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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!

Hmm, did I seem stressed in my last post, talking about the job interview? I was. I was stressed and scared and seriously doubting my abilities when it comes to matters of employment. Today, my perspective is quite different.

That’s because I emailed my interviewers this morning to ask for feedback and I got a very nice reply soon after. I was almost too scared to open the reply!

One of the best parts was this:

In the right environment, you would do extremely well in a financial role and would be a valuable asset to your future employer.

OK, there’s the bit about the right environment – well I agree with them there! I know I have certain limitations because of the Asperger’s but everybody has limitations of one kind or another.

What’s important is that the interviewer confirms I didn’t make a mistake. I just wasn’t the best fit for that working environment. They liked me, and they liked what I said and how I presented myself. They want to keep my details in case a more suitable position comes up. That’s not quite a success, but it’s also miles from being a failure, or disaster.

So, when I came out of the interview thinking it had gone well, I was right. I can trust my judgement on that. This may not fix my confidence problem, but it certainly helps.

Bon. Life is good.

I erred over the title of this. It was a close call between ‘competence’ and ‘confidence’ but really, the former is more important and it better reflects my feelings at this time. I have been wavering. I have been worrying.

I had a job interview. The description sounded good, I felt I had the right stuff, and I don’t think I did too badly at the interview despite feeling as though my heart and lungs were going to bust out of my ribcage. It has now been several days and there is no news. I am almost certain I didn’t get it. This is sad, and yet it is also a relief, because my success would have meant more scary situations and more stress. Could I really do what I claimed I could? Could I really cope with all that?

It’s all horseshit really. Of course I could. I have qualifications and a CV full of job history that says, “Of course you could!” And yet, here I am in my mid-thirties, wavering. Feeling like I’ve dodged a bullet somehow by not getting hired. I am a wimp, but I’ve been a wimp for a long time now and I’m not sure it will ever leave me.

Every qualification, every challenge met, every compliment… nothing changes me. In my heart, when I’m not scared about anything, I know I am competent. But it is so easy to doubt. It’s so easy to question everything. “Can I do this? Is this really right for me? Should I be making other plans? Should I give up and just be a housewife?”

Now I am wavering over my assertion in the second sentence. Is competence really more important than confidence? How does one get by without them both? Can I just decide one day to be confident in my abilities?

Merde. Life is hard.

Reading your latest article, I was initially beset with worry. “O no, not you too!” I thought. “Don’t give up now, you’ve come so far!”

I was relieved that you felt able to declare yourself a juggernaut at the end. “Ah good, he’s not out of the game by a long chalk!” I said to myself.

You are quite right. Success means very little without failure. I am reminded of a wonderful speech by JK Rowling on this matter. And what writer hasn’t known failure? What writer hasn’t had cause to doubt their worth? It’s the nature of life. Some people keep slogging away, others find a different path. The question that greets us with every period of writer’s block is: “Is it worth the struggle?”

The struggle is not just in creating something, but in polishing that creation. To complete a novel is one thing, to edit it is quite another matter. Suddenly everything that flowed so easily a few weeks or months ago is called into question. This isn’t right. This bit isn’t good enough. You question and second guess every decision you ever made, over many thousands of words. It’s agonising.

I’ve done that with two novels, that I decided weren’t good enough. I gave up halfway through writing a third and I’ve barely thought about writing fiction for months. Now, out of the blue, it’s in my head again. A quiet voice uttering, “You could try again, you know!”

If you’re still struggling with writer’s block, I would urge you to think about what inspires depth of feeling in you. When you’re generally happy and content, it gets harder to draw out those gritty, gripping tales. Perhaps a favourite book or author could create that spark? Or a trip to the ocean? Or even reflecting on some personal tragedy?

I had a friend who had a sad life, once. I tried to rewrite her story and give her some happiness.

Whatever inspiration takes hold of you, go with it.

A few days ago, my company ceased trading and, although I still have some work to do finishing the accounts, I am very close to being unemployed. I knew this change was coming. I’m confident that it’s the best thing for my family. And yet…

I am in limbo, facing the kind of terrifying freedom I haven’t had for years. The freedom to look for work, and actually make a choice about what I do next with my life. I made some bad choices when I began my ‘career’ – can you call it a career when you were stumbling blindly between bad choices without understanding what you really need or what your real value is?

Anyway, now it is time to choose again. The old worries resurface. Will I find anything that really suits me, Asperger’s and all? Will I make friends? Will I end up in another job that stresses me out, just for the sake of having something to do?

I am in the unusual position of not needing to work. Financially, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I just stopped. But I’m a young woman (well, 30s) and I feel like I need to work. It’s not the 60s, or even the 80s, I’m not going to stay at home and pop more children out. I want to use my brain for more than entertaining a few children. I guess I still have a bee in my bonnet about proving that I can be useful.

