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I’ve been really enjoying my new job – in a way I didn’t know was possible! The team is good, but the best bit is the work itself. I never thought I’d find a job that really fitted my intellect. As an Aspie, with chronic social-skill failure and lack of confidence, I got stuck in a loop of taking crappy low-paid customer service roles that made my brain feel like it might as well go on permanent vacation. And the stress levels were horrendous! Now that I have FINALLY found an interesting role in finance, I am starting to get excited about the future again.

Of course, my career choices weren’t just based on the Asperger’s. As many women will know first hand, I also felt it sensible to put my husband’s career first (as he was the higher earner), and focus my efforts on child raising, housework, and all that other valuable yet often underappreciated and mind numbing stuff.

Now, part-timer and relative newbie though I am (at the grand old age of 36) I am starting to get ideas. Ideas like “hey, I could actually finish that CIMA course!” and “maybe I could bring in a decent wage” and my personal favourite, “I’m actually good at something despite having Asperger’s!”.

So, how does this relate to the title of my post today?

The truth is I’d almost given up on having a career. I took time out for child rearing, and when I was ready to get back into an office I struggled so much. It was hard to find something that matched my hours. It was hard to find something that matched my skills and experience. But I kept looking because it was important to me to try. The interviews were as painful as you’d expect for someone like me, and the failures were demotivating. And all along, I wasn’t even sure if it would work out well for me, even if I could get a job.

So, in summary, if you’ve written something off that you were hoping to achieve, maybe it’s time to revisit that, and give yourself another chance. We only get one life.

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For any woman with a small(ish) baby, or toddler, you’ll know it’s sometimes hard to find time to be yourself, or anything other than a mum. It can happen to dads too, but it’s less likely as they tend to go back to work much sooner. They often don’t take more than a few weeks out of their usual life, and of course, they don’t have the 9 months of pregnancy to adjust their lives around. As an Aspie, the thought of having a baby ‘glued’ to me was horrifying when I was a child, and I’m still finding it stressful the second time around.

But it’s not just having babies that’s consumed my identity. I’ve found through many stages of my life that I get fixated on issues or people and I forget to be me. I subsume my own needs and desires to fit with someone else, or to obsess over something I’m not or can’t do. Is this an Aspie feature? Or just something I’m stuck with that could also happen to anyone?

Why am I thinking about this today? It’s because I recently decided to do more things that I want. For example, on Sunday (Mothers’ Day), I went jogging. I’d wanted to go jogging again for weeks, but I always felt too guilty to take time out from being mum at the weekend. I still feel obliged to try and do most of the childcare, even when my husband is having a day off. He’s quite a hands on dad, but I know he finds the baby stressful and he’s always tired after a week at work. It was so nice to go out though – in the fresh air, nice and early.

Today I’ve got babysitters and I’m doing some work while listening to a podcast. I’ve wanted to listen to some podcasts for months, but it’s taken me a long time to take the plunge and get some headphones. After I got the headphones, it took another month for me to actually take the time to use them! Now that I have, I’m really enjoying the experience!

What else…

Ah yes, I have a book club meeting this week, and a yoga class. It’s taken a while, but I’m starting to feel more like a real person, rather than ‘just’ someone who does the laundry, or produces milk.

Yes, being a mother is wonderful and very important, but there is always more to life.

Following on from my last post’s sluggish determination, I write to you now from the other side. My energy levels are better. I can eat normal food again. My mood is better. But when I look back I can see how annoyed I was with my body – I felt it had let me down.

At yoga, we have been focusing on “ahimsa” these last few weeks. The principle of doing no harm – not only to others, but also to ourselves. It got me thinking about a trait which I believe is common to those with Asperger’s, and many others as well. We get cross with our limitations. We are saddened by our own selves. If we’re not careful, we can learn to hate ourselves.

I went to a wedding last weekend, and met lots of people I knew as well as a few new faces. For an Aspie, this is hard work. For a pregnant Aspie who has to stay sober, it proved to be rather painful. For about 12 hours I was trying to enjoy myself, make small talk, follow conversations, dance, and generally look like someone who fitted in at the party. All the while, a little nagging voice was making me doubt my every move and word. I wasn’t happy with my hair, my dress, or my shoes. I felt dowdy and frumpy with my bump and low heels, next to countless glamorous and willowy, confident women. I got stuck when I tried to talk to people. I had to take a few breaks, where I sat alone in the bar hoping no one would notice me and think “what’s that weirdo doing?”.

What an utter waste of a party.

My other half had good fun but I think he was a bit worried about me too.

So, I have not been very kind to myself these last few weeks. I have been sad because of my changing shape, and yes, I know carrying a baby is a wondrous and miraculous thing but I really do miss my waist.

Even so, I don’t want to turn into the person I used to be. The one who was too scared to talk to anyone. The one who cried herself to sleep most nights wondering why she was such a failure as a human being.

I must refocus on ahimsa. Happiness does not exclusively come from being a size 8 party animal, despite what popular culture tells us.

Do you fall into the negativity trap?

I can only apologise. I have been hiding from life, and that means hiding from my readers and the blog too. This week, I am trying to crawl back out from under the rock. And what is the rock? Well, in my case, it is the first trimester of pregnancy.

