Fear

I have accidentally stolen a bike because of my fear of embarrassment. There are lots of other things we can fear – shame, pain, failure and conflict, to list a few. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we continue to act in fear, instead of facing the problem. This just compounds the problem, like in my bike story.

When I lived in Japan in 2016, I rode my bike everyday to the train station that took me to school. I locked it where all the others were parked and then when I came back later that day, I went to where I thought I left my bike and used my key… which didn’t unlock it!

I knew that there were plenty of other bikes that looked just like mine, but I was stubborn and adamant that this one was mine. Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to each one and try the lock, because I stood out enough in Japan – I didn’t want to cause more attention and embarrass myself. I felt like doing that would look like I was trying to break into the bikes, or something like that. Looking back, I realise that kind of embarrassment is definitely not the worst thing to happen.

A few teenagers came to help me and after a while of wiggling the key, we decided we’ll take the bike to a nearby locksmith. They all helped me carry it and the locksmith cut off the lock and put on a new one with a new key. Huzzah! After thanking everyone and riding to my host home, a month passed and a policeman came knocking.

From what I could understand, (my Japanese wasn’t very good at that point) it was normal for policemen to check if the number on your bike is the same one on its paperwork. When I heard that the number was different, my suspicion was proven to be correct. I stole someone else’s bike. I still feel terrible about it – bikes aren’t cheap, the person who owned it probably needed it to travel and I can only imagine how devastated they’d be. All because I didn’t want to embarrass myself! In fact, trying not to embarrass myself just embarrassed myself more.

At that time I was afraid of looking stupid, which is a common fear that I have. I’ve been thinking lately about what else I am afraid of. It feels like I have become more scared of things than when I was a child. I loved adventure and I had no fear of death while doing dangerous things. I felt invincible. Now I’m scared of the dark again because that’s when I hallucinate the most. I’m scared of monsters under my bed again because it always feels like the alien and monsters are close. My second time in a psychiatric ward in 2019 lasted for nearly 2 months because of my psychosis. Ever since, I’ve been so scared. A lot of that fear is trauma, disability and mental health related.

There are other fears I have, such as trusting myself, leaving the house, socialising, people judging me, being a waste of space, homophobia, letting my disabilities limit me, vulnerability, losing those I love, loneliness and failure. And the list goes on! I asked Cassandra, my partner, what are her fears. Immediately she said mediocrity, another fear that I share with her, and then said isolation, meaninglessness, people and poverty. There are so many different kinds of things you can be afraid of. Everyone’s fears are unique to them, but also many are something you share with others.

Fears are formed to protect ourselves from hurt. There are different kinds of fears – ones that are helpful and others that aren’t. An example Cassandra gave was being afraid of snakes, which is a built in “survival” way of thinking, and isn’t an important fear to conquer, as it serves us and our safety. However, overcoming a fear of people has benefits such as connecting with others, as well as combating loneliness and anxiety.

I have asked myself the question of “how do I deal with fear” and it’s made me reflect on how I experience fear in my daily life. One of my biggest achievements lately is regularly going outside. In the past, the more I stayed inside, the scarier the outside seemed and the more anxious I became. So how did I overcome (more or less) this fear?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I was compassionate and empathetic to myself. I didn’t beat myself up for not going outside, because that would compound the problem and lead to more fear. There was no rush, there was no pressure, because I find that the more I am “forced” to do something, the more I don’t end up doing it. My psychiatrist recommended to me to go outside everyday. At first that seemed impossible and the first time he told me to do that I didn’t listen.

But it’s a bit more than just being compassionate, understanding and empathetic towards myself – I also need to seize the opportunity on days when I have more energy or I am mentally in a better place than usual. In times like that, I simply took the leap and was brave. Cass said to me the opposite of fear is love and that courage means “whole heart,” which shows how love is brave. Sometimes overthinking a situation can be a barrier against facing your fears. It seems so fucking hard, but it IS possible.

Sometimes you have to put yourself in “uncomfortable” situations (or worse) as to move forward and expand your comfort zone. The first few times it exhausted me to go outside. I was constantly paranoid and anxious about seeing someone I knew, because I was so down about my appearance, as well as my current lifestyle. I was afraid of seeing those who hurt me, with how upset I would be and how having them see that I’ve put on weight would give them the satisfaction of “winning.”

All of the above is fear based on possible consequences that might not even happen. Would it really be that bad if someone saw how I currently look like? Would people that matter actually judge me for my lifestyle or my mental health? You should ask what these fears have to show you, because perhaps it will lead to growth and insight. However, the important thing to do is to distinguish what is the kind of fear we need and what fears we have convinced ourselves that we need.

