we are expected to excel in all areas better than they could. We can continue to educate them, but it’s always challenging for them to understand, especially if we live with them. It only becomes frustrating to us when we think they finally understand, but the truth is, it’s as challenging for them to fit into our frames of mind as it is for us to fit into theirs.
Personally, sharehouse is a good option if we are not sharing rental with existing tenant to the lease. It means that it is more ideal to live in a property that is shared amongst other tenants who are just renting rooms, rather than the house and sublet the room to share expenses. In my experiences of house-hunting, there are many people who rented the property wholly, and wanting to rent out rooms to share expenses; usually they are financially strapped due to several reasons – unemployment, worker’s compensation due to injury, divorce/breakup that causes them to lose half their assets to the partner etc. Simply, they are not financially stable, so that also makes it less safe for us to share spaces with them.
In my current rental, I decide not to make friends with the housemates. Not making friends with people we share living spaces with could work better. That way, there are minimised small talks, borrowing things, and constantly needed for favors or whatnot. However, it also means that we will have to try to solve all the problems on our own, which we usually do quite efficiently.
Different Operating Systems
See, when we disclose information to people, we develop (unrealistic) expectation that people will now understand, so it becomes very painful when they exploit the information and use it against us. What I am saying is that I choose to understand people by default of their ignorance. I want to retain that section of allowance to tolerate their misgivings because they don’t know; that allowance diminishes once they are made privy of the information. It’s one of the unofficial Aspie’s traits that once we understand and accept an information, it stays with us until the condition changes that requires the original information to be updated. This is not the case for most people, they need constant validation even though more than sufficient evidences have been provided in the original presentation of the information. They distrust by default, we trust by default, that’s the main difference in our operating systems.
*That being said, when I am in a romantic relationship, I often prefer to seek for renewal of validation – well, for some (obvious) reasons, I have been lied to perpetually, can you blame me?!
In the 5 months out of last year, I had sustained more meltdowns than all meltdowns combined in 2 decades! So many countless nights of tears, and silent cries. So, I think since we are going to start a clean slate, why disclose and be dwelled into the same struggle? Between being perceived as quirky and being abused for the condition, I choose quirky. People who don’t know, will just think that I am quirky and cold, and it’s alright, I am a foreigner in this country, they are already expecting me to be different; but sometimes it’s harder for people to find in their hearts the compassion to understand the things that challenge their core value systems – a person who looks perfectly normal to be nothing being the normal they know.
Is it still worth it to go through all these hardships? Absolutely! Either way, living in my old rut or carving a brand new path here, I am surviving life, so why not make some splashes and noises along the way? Even if there were social welfare back home, leave it anyway. In studying history of human revolution, including political evolution, it makes us fools to think that anything given to us will stay permanent. If we live in complacency and dependence, when the net of welfare is removed, we will fall to our deaths. So, if possible, take every chance to build resilience so that while we survive this life, we live a little on our terms too.
*We had pension system in the past, it is no longer a thing in Singapore. We used to be able to withdraw our retirement funds in full when we reached 55 years of age, now we can only withdraw partial of it when we hit 65 or 67 (can’t keep up with the changes!), many of us may never be able to withdraw that money due to restriction made to minimum amount to be kept in the account. So, even in recent history in a tiny little country, welfare and future securities are changing all the time. I have never enjoyed any form of social welfare back home, but if you do, think about your personal value, if they removed the social welfare, can you still manage? I can, I never depended on it, so I earn my own credentials and merits.
I am not saying you should not apply for social welfare, I am saying that we ought to be resilient and strengthen self-efficacy. So, go out and acquire new knowledge and skills so that you can be financially independent and capable or creating financial stability to sustain a lifestyle more suitable for your conditions. If I had more money, I would not share living space, just saying. Finally, continue to create awareness for mental illnesses and disabilities or any cause you feel close to your heart; educate people, but don’t make it a personal crusade.