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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?

 

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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.