And that’s the Asperger’s talking again. I want to find my place in society. I want to have a regular payslip, to show that people find me useful. To show that I’m contributing to society. To show that I’m not lazy. To show that I don’t want to be a kept woman.

But for now I am still in limbo. Not quite finished with the old company. Not quite ready to face the terror of job hunting. Just thinking, and overthinking, and wishing I could be more like somebody who doesn’t think they have anything to prove.

This week, I have a serious problem with recruitment agents. I will soon be job hunting in earnest and, while I prefer to apply to employers directly, I know that many will use recruitment agents as a go-between. Why is this a problem? Well, there are actually lots, but today I’m focusing on their narrow view of humanity in general.

The title of today’s post is a phrase that has appeared in every recruitment agent’s job advert I’ve looked at so far. To give you a context, I’d estimate that I’ve looked at 30-40 adverts over the last week.

And you know me – you know I’m not looking at sales or PR positions. I’m looking at roles related to accounting, which is a large part of what I do now and is what I’m training to become qualified in.

When I was fresh out of uni and and looking to broaden my skill set (and greatly lacking in experience) I accepted several low-paid jobs, customer-facing, requiring me to be “outgoing” and “confident”. I muddled through. I felt uncomfortable every day. Now, working with numbers, I really don’t see the need to be outgoing or socially confident. Yes, I can work well within a small team. Yes, I know how to talk with and email people in a way that is not offensive or too sharp. Yes, I can use the telephone effectively, even though it often still gives me stomach ache. But outgoing? Me? NEVER!!!

And why should I have to be? Why is this word appearing in every sodding advert? Are there no jobs for people like me? Should I just curl up in a corner and wait for death? Should I retire from stress and rely on benefits for the rest of my sad, unproductive days? What a load of crap!

Aspies – do not listen to recruitment agents telling you you need to be different to get ANY job. We CAN do all sorts of jobs. We CAN contribute to society, and to paying our own bills. We CAN function in the workplace.

If you’re using recruitment agents and you’re worried they don’t see you as a complete person, don’t trust them to find you a good job. Apply direct. Think about what skills you really have and how valuable those can be to employers. Don’t feel you have to try to conform to someone else’s narrow perspective. We are real people and we have a role in society.

I have often noticed how different people cope with stress. What I’ve seen (in my limited experience) is that non-Aspies, such as my other half, seem to deal with stress a lot better than people like me. I’m not sure if this is generally true.

Something else I’ve noticed is that men seem to cope better than women – but this might be because they have been raised with an expectation of stress, or taught to have greater confidence in their own resources.

Whatever the reasons, I know that my body does not cope well with stress. When I get stressed a whole host of symptoms appear: mouth ulcers, tiredness, sensitive bowel, insomnia, dry skin, comfort eating or loss of appetite. I’m also open to any germs my toddler happens to send my way – mostly colds and sometimes diarrhoea.

This sucks. I am fed up of it.

I have had so many changes to cope with in the last 12 months and no immediate sign of any respite. I always seem to have too much to do.

I suspect, I need to change, rather than waiting patiently for life to ‘calm down’.

So, how do you do that? How do Aspies – or anyone – cope with stress?

All tips (and sympathy) welcome!

Not to be confused with my last post, (where I considered the Aspie’s perception of themselves versus their culture), today I am thinking about how we get to where we are now.

I still assume that many people will perceive me as a mousy, quiet, under-achiever who hasn’t really ‘made it’. At the same time, I’m employed as a company Director, and I’m training to become a qualified management accountant. I have two degrees, and I’m a mum.

I recently passed another exam and yet, here I am, still wondering if this is me. I feel under-qualified. I feel a hint of embarrassment using my Director’s email signature. I am still playing lackey to other people in the same company.

When I think about my career path, it feels like some strange accident has put me in this position. I still remember the awful feeling of not gelling with teams, of knowing my managers didn’t think I was up to the job. I have carried this ‘fish out of water’ sensation with me for the last 11 years.

It’s ridiculous, but I still lose confidence so easily.

I’m glad I kept trying. I will keep doing that.

Well, here I am several months after writing Sea change and I finally feel as if things have calmed down a bit. So, what’s new?

  1. I’m now a company director, and I’m enjoying my new responsibilities.
  2. I’ve been on a couple of family holidays and started potty training my little girl.
  3. I’ve had a lot of colds and a really annoying cough that keeps coming back.

And there we have it – my entire life and all the changes I’ve enjoyed and struggled with and worried about encapsulated in three little sentences.

It’s taken me a long time to feel capable of writing something for Acceptable Face. It’s also been a long time since I have felt able to continue my studies at an adequate pace but this is also starting again now. I have booked another exam to give me more motivation!

With luck, I will write more soon.