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After the other week’s anxious exchange, and even more anxious rushing to meet some deadlines, I am in the happy position of being able to say “I did it!”.

I did not offend my client. She is still in touch and keen to keep working with me. The cherry on the top is that, so far, she is also pleased with my work. Naturally, I am still a bit anxious, after all, the project isn’t entirely over yet! My next hurdle will be to negotiate phase 2 of the work.

But, I am happy to have had some success, and I am happy not to be in such a rush at the moment. It’s very easy for people like me to skip between worries without stopping to appreciate, or celebrate, when something comes to fruition or goes well. For example, I am currently worrying about three separate issues, but I’m trying not to.

Last Thursday I met two big work deadlines and on Friday I celebrated with my daughter, sister, and nephew, and lots of cupcakes and gingerbread men. I can tell you, after some long, stressful weeks, salted caramel never tasted so good!

So, what’s next? I still have plenty to do but I don’t want to keep worrying about it all. I want to move forwards with confidence, because actually, I do sometimes know what I’m doing.

Let me remember the salted caramel a little longer.

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Today, I come cap in hand looking for reassurance and guidance. I’m not too proud to admit, I’m a bit stumped today. Let me explain…

I recently acquired a new client and I have been working very hard to complete their project. It’s a copywriting project – my first non-editing role in over a year! I quoted, all was agreed, the deposit paid, and the working relationship seemed to be developing nicely. But…

Today I found out that my client thinks my quote is effectively a cumulative piece rate. She has divided my charge by the number of resultant pages and thinks this is the way forward for future work. This is not it at all – and I now have to explicitly, yet diplomatically, sort the misunderstanding out before I’m doomed to an untenable working relationship.

This happens so often with copywriting – and probably other services too. Clients don’t understand that it doesn’t come down to the number of words or pages. It’s about getting the right message across in the right way for the right people. It’s about the tone of voice and choice of words. It’s about the research involved, and the level of your copywriter’s experience and expertise. There are many contributing factors, it’s not like you’ve put a monkey in front of a typewriter and promised it one banana per page.

But that’s enough of the copywriter’s rant. My real issue here is the communication with my client. I am really hoping that my email is suitably diplomatic. I was aiming to be assertive, but not an a**hole. Speaking as someone with Asperger’s, I have no way of knowing if I’ve achieved that. Even if the client writes back and says that’s fine, I don’t know if she’s secretly fuming, or confused, or fed up.

So tell me – where’s the line between assertiveness, and that other a-word? Can an Aspie really learn to spot the difference?

PS. If you’d like to have a rant about how your professional services are misunderstood or under-appreciated, go ahead in the comments! I love a good rant.

Here’s a question for you: Is losing sleep always a bad thing, or can it be a good thing?

Normally, having missed many hours throughout my life thanks to anxiety-related insomnia and then having a child, I wouldn’t even think about it. There was no doubt in my mind that losing sleep was one of the worst things that could happen to me. Yes, I know, I could be horribly injured under a bus or my country might declare war and there are countless other things that really are worse…

But to me, because my sleep is so often disrupted, I felt that losing sleep was the absolute nadir of my existence. I go to bed early every night in a desperate attempt to get enough hours. Yet I often wake up feeling sluggish and slow, wondering why my daughter got me up three times or why my husband chose that night to snore so loud. Last night I lay awake for three hours worrying about a possible new client project.

And yet…

Today, well, I still felt a bit slow in the morning. And I did accidentally pour gone off milk into my husband’s tea before I realised. But I’ve also got a lot done and I feel happier and more competent than I have for ages. I’ve been to medical appointments (don’t worry – just routine), I’ve got work done, I’ve emailed that possible new client who I’m still a bit scared of, and I’ve even mowed the lawn. (This may not seem a big deal to you but it was my first time – I was too scared to try).

Consequently, I am starting to wonder, is it really worth going to bed so early? If my body has the energy to keep awake for three hours between 2 and 5am and I still manage to perform better than average, maybe I didn’t actually need those hours at all? Maybe my body wakes more because it knows it can and should be doing more in the day and it’s just getting annoyed with my brain for making it shut down early? Maybe, sleep is not the answer I am looking for?

How do you feel when you lose sleep?

After last week’s optimism, this week has thrown me a curve ball. My diary is pulling me in different directions and that’s a lot for my brain to handle. On Monday I had two appointments, two more today, a playdate tomorrow, and I don’t yet know if I’m needed for volunteering on Thursday.

I realise my schedule still makes for light reading, especially compared with many others. I know my husband’s days are often filled with meetings, phone calls and other distractions that get in the way of ‘actual work’. But for me, even my relatively easy schedule is hampering my thought process and productivity. My question is this:

How am I supposed to get stuff done when I have all this stuff to do?