Yesterday Cass and I went for a drive and we stopped at a lookout, I looked down at the road beneath us and remarked on how small a car looked. It looked like I could just pluck the car from the road with my fingers. However, the car was so big when it was close – it was scary and threatening. But when the car drove away far from me, it looked tiny. It’s still a car in both situations, but changing your perspective can help you deal with it.

Pretend that you are looking down at a fear that you have, such as failure. You remember that when it is close-by it feels like life or death. It’s loud, in your face, with passengers that yell things at you like, “You’re worthless!” or “You’ll never accomplish anything in your life!” When it drives past, it threatens to run you over, instilling more fear. However it was an empty threat and soon it has driven away.

When you see this exact same fear below you, the fear of failure seems small and quiet. You hear faint voices coming from it that you can tell aren’t nice, but it’s far away, not personal and not immediately threatening. The safety in distance allows you to look at the fear without feeling and with logic – it is not going to kill me. That fear of failure is the same as the one that’s close-up, so it’s important to not believe its lies. It can’t make you anything less than you are, because you are not your fears.

Usually, overcoming your fears doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, but rather you have it in chains – there’s still a possibility that it can bite if you let your guard down, but you also have control over it. A book called The Happiness Trap talked about the “passengers” on your boat and it’s the same thing – your fears will always be on your boat and you can’t make them disappear. However, it will hurt you less over time if you assert your boundaries AND if you make friends with it.

The “making friends with it” part is the hardest. However, if you stop fighting it and start looking behind the scary face, you just might find things that are useful and helpful. A fear of failure that is a friend may help you stay on top of your work so that you are reliable and diligent. A fear of loneliness can motivate you to go to the social events, where you can meet new people. You might be surprised what your fears may teach you.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not your fault and you are not bad if your fears are messing up your mind. But I hope that through reading this you have a better mindset about it. Funnily enough, you don’t need to fear fear. It can help you, it can teach you things about yourself and the world around us, and you are strong enough to overcome it, at a compassionate pace that is best for you. Remember, when you encounter fear, try not to let it be in control with full reign, because that will make the problem worse. Instead, we need to face it. Fear me, fear.

Trauma Unpacked

“I’m bad!” “I’m worthless.” “I’m a waste of space.” Do these thoughts sound familiar to you?

I’ve been having two kinds of intrusive thoughts recently, and the first ones are like what’s written above – thoughts that we latch onto so tight, despite seemingly having little to back it up with. Sometimes we have a lot of reasons though, which are either delusional or correct, but the point is that the thoughts are intrusive.
I’ve also been experiencing a different kind of intrusive thought; memory stabs – a new name that I like to call them. To me it is like a flashback, but instead of a whole scene, perhaps you see a recognisable snapshot. Or one word or sound triggers a whole event in your mind, or a feeling of pain, disgust or fear you’ve felt in the past suddenly overcomes you in the present. Whatever it is, they all usually feel like a sharp shock, which is why I call them a memory stab. At least that is what it is like for me, but I’m certain that the equivalent is different for many.

Most of everything I experienced in 2016 I considered one whole lump of bad squished together, like something that can’t go down my throat, which I usually categorised as ‘Japan.’ That is unfair of me since the country itself isn’t to blame. That’s like travelling to New Zealand, getting mugged and then saying that the whole country is bad because of it. Every country and culture has something terrible, toxic or backwards about it, some more than others, and that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Humanity is the world’s worst relationship. If we accept that we, no matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, are free to live, then we must also accept that everything that is a product of us are free to live as well.

In a black-and-white perspective, humanity harms the earth and the life it holds and therefore we are bad and should not exist. That is an acceptable perspective, perhaps the most noble one. An optimistic perspective is that humans are needed to keep on living, because we matter – we live and so our love, art and beauty lives on too. This is true too. Pessimistically, none of this matters, we shouldn’t care because everything dies anyway. Another acceptable perspective. And finally, in a “grey” perspective; this all is true, but our flaws or negative traits do not make us less worthy and the good can only exist if there is also bad. Therefore, yes, we are destroying the world by living on it and being its worst relationship, humanity is an incredible source of love and beauty that we should treasure, everything dies so we don’t need to take everything so seriously, and it’s okay to be flawed and to have “bad” traits, because that’s the nature of all life. Should we exist or not exist because of all of that?

No matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, we were born and therefore continuing our legacy of goodness, shittiness, a mix or both, neither one and everything else that perhaps I’ve forgotten to mention. The differences between countries, cultures, groups and individuals are necessary, because nothing is categorically “bad,” or “good.” Our morals, codes and values are personal and are not universal. To create one true mindset that is “The Right One,” is to create an impossible God. Everything is flawed, including the country I am talking about, Japan, but the same experiences could happen in many other different countries. I just wanted to make that clear.

Almost every night for the last couple of weeks I’ve been having nightmares about being trapped in Japan and being unable to leave, and about an ex I had, either hurting me in the past or in new ways in my dream. I’ve been having these kind of nightmares for years now, but for some reason I’ve been having them almost every night recently. Like I said before, it is unfair of me to name the trauma I experienced as “Japan.” The reason why I use that word is because I do not want to think about the specific situations I experienced in that time of my life.

In 2016 I stayed in Japan as an exchange student for 9 months and I must admit that even though I am talking about the bad experiences I had, there were also lots of beautiful times and kind people I met during that exchange too. I am grateful for those good memories and I’ll treasure them forever.
I believe that the trauma from the whole experience was from a lot of different things, bunched together as if it was one. It was the harmful experiences I had, some of the toxic people I met, the loneliness I felt in a room filled with people, being in a culture that looks down on emotional expression, my limitations not being respected or cared for by me, my situation back home and my mental health at the time, which all tainted the whole experience.

I find it really hard to think about the details of each situation that hurt me. It feels like I’m reliving it if I try. I’m working on that. When I first came back from Japan in 2017, the year that everything changed for me, I had a lot to process. I did not want to admit to anyone that my exchange was traumatic to me, not even to myself. People asked me about it, not caring and not having the time for a truthful answer, and so I hid behind, “It was a great experience!” Which is true about some parts of my exchange. I travelled to see beautiful places, I met some wonderful people, I experienced new and exciting things and the food was fucking fantastic. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I truly am lucky to have those memories.

The problem is that it was too much. I have autism and I have limitations, but I did not respect that. I told myself that the only thing that mattered was that I get through the whole exchange, to prove to others and most importantly to myself that I am just as capable as anyone else. I wanted to prove that I was good enough, strong enough and normal enough. I was ashamed of being autistic, and I treated it like it was a dirty secret for my whole life. It made me feel like I was bad or dumb or like there was something terribly wrong with me.

It still feels weird accepting that my autism affects some of the things I can or cannot do, without feeling ashamed because of that. It’s okay if I need time and space to recover after situations that take energy, that I struggle socially and that my limitations of what I am able to do without falling apart is different than others. That doesn’t make me weak or bad. But in 2016 I felt like it did. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t take my medication at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Perhaps I was being unconsciously self-destructive.

Back to the memory stabs. I think that the reason why I keep getting sudden snapshots in my mind about 2016 is because my brain is trying to tell me that I need to finally start unpacking my experience in Japan. I am definitely not a detail-orientated person. I’m good at looking at the overall big picture, but when situations come that require me to look at the details, I feel not in control. It doesn’t help that I have big chunks of memory loss about 2016, which I heard could be a result of having mental health issues. And it also doesn’t help that as soon as I try to remember things my mind instantly wants to reject it and run away. It’s hard work processing memories.

I’ve had a few therapists in my life, but for most of them, I only talked about the now, such as what happened last week. I never really delved into specifics about things in my past. I really am in need of a therapist as of now, but I have a fear that being unable to articulate and communicate what exactly happened in Japan will make me feel invalidated. My mind says they won’t understand, they can’t help and that they will secretly judge me. After being hospitalised three times since 2017, (for nearly 3 months overall) I am tired of feeling like I need to prove myself. It’s like I am fighting for my life to just be validated. I have all these fears, but still I want to try to get help. I want to heal.

I hope that people in a similar boat as me will feel understood by reading this. I feel sad, because there was so much I loved about Japan and how beautiful it is and I want that back. I want to be in control of my hurt, to be able to live fully despite the harm. I hope that for you too. Facing the details of your trauma is incredibly hard, but whatever you are experiencing, big or small, you are always growing, even when your branches are cut short.

Body Positivity

Here is an excerpt of something I wrote not too long ago.

I’m still wrapped in blankets, at nearly 4 pm, and I am finally ready to do something productive, which is this – writing. There are so many stories about today that I can run with, especially since it’s nearly dinner time and I have not moved an inch or done anything with my whole day. Our nasty “leaches” like to tell us that resting and recovering are not allowed for us, even when our illnesses debilitate us. But if we see someone else in the same boat, we would probably understand and recommend them to take the time they need to recover.

