Testing Limits

I have known that I have needed to write about at least a slither of my experience in 2016 even while I was living through it. I could write a book on just that year alone, but as I struggle to even think about some of those memories, let alone speak or write about them, I know that I need to start at the first step, which for me is just writing something – to try to capture a moment, no matter how fleeting.

So many people have asked me the question, “How was it?” whenever I mentioned the fact that I spent three seasons in another country. I know that these people mean well, but I also know that they are looking for the “correct” response, which is the one I always give. “It was such a great experience! I really have learnt so much from it.” This statement is true, it was a good experience, at least partly and I certainly learnt and have grown from every moment I spent on Japan’s soil. I still fully stand by my belief that if you have the opportunity to go on exchange, please do it! It is honestly an experience that is quite unique and is something that could not be replaced by any other. I saw so many beautiful places, met so many wonderful and nurturing people and I have so many exciting memories. My exchange involved a lot of beauty, fun, excitement and happiness, so why is that every time that the topic of my exchange in Japan is brought up that I get a huge lump in my throat and I begin to tear up?

Recently I was cleaning out my desk and I came across an old notebook, hardly touched, that had several pages that 14 or 15 year old me wrote in. If the words were summarised it would be,

Living in Japan will be so challenging, so difficult and incredibly hard. But I will get through it, I have to, because I need to prove to myself that I can.

When I was 4, I believe, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, or Aspergers, depending on the year and what the doctor was most comfortable with, and ADHD. There are so many stories I could tell about my beginning years, how I was a horrible, tantrum-throwing brat and about my struggle with words, speaking, reading, writing and mostly understanding humans and what was socially appropriate. That will be another blog post, because I have a lot to say on the matter. However, when I was a bit older, I became so grossly ashamed of how hard I made it for my parents who raised me and also I became grossly ashamed of who I was as a person.

I believe when I was around 8 or 9, I made a promise with myself that I would be well-mannered, polite and most importantly, that I would try my best to be what I considered, “normal,” aka: neurotypical. I did not want anything more in the world than to be able to do what I thought everybody else could. I did not want my condition to define me, but by striving so hard to be “normal,” I completely rejected who I truly was and I simply did not accept any weaknesses from myself. I worked so hard on understanding what all the different facial expressions and body language meant, what was considered socially appropriate, to always think hard before I opened my mouth and essentially, how to act “appropriately.” I transformed from Satan’s loud and angry spawn to a quiet, polite, but constantly self-judging child. I worked hard on my studies, thinking I would dazzle everyone and become a doctor or lawyer, as I used to be a child who almost did not make mainstreaming education. I wanted to be perfect and I allowed no mistakes. But the most reoccurring thought in my mind was, “There must be nothing that I can’t do. And if there is, I will do it anyway. I will never let my condition stop me or tell me that I can’t.”

I have a lot to thank myself for, due to having that mindset. If I didn’t work as hard as I did basically “studying human behaviour,” and improving my reading, writing and speaking, then just maybe I would not have the capabilities that I do today. But this adamant goal I had to “pass,” was actually incredibly toxic and harmful for my self-esteem and acceptance of who I truly am. If I wasn’t perfect, I punished myself and made myself do it anyway. This mindset followed me way into my adolescent years and it was a reason, if not the main one, why I needed to go on exchange in Japan, that I had no choice but to. I needed to prove to myself that I could do something that involved going against almost every single one of my limitations and what I considered, “flaws.”

So when I got the response back from my application for an exchange in Japan, I was crushed and offended by the word, “No.” Their reasoning was that because I had autism, that an exchange would be impossible for someone like me – I would not be able to cope. This reinforced the insecurities I had about my capabilities and made my blood boil.

“They are judging me based on some meaningless words on paper! If they met me, they would know that I am more than capable and hardworking enough to be able to do this!” I would angrily tell anybody who would listen.

I still believe that an organisation should not judge someone’s applicability based on their condition, but even so, I have often asked myself, “Was this one decision the catalyst? Would my depression have gotten as bad as it did if I never went to Japan?” I admit that a lot of things that contributed to my mental health was because of my experience as an exchange student and I made certain decisions that had terrible consequences because of it, but I also am aware that my mental health became a problem years before I even considered going on an exchange. The jury is still out on this.

After they declined my application, my parents and I worked hard on changing their mind. And it worked! The organisation had several meetings and one day I got the response I was looking for – that I were to pack my bags because I was to arrive in Japan very soon. I was leaving one month after than originally planned, therefore cutting my 10 month exchange to 9, but I was so incredibly excited – the thing I worked so bloody hard to be able to do, was now a reality!

