Almost exactly ten years ago I was a very recently published first-time author. Being an author was the pivotal point in my life from which I went from poor and alienated, dependent and filled with disgust and embarrassment about my past to the person I am now, who is a lot happier and more independent. When my first book was accepted for publication I think I may have told everyone I knew in the world. It was so amazing. The book was almost less meaningful than what it represented. As an author I took on a wonderful socially valued role. Positive social roles are hard to come by when one is a former criminal and drug addict, a person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and Asperger’s a public housing tenant and a person who had been on the disability pension for twelve straight years with precious little work to supplement my meagre income.
Even before it was released, I was fairly certain that my new book would mean a new life. Ten years later I know that to be true. I am no longer somebody who doesn’t dare enter expensive restaurants and shops for fear that I would be chased away by disgusted wealthy people or staff. In fact I have a personal income which is above average. I don’t live in a public housing flat but own my own flat which is a little temple of all things Jeanette, complete with absurd amounts of art, Tiffany lamps and gold plated teaspoons,among other things. This citadel of Jeanette – known to its friends as ‘Whimsy Manor’ – is completed by a sleek black cat known as Mr Kitty. He hops into handbags when friends visit and uses my pink Nepalese rug as a very large cat toy. The other thing that I have now which I could only have dreamed of ten years is a huge network of friends, colleagues, coauthors, confidantes, mentors and mentees. Had you told me ten years ago that this would be me I would probably have laughed.
I don’t think about my life journey too often but today I was reminded of it. A newly diagnosed Autistic woman who is a little older than me asked if I could catch up with her and talk about Autism-type things and share some of my own experiences and thoughts. We met at a cafe near my work. As always happens at these sorts of meetings when I went to pay she gently closed my wallet. Funnily enough I don’t think I’ve paid for a meal out for a while! As we sat down I fished out my latest book which only just arrived this week .(I have to admit that I had been showing it off at work all morning). I said ‘That’s my latest offering’ My lunch companion was impressed.
At that moment I was taken back to ten years ago. I had been asked to give an interview about my brand new autobiography with a radio show in the UK called Woman’s Hour. Apparently this was A Big Thing. I was collected from my dingy flat by a polite chauffeur in a shiny car. I was pretty certain he had never been on our estate before! I got to the ABC studios in South Melbourne. I had never been in this building. I was clutching my book just in case anyone questioned my right to be there. A forty-something woman was in front of me. I recognised her vaguely as some kind of journalist on a news program. She swept past the security desk, clutching a book and said ‘my latest offering…’ to the guard. I was filled with envy and intimidation and wished I was that confident woman swishing around in designer clothes with expensive perfume and an expensive hairstyle. ‘I’ll never be like her!’ I thought to myself,
So life changes. The woman I spoke with at lunch said to me at one point ‘You’ve had a diagnosis for 21 years. I’ve had mine for weeks.’ I understood what she meant as I used to think that about children gaining a diagnosis when I didn’t get mine until I was a very angry and screwed up twenty-something human disaster. I do enjoy talking to people about Autism and feelings and things. I think I probably should have studied psychology rather than Fien Art but I guess I get to talk to lots of people now anyway. It was funny talking to someone at the start of their diagnosis journey when I am a fair way along the road. The woman told me I was very positive which people do tell me. Of course positivity and motivation and determination are the three reasons I am not sitting in my tiny, damp and horrible public housing flat with alcoholic neighbours and a stalker for company. As my lunch partner and I parted I said ‘if you want to catch up again, just give me a call.’ People are often surprised at how available I am to the community but talking to people about Autism is my work, be it a roomful of people or an individual.
So I suppose today was about journeys – my own and others’. We never know where a journey may take us or where it might end. I try to keep an open mind, not write people off but stick up for myself if I need to and take happiness and joy where I can find it. My life is certainly not perfect and I have a level of responsibility which I find a bit overwhelming at times but I am surrounded b good people, a lovely house and a naughty black cat. That’s enough I suppose.
2 thoughts on “How to get from there to here – personal changes”
I can assure you that should we meet up for lunch, I’d certainly be paying for your meal and drinks. You’ve done more for me in you being you and writing your blog than ALL the psychiatrists, psychologists, councellors, social workers etc I’ve seen combined. You validate my past, my present and you are creating an independent sense of hope for my future. How can a meal ever be enough?!
I am due to give a talk the first week of September to a group of employers, employment agents and adult education teachers about my journey to getting my apprenticeship. The overcoming of adversity, I guess. My thanks to you will be to speak slowly and clearly, be concise and to give a sense of hopefulness. If I can pass on a seed of hope, then your work will have spread to more than just me.
I think I speak for all those lunch payers – THANK YOU for being authentically you.
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Thank you. I hope your talk goes really well