Yes, I have been exhausted, sick, overwhelmed, emotional and my brain has been a lot mushier of late. I am happy to be having another baby, but quite frankly, the first three months can fuck off. I have been forgetting my work. I have been too tired even to send emails. I have taken the wrong turning three times now on journeys I know well.

Enough.

Eight days ago I turned the page on my calendar and saw Bird on the Wire by Jack Vettriano. This image struck a cord – a strong looking woman standing alone. “Yes!” I thought, “I need to be strong again!”.

One day ago, I read a blog post by Chris Nicholas, and that also inspired me, so thank you. You are right, we do need to be grateful and we do find strength in the people around us.

Today, in the UK, we held our general election. I have spent the last eight weeks reading manifestos, complaining about all the flyers, and wavering. Today I was forced to choose – no more hiding behind my mushy brain – time to decide once and for all.

And so, I am starting to crawl out. I am starting to re-join the real world.

You may have heard my title phrase before. It’s a way of describing how the human brain is capable of adapting to learn new information, and even to build new cells and create new synapses. As I continue (and add to) my studies, it’s a phrase I’ve been repeating to myself as I endeavour to make sense of economic principles and C# syntax.

I know my brain can do it, I just need to keep trying. But reminding myself of the brain’s plasticity doesn’t make it an easy journey. My plastic brain seems to want to resist. The new synapses I wanted have to wait for roadblocks to clear. I’m getting frustrated with my slow progress. Today I almost cried watching a training video.

The truth is, I’m not used to struggling. My brain has been on vacation for years, because I never saw the need to challenge it. At school, and even at University, I chose options which I knew I’d find easy. Back then I didn’t care if I had a plastic brain or not, I just didn’t want to devote the time and energy required for anything remotely tricky. Maybe because I didn’t have a life plan I thought I may as well take an easier path. Maybe it was the weight of expectation – or lack of it – making me think all I had to prepare for was a life as a housewife, or a low earner, whose cerebral limits would not be called upon. Whatever it was, I am now feeling the annoyance of having to really try.

So here I am, telling myself the same thing I tell my four-year-old when she says she can’t do something. “You have to practice. The more you practice the better you’ll get!”

Have you ever struggled to learn something? Got any tips on fighting negativity and beating your brain into submission? I know, I’m looking for a silver bullet again. An easy answer. But seriously, any tips….?

When I contemplate drastic change, I tend to consider it briefly, I don’t want to linger. I sweep my thoughts out of sight and try to think of something in the present. But that is only because I imagine bad changes. I’m scared of all the terrible things that could happen to me and those I love. What I hardly ever stop to contemplate, is a good change. And yet, why not? I call myself an optimist. I began this blog purely to show the upside of life with Asperger’s – surely, the actions of an optimist? I do not allow a gloomy outlook.

But it is hard to remain an optimist this year. Events here and abroad – I know I don’t need to name specifics – have given me real cause for fear. I have no doubt, millions of others are also doing their best, not to be weighed down by a sense of defeat or hopelessness.

But when we look away from our newsfeed, and remember our personal sphere, isn’t there a lot of good remaining?

Today I heard some surprising news. It could change my whole life. It could change many things I took for granted. But I am not afraid, only excited and hopeful. This news will make my future path more uncertain. It will cause me to worry. I am going to be challenged. I do not mind.

I am ready.

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but something reminded me yesterday of my university experience. Technically, I should say “experiences” because there were two; two universities and two very different experiences. My best analogy for that part of my life is that uni no.1 was like being in a chrysalis and uni no. 2 was the fun part where I got to be a sort of butterfly.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple.

My three years as an undergraduate had taught me that I needed to change. I couldn’t spend every day of my life hiding from the world. I felt the need to do something drastic, to force a change in me. So, I went abroad to teach for a few weeks. When I returned, I knew I could do better than I had as an undergraduate. Buoyed up, I went to uni no. 2.

I didn’t really have a strategy. I just knew I’d have to do some very uncomfortable things to make my life better. At uni no. 1 I’d avoided the communal kitchen. I ate cold food in my room most days. I bought any dairy goods I wanted fresh each day so that I wouldn’t bump into anybody by going to the fridge. I feared the kitchen because anyone could come in and then I’d have to try and talk to them, or, more likely, ignore them and wish the earth would swallow me whole. When I got to uni no. 2, with the advantage of a smaller shared flat, I decided I’d have to stake out the kitchen.

Staying in the kitchen that day was one of the most painful and difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I was there for most of the afternoon, and many hours in the evening, attempting to get to know my new flatmates. I was at civil war with my brain, wanting to leave, forcing myself to stay. If I had not stayed that first day, I would have lost my nerve. I would have made a bad first impression, and that would have made every other day so much harder. Sometimes you really do have to force a change.

Thanks to that risk I made friends that year, found love, and laid the foundations for a life that was so much better than I’d ever imagined possible. It did not make my life perfect, or easy, but it was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Since that time I’ve taken many social risks. I’ve done internet dating, ran a social media café (way too much socialising and stress!), been to house parties and work events, arranged dinner parties, attended job interviews, stayed with my husband’s uni friends and their children (millions of people in one house – aagh!), made all sorts of phone calls that I was scared about, attended and hosted playdates and children’s birthday parties (double aagh!)…

Have you ever needed to force a change? How did you get on?