It is so interesting to reflect on this experience and through writing these words, I now understand that I must continue. Those 9 months in Japan was a rollercoaster like no other. The lessons that I learnt from it that I hold the dearest to my heart, are that I could no longer hide from who I am, that my condition is not something I should be ashamed of and most importantly, that it is okay to have limitations. Through it I learnt to shed myself from having to be “perfect,” or “normal.” I learnt so many things about myself and how that even though I am very capable, acknowledging my weaknesses does not make me weak. The only reason that I lasted the entire exchange was because I was running from the reality of these limitations that I had. Yes, I am now able to be proud of myself to have achieved something that was honestly really difficult for someone like me, but there was a lot that could have been avoided if I just allowed myself to be human.

Not only is it okay to make mistakes and to be gentle with your limitations, but it is also crucial for building character and to achieve true wonders…

The wonders of being human and therefore flawed.

This is part one of, ‘Testing Limits,’ as I want to explore with further blog entries my experience of the lows and highs of living in Japan and how I came to this lesson of teaching myself self-acceptance. Thank you for reading, (you are wonderful!) and allowing myself to explore a topic that I have struggled with talking about truthfully until now. Love and light and please always choose compassion.

Proud to be neurodivergent!

Beauthentic

You can either be beautiful or authentic. Be one, but please still strive to be the other. Because when both collide and form a fusion, it furthers and deepens what they are. Be beauthentic.

I really want to be those things. I really want to share the rambles of my mind and I do not want to waste what I have to say. I believe that everyone has an experience or a message worth sharing; something that could create connection and further compassion with the world. Some of these truths are ugly and confronting, and therefore some are beautiful because they are both.

I have been creating, writing and scrapping blogs, diaries and novels all my life. I have never finished a notebook, endured a long-lasting blog or finished writing a book. Part of the reason is because I have always struggled with forming words due to a past speech impediment and learning disorder, partly because I am incredibly impatient and easily distracted, and lastly because of fear. Fear of judgement, fear of inadequacy, fear of failing. I think we can all relate to that, at least to some degree.

I have many goals at the moment. I hope that at least some of them will be achieved – I do know I will do my best to at least try. One of these goals is to write. I want to finally leave the story I tell myself that I am “bad with words,” because despite the fact that I stutter sometimes, or it takes me a bit longer to form the sentences that are abstractly born in my mind, or that I can hardly speak when faced with social anxiety… Despite all these things or the fact that it took me a couple more years longer to learn how to speak, write and read than most, I CAN speak, write and read, and damnit, while I may make mistakes sometimes, I actually am good at it! It’s hard for me to even write that, but I think it’s true.

Because I’m trying to pursue this goal of writing and of learning to be proud of my words, I have started a blog (again!) and while there may be hiatuses and shitty entries over its life, I am going to try to prove to myself that I can be authentic, maybe even beautiful, with my words and with what I write.

The Simple Idea

The next two weeks after a night of undiluted fear, would see my most extreme experience of change and growth. A few days before the fortnight ended, one drop of empathy and an added thought remodelled my entire outlook and dreaded story. As I reflect on this experience on its first anniversary, I remember details that I left behind in those confronting enclosed rooms of a hospital hiding as a home. The countless meetings with doctors who were only intelligent in their understanding of medicine, but not in humans, seemed to make my situation even more hopeless. Soon they grew tired of employing a bodyguard to eye an adolescent, so I was given a bed three hours away in Melbourne and there I arrived as a puddle in my boots, ridden with just more fear.

The teenagers there bore similarities to the previous patients, but the difference was in me. For the first time I opened myself to their offers of connection, because these people understood, and at that time that was all that mattered. And through sharing my compassion and empathy for their stories, I learnt to be compassionate and empathetic to mine. I drew almost obsessively in those unending hours, connecting to myself visually and therapeutically in ways I could not yet wrestle with words.

The most monumental moment was in the white sheets of a stiff bed, when my family visited me and I saw my sister cry in a too familiar fashion of defeat. This mirror did not shatter, but instead it did the shattering and I decided at that moment that if not for me, but for them, I will try my best to keep on living. And as though I was cementing this promise, I scribbled on my already defaced bathroom walls, the words, ‘It is ok to not be ok.’ This was an idea that was simple and obvious enough, but it took the weights off my shoulders. It allowed me to stand straight for the first time in my life, as I realised that my depression, my emotions, my state of being is not only allowed, but accepted within me.

Here comes the true struggle; a lifelong promise… My devotion to fill in the cracks.