We are always so much harsher on ourselves than we are on others. I look at myself and want to claw out my skin and guts because I have what I deem a disgusting body. I pull and pinch and scratch at the skin under my chin, because my jawline isn’t as sharp as it used to be and now it seems like in my head that I now no longer have a chin – it’s just face rolling down to my neck. But when I stopped to think, I realised that if I saw an exact copy of myself in front of me, I would celebrate that person for the body they have. I would reassure them that they are beautiful.

I’ve always been a body positive person, but only for others. I know its not any of my business to judge others based on their appearance, and it’s not okay to assume someone’s heath. I think plus size people are absolutely gorgeous, along with any other body shape. I’ve always been attracted to body shapes like mine, or bigger or smaller. People argue that they look down on fat people because “it’s unhealthy.’ You can’t know someone’s health or background just based on their appearance, and even if they were, how is that any of your business? People that are happy and confident in their own body are not affecting you.

Even though I believe all these things, I started believing them when I was skinny. I’ve always been fairly slender growing up – my family nicknamed me ‘tweaka’ as a kid, because I had twiggy limbs. I have always been very body positive, but now that I am the heaviest weight I have ever been, I realised that maybe I am only positive towards other bodies, not mine.

4 or so years ago I had an eating disorder that involved not eating for days, throwing up as much as I could and doing exercise when I had no food or energy in my system. I had cold baths because shivering burns calories, I would subscribe to blogs that told you that you were a fat piece of shit as a way of “motivating” me, I counted the calories of everything I ate, even not allowing myself to eat fruit and vegetables sometimes, because they still had calories.

So I got to my lightest weight I’ve ever been as a teenager and still I felt fat, ugly and unsatisfied. That all was happening right before my suicide attempt, so to me, my unhappiness with my weight is connected to my suicidal tendencies. This meant that every time I put on a bit of weight since then, it played alarm bells that told me I needed to die.

So here I am, with my first stretch marks and a body that does not feel like mine. I want to tell myself that I’m beautiful just like I would tell a friend who weighed the same they are beautiful, but I can’t. I want to one day be able to be supportive of myself no matter how I look, but right now that feels a bit impossible. At least writing about this helps.

  • Looking back at this piece of writing, I have changed in certain areas and have stayed the same in others.

I recently went to Kmart and target, which are infamous for their mirrors that make you feel awful. The target dressing room had mirrors in every direction, so you could see yourself in every angle, which played alarm bells once again for me. I got so upset, but since then I have been trying to be kinder to myself.

I have been somewhat eating healthier and bike riding every second day with some walks, but it doesn’t feel the same as when I tried to “lose weight” in the past with my eating disorder. I want to be body positive, so I am learning to treat my “healthier lifestyle” as just that – a healthier lifestyle. I’m learning that the goal of me doing a bit of exercise is not to lose weight or be skinnier, but to do something that makes me feel good.

My worth is not equal to how healthy I am either – I am allowed to love my body in any state. Showing self-love when you don’t have the “ideal” body is not a criminal act, and in fact, I think it’s pretty bad-ass. I and I’m sure many others, will continue to be on our journey of self-acceptance of every part of who we are. I am happy and proud that I’m trying my best, despite the leaches and illnesses that try to tell me otherwise.

Everyone is going to have step-backs. Some days it might feel like you have gone backwards, but that’s okay. Be gentle, be understanding. We are allowed to take up space and fight for our right to love ourselves, however long it takes. You are doing a great job and perhaps I am too.

Thank you for reading.

Stuck

I have been battling over what to write about, since so much has happened in the last several months and so much processing needs to be done. I currently have four drafts, each being picked away at when I have been ready to talk about the details within. I have noticed, however, that each time I write, at some point I reach a sign that reads, ‘Too hard to process any more – go back.’

I could be easily very frustrated about this, and I have been. “Why can’t I write anymore? Why am I so horrible with words?” I asked myself, unhelpfully. “I am stuck!” I yelled in my mind, thinking that not only can I not type up a finished piece of writing, but also it felt like I am stuck with where I am in my life. More than a month ago I spent nearly seven weeks in a psych ward and as of now, I do not have enough distance from the event to be able to look at it with some kind of “golden nugget of wisdom.” I have had a continuous fallout while I grieved my mental health, once again, and now I do not know what to do. What do you do when you feel like you are stuck?

