I used to have a friend who was always unhappy about her life. She was stressed out because she lived at home. She was troubled by her relationship with another friend. She was upset because she never had a boyfriend. She was depressed because she never had much money, her studies were part time and therefore took too long and she couldn’t get a full time job to boost her earnings.
Every week we’d go out and I would do my best to cheer her up and give good advice. After a while I realised I was wasting my time. She wouldn’t change – at least not just because I kept going on about it. She might never change. Or, one day she might hit rock bottom and realise she had to change.
My situation wasn’t so great either. I didn’t have much money – I was at university. She was my only hometown friend who I got to see during the holidays. At university I was alone, all the time. At one stage I also got a stalker. But I tried to be cheerful and I looked forward to our outings. I was still hopeful of finding romance and I wanted my fair share of being young and enjoying it.
Instead of helping each other like friends are supposed to, our opposing attitudes wore each other out. One day we had an argument and never spoke again. I even changed my phone number.
In my final year as an undergraduate I realised I had to change. I saw how much my life had deteriorated in those three years and I suppose it brought about a kind of epiphany. I resolved to do better. It wasn’t easy. In fact it was terrifying and painful, but after graduation I started to take risks.
My first risk was spending three weeks in Romania, teaching English on a campsite. You can imagine what that was like for someone with Asperger’s. I had a new routine, a new place, new people and new food all at once. I was expected to take charge of pupils and make friends with my fellow volunteers.
I did it.
I cried in secret (a lot), I ate almost nothing and dropped over a stone in weight, I felt sick with nerves (a lot) and every day seemed to offer something new and frightening. But I loved it too. I was so proud of my achievements. I even managed to sustain friendships with some of the students and volunteers long after I left. Everyone I worked with seemed to have a positive word to say about me.
When I got back I continued my risk taking strategy as I wandered off to postgraduate studies. It took a lot of work but by the end of the academic year I’d made friends (yes, multiple!), got a boyfriend who I loved and I had a social life that made me feel like a normal human being. It was the best and most challenging year of my life.
Since then I’ve had periods of depression and introversion, but those risks taught me a lot about myself that I never quite forgot. I took more risks and they continued to pay off. I would recommend them to anyone.
Being in your comfort zone is great. But if your comfort zone is so small it stops you enjoying yourself then it’s time to look elsewhere. It is time to take a risk.