Pandora’s profile box – my struggles with recognition (from jealousy to ‘be less famous!!’)

Ok so this is probably the biggest first world problem in existence but it is something I have been wanting to write for a while and haven’t quite managed to (mostly because it is a big first world problem). Tonight I was reading posts on my Facebook page and saw not one but two posts from the ACT Government advertising an award ceremony I am the guest speaker at (via video link because I will be in Melbourne speaking with Temple Grandin that week!) I hand’t really expected much publicity about the awards speech and was taken unexpectedly. I was almost crying to Mr Kitty saying ‘I don;’ want to be famous, Mr Kitty. How do I stop it?’ Mr Kitty gave me a smooch and sidled off to finish his dinner,

Flash back ten years to a younger, thinner me who is waiting for her first book to be released. She is excited. Her mentor is Autism world legend Donna Williams so she is expecting her first book to catapult her into the limelight – much as her mentor’s first book, “Nobody Nowhere’ did some years previously. I did have a little media attention from various quarters when my autobiography. Finding a Different Kind of Normal, joined the cannon of literature by Autism self-advocates. I was almost obsessed with fame and recognition and it never seemed to eventuate. I am embarrassed to say this but I found myself being intimidated and jealous at the success of others. I would look at the book of the month on my publisher’s website and seethe, thinking ‘why isn’t my book there??’ Horrible times. Hateful, stressy, angry times. I made myself a smaller person by my jealousy. I knew if was not good form to behave this way and would try to talk myself out of my envy but it was almost impossible,

This went on until 2010. I would give a coupe of talks each year and wish fervently to be asked to do more. Something changed in  2010 though, something which was awful but actually had a lot of positives within it, even though I didn’t see it at the time.what happened was that I got really psychotic and spent the next two and a half years in and out of the psych ward, wondering if I would be able to keep my job and whether I would lose my house. I certainly didn’t spend much time thinking about fame or recognition or book contracts. I got to a point where I genuinely stopped caring about the renown of Autism world colleagues and started to understand that they were doing good things in the world and should be appreciated and respected for that. There was not really a limited amount of opportunities or awards. And I also discovered that one doesn’t have to do everything at once. Hopefully I have a life which will last more than six months so I don’t need to cram everything in at the same time.

This moment of acceptance seemed to somehow trigger off what the last two years has been about in my life – having the opportunity to speak to a wide audience about my thoughts around Autism and mental health. I got that recognition I so craved for…and I find it really tricky to manage. I am torn between feeling encouraged by all the niece feedback I get and feeling horrified to see my face in many corners of the internet. I have a  saying of ‘be less famous!!’ when I come across something by me online somewhere. I am only half-joking. There is also that saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ and I am acutely aware of this. To me, a public profile can have benefits in that it allows someone to get a good message across and to connect with people and to challenge deficits-based stereotypes of people on the spectrum or those with mental illness. But there’s some negatives in there too, like people treating you like something different to your perception (e.g. ‘should I call you Miss Purkis?’ or people who dislike you aligning themselves with you in case it might be useful at some point. I often feel that I am unable to be vulnerable in case anyone feels let down by this (and OK, I know, this is rather a vulnerable blog post…) While about 99.99 per cent of people I come across are lovely and friendly and just good people, I do occasionally happen upon someone who is consumed with jealousy  – like I used to be. Some fo these people are incredibly rude for no reason other than they saw me somewhere and think I’m a big snob. I’m not a big snob and I do have feelings so this is like a slap in the face and makes me sad. But it also reminds me of how I used to feel in the past so I try to move on and hope that person has the chance to get some recognition themselves if they want it.

So yes, I’m a bg loud extrovert. I will take leadership when I feel the need and I am quite happy to say what is on my mind. I like the idea that lots of people get to listen to my message but I also want people to listen to other people’s good messages too. For that reason I always try to support others who are starting out on their journey – be that in public speaking or in studying or working. I have a meme which says ‘we are all colleagues in this noble franchise of advocacy and empowerment’ and I believe that is true. I see everyone doing similar work to me as a colleague. We are a team working for a similar outcome, not rivals or competitors.

Noble franchise meme

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