After some thought, my answer to that was to focus on the passions and things in my life that bring me comfort and joy – something that brings me forward. For me, that is art. Art is so important to me, and it allows distraction and also the facing of my deepest thoughts, insecurities and worries. It has saved my life on many occasions and I am so grateful to it. Art is an odd thing to write about, since it is such a huge concept that is so ineffable. It can be found in all spaces and emptiness within life, death and any in between. It can be primal, accidental and completely raw, or methodical, elaborate and refined, as well as both or neither and on any part of the spectrum.

Art is magic. An accidental blob of paint may be repeated in the fashion of being accidentally on purpose. A planned line that goes crooked may be worked in the process of the painting itself; celebrated for its wildness and as a wondrous secret for the artist. I doubt you could find too many artists where the vision and the result is exactly identical to each and every detail, because with any medium, beautiful surprises may pop up. The thing about this and why I need the wonderful thing called art to go forward is that it does not matter about the outcome, other than the hopeful wish that it becomes aesthetically near to your idea. For me, I need art because it is therapy to me. With each stroke of wet paint, I am processing, thinking and visually depicting my thoughts about my past, present and future, as well as insecurities, the leeches that tell awful stories in my mind and my emotions. It allows me to do all of that when I paint and after a session, I often feel reenergised and hopeful. Because art is my love, when I take part in it I often feel like I am going forwards, towards my future.

However, not all the time, especially when I feel stuck, am I able to paint, draw or do some kind of art. Sometimes depression and anxiety is so painful that I cannot get out of bed. When there is nothing you can do, but be, it is important to be self-compassionate, despite all the leeches, or what I call windmills, that say that you are worthless, a waste of space or someone who is not doing what she has to do. And truly, those stories or windmills are never helpful in getting you to do what apparently “needs” to be done. People look down on being self-compassionate or gentle in times of pain, grief or feeling stuck, because they see it as some kind of laziness. But there is so much good that can come out of being self-compassionate for a while, weeks, a day or even just a moment. Which leads me to what Cassandra, my girlfriend, answered when I asked her the question, “What do you do when you feel like you are stuck?” I tried my best to write down her beautifully spoken answer.

Her answer focused on how she descends into her ‘rabbit hole’, so that she can work out what is making her feel stuck without too much pressure or pain. Her rabbit hole is her safe place, and it is an imaginary house where there is nothing harmful. It is hers and hers alone, and it is designed to be comforting and reassuring. Usually before going in the rabbit hole, she puts pressure on and she gets angry at herself, which doesn’t make her do the something she is putting pressure on to do. She realises an alternative approach is to be gentle. Imagine someone else who is stuck and whether you would talk to them in the way you talk to yourself. Look at yourself as if you are your own friend. Always, in enough time, gentleness results in being unstuck.

She also talked about how when she feels emotionally stuck, it feels as though she cannot write or draw and the more she insists on doing art, the more she doesn’t want to. The instinct is to do some kind of writing or drawing, because that is her calling and what she is good at, however, when she puts pressure on, the result and process won’t be as good. She shared with me a saying she wrote, which is, ‘The doing only has worth when the being doing the doing has worth.’ Just being is enough. We are raised to believe that our worth is bound up in our actions and that our worth is our merit. But it isn’t. Whenever you are stuck, you more or less need to take in, rather than to output.

I thought this was excellent, because not enough people realise that going to this ‘rabbit hole,’ or safe place is not being weak, but rather strong and emotionally intelligent. It allows processing to be done – which is another thing that is so important but undervalued – in a way that’s gentle and self-compassionate, which is a way that you can go forward. Yes, you can push yourself, force yourself to do things that are “good” for you, but in the long run, it can cause you to crash or fall apart. We are all human and we need to allow our own limits. It does not make you weak or inadequate. You are good enough, more than good enough, when you are just being. And when you just be and fully accept you just being, that’s when you are able to do the things that are good for you. That’s when you become unstuck and that’s when you can move forward.

Over this month, I have realised that I have needed to be gentle with myself, because I am still healing from my past. It is okay to be self-compassionate, and it’s hard to say, but I am an example of that. It was so hard to get out of the house or get out of bed for the first couple of weeks after getting out of the psych ward, but since I allowed myself some love and understanding, I have achieved a lot. I have painted almost every day for the last several weeks and two days ago, I traveled to Melbourne with my art lover, Cassandra. Being surrounded by art was the greatest medicine, but I need to realise that being there and getting there was the hugest feat for someone who has such high anxiety when it comes to going outside and being around people. It’s hard to say and I am writing this with tears in my eyes, but I am proud of myself. I have been self-compassionate in a time I felt stuck and because of that, I can move forward in my own way. I really do hope the same happens for you.

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!

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.