People on the autism spectrum are generally known for preferring a steady routine. Chopping and changing, making ‘casual’ ad-hoc arrangements, and attending unusual or awkwardly timed appointments do not put us in our happy place. Each little alteration to the schedule creates worry and stress. It’s like putting a brick wall in the way, while we were enjoying our walk, thank you very much!

So – for the foreseeable future – my stress levels are continuing. My brain is doing its best to keep up with all the important stuff I have to do, as well as the distractions, but I know I’m not functioning at my best and that is so frustrating.

It’s times like these that I envy my husband. He has a career, and while his job may be annoying at times, at least he is working in an office with a single overarching focus. My own time has been split into what feels like hundreds of strands of focus, ever since I first quit full time employment to become a mother.

But I can’t blame motherhood for all the fragmentation. It was my choice to study accountancy. It was my choice to take two voluntary positions. It was my choice to take on work as a freelance editor, and it was also my choice to write a blog and enter short story competitions. As for the cooking, shopping, housework, and child-care arrangements, well I’m just kind of stuck with those. It didn’t make sense for my husband to be the stay-at-home parent.

So, as you can see, there’s no real cure for this fragmentation. It is merely a busy period that I have to get through, before the next one hits. If I weren’t pregnant, I would certainly treat myself to a glass of wine to help my brain switch off. But I am, so… any tips?

As I face another sleep deprived day, I am thinking about the little crutches I rely on to get me through. First, there was coffee.

I grew up watching my Dad drink it, enjoying the rich smell that seemed to fill the room when he added hot water to that brown powder, or, in later years, when he switched on the machine.

It became part of a lifestyle I aspired to: the busy person who needed a little caffeine to cope with all the stuff they have to do. And why did I want to be busy? Maybe just because that’s what Daddy did. Maybe, as a small and Asperger’s-crippled child, I just really wanted to be that useful to everyone. My Dad is sociable, confident, and he was in charge of projects that spanned continents. Who wouldn’t want to be that capable?

Now, as my daughter has decided that every night has to be interrupted between 2 and 6 times, I am relying on coffee even more. And I have added another crutch to my arsenal. Sugar. This morning, I realised my husband and I had taken only 2 days to clear a whole tub of millionaire’s shortbread bites. Each tiny bite (and they are small enough even for my mouth, which the dentist said was small) contains 89 calories and is 46% sugar. I have also been eating rhubarb crumble with salted caramel sauce and ice cream most evenings this week. Yikes.

My husband is no stranger to this particular form of diabetes-chasing. He gets through late night work sessions with half a family size bar of Cadbury’s and reruns of boxsets. As I am ‘on call’ I go to bed early, safe in the knowledge I will have more coffee in the morning. And now – a biscuit, too!

Knowing how reliant I am on coffee makes me think I should kick this sugar thing in the head before it gets just as ingrained in my life. But if I’ve been awake so much in the night I feel I deserve a treat.

So, I’m happy to keep the coffee. It was always in my life plan. I like the ritual of pouring out the frothed milk and watching the cocoa fall like a delicious snowdrift. I like the way it says “Now you can do this!” It’s my friend, my cheerleader, my cattle-prod. It punctuates my day like roses blossoming in a garden.Yes, I will be keeping the coffee. But can I step away from the sugar again without feeling deprived?

Maybe my daughter will start sleeping again and I will laugh at how I nearly emptied the patisserie section at my local supermarket. Maybe. But I think I need a more likely solution.

What gets you through the day?

 

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….?

Having spent a long time searching in vain for suitable employment (the right hours, location and skill set required) I came to the conclusion that I’d have to make my own opportunity. If you can’t find the right niche, get your elbows out and make one!

Not that I can conjure up a paying job that’s exactly right for me – I shall leave that to braver entrepreneurs! I was freelance a long time ago and making sales with Asperger’s is ridiculously tough. What I have done is asked someone I know if there are volunteering opportunities at their workplace.

This was scary because I knew that if they wanted me to help I’d have to meet new people and – even more scary – I’d have to learn a new route to drive in the car and get the hang of parking on the road. Still, it’ll beat twiddling my thumbs and having conversations with my laundry, I thought.

A few weeks later and I’ve already started, one day a week, just doing simple administration. I use the satnav on my phone every time, just in case I get confused and make a wrong turn. I always hold my breath on the last turning in case I can’t find a good place to park on the street. I always take a deep breath before I get out of my car and walk over to the school. And sitting in the staff room at lunch will probably always feel awkward. And yet, it’s great! The people are friendly and they really appreciate me being there. I am a valued part of a team for the first time in so long.

Sometimes it is worth sticking your elbows out and taking a risk!