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Returning to College

Introduction to Counselling Skills

Today, I thought I would write about the course I am studying – Introduction to Counselling Skills.  It has been a journey of discovery and I have experienced many ‘ups and downs’.  As mentioned in a previous blog, I had my employment terminated exactly one year ago and claimed unfair dismissal which was settled out of court at the end of July.  However, even though I have applied for many jobs similar to my previous role, I have not been successful.  During the first few months of being unemployed, I tried to keep busy and cleaned out all my cupboards, etc.  Then COVID hit and people started losing their jobs too which made job hunting even more difficult.  Therefore, in May after undergoing a great deal of soul searching and addressing my strengths, one being ‘listening’, I decided to enrol on the Counselling Course.

Communicating empathy

I started in September and attend college one morning per week.  It is a class of fifteen students aged between thirty and sixty years old and sadly, there is only one male student in the class.  We practise our helping skills in groups of three, where one is the helper, another the helpee and the third person is the observer.  It is all very straight forward but I struggle when I am a helper and have to communicate empathic understanding!  It would be so much easier if I could hold up an emoji face because saying, I’m feeling that …’ or ‘I’m hearing that …’ does not come easy.  I have no problem with listening, asking open questions or summarising but it’s not in my nature to connect in this way.  I have never spoken about being on the autistic spectrum to other people but for the first time, I thought I needed to in order to explain why I was different and struggling.  To say that I have stepped out of my comfort zone is an understatement.  However, I have persevered and I believe that I have become more self-aware over the past couple of months.

Decisions, decisions…

There are three weeks left, and all but one student is intending to enrol on the next level course.  At this point, I do not know whether I want to continue.  Much will depend on whether I have passed the coursework and how I manage when being observed by the tutor this week.  We have to recite a contract at the beginning of the helping session and I usually get so nervous, my mind goes blank and I muddle my lines.  At home, I can recite it word for word and without any mistakes!

‘Counselling for Toads’

One of the recommended books to read was ‘Counselling for Toads’ (based on Toad from Wind in the Willows).  If I get anything from this course, it will be what I learnt from this book.  Unfortunately, I could relate to Toad in many ways but the content has opened my eyes and I now have a totally different outlook on relationships, both personal and professional.  Hopefully, in the new year, I will have a new job and be able to use the knowledge and skills I have now acquired.

‘A stitch in time . . . ‘

Hallowe’en scarecrow competition

Well as you know I am not a great user of a sewing machine due to its design being for right-handed people so I was surprised I agreed to take part in a Hallowe’en scarecrow competition.  But I was caught off guard and couldn’t really say ‘no’ because it was in aid of raising funds for the local school.  Apparently, there was a theme which was children’s movies and my first thought was to create Stitch from Lilo and Stitch (one of my daughter’s favourite movies).  However, when I arrived home, panic set in as I wondered how I was going to create a Stitch which my daughter would approve of.  The first problem was that he is blue and I decided the best way to solve this was to buy a child’s blue morph suit because we didn’t have any suitable old clothes.

Creating Stitch

The morph suit arrived and I decided I could work with it and hopefully the result would be a realistic Stitch.  However, on filling the body with stuffing from old pillows, it became apparent that the arms and legs were far too long.  So, the needle and thread (not the sewing machine) had to come out!  I decided I needed to cut off (with right-handed scissors) some of the leg length and sew up the ends for the feet.  However, I couldn’t shorten the arms this way due to the hands so I just folded the arms back on themselves and sewed them in place.  This looked much better but the body was too long.  Again, I got out the needle and thread to shorten the body.  The next problem was how to make the ears.  I decided to use the leg cut offs and found an old pink t-shirt and cut out two ear shapes.  I sewed the two colours together and used some cardboard to stiffen the ears.  Voilà – two Stitch-shaped ears, sadly though without asymmetrical notches!  It would have been so much easier using a sewing machine!  Luckily, I found an old pale blue shirt for Stitch’s stomach and the colour around his eyes.  A plastic milk carton was used to cut out his eyes, nose and mouth.  I coloured his fingers so they loo ked like claws and used elastic bands to make some toes which I also coloured.  The following day, I glued on his facial features and stomach and put more stuffing into his body and head.  My last job was to get out the needle and thread for the final time and sew on his ears!

‘. . . makes Stitch fine’

Stitch is now ‘stood’ (with a broom handle up his back) with his body board, outside under a beach tent in the pouring rain!  He is to remain there until 1 November and hopefully he will not float away!  Obviously, there will be no ‘trick or treat’ this year so I have given him a pumpkin necklace and decorated his tent with Hallowe’en bunting.  Hopefully, Stitch and the other scarecrows (I have seen a Minion and Homer and Marge Simpson) will offer some cheer to children and their families when they walk around the roads during the Half Term break. Happy Holidays!

Facing the music . . . I mean mask!

Visits to the dentist

So how are you when it comes to face masks?  To be honest, they remind me of traumatic visits to the dentist. So initially, seeing people wearing them put me back in the dentist’s chair!  However, as time has progressed, the memories have subsided and I am now accepting masks as part of life.

Ear loops

I didn’t want to wear a mask but obviously I do because I understand the health implications if I do not.  But which one to buy?  The choice is quite vast regarding style, colour and fabric.  I am not keen on disposable masks due to their smell and the fact that they end up as litter or floating in the oceans and animals can become entangled in them. However, I noticed that many of the washable masks are made of synthetic material which can aggravate the skin.  Another factor to take into consideration is the ear loops.  I found out that my ears don’t have strong cartilage and so when I put on the mask, the tops of my ears fold over and the loops drop off!  Apparently, I have inherited this problem from my father.  I also have curly hair which grows very close to my ears and this gets caught up in the ear loops.

DIY mask

After looking at many masks, I decided to make one myself following a reasonably easy pattern.  I ordered some cotton material and elastic and waited for them to arrive.  The pattern I chose involved cutting out a rectangle, folding it in half, ironing in three folds and then sewing down the sides ensuring the elastic loops don’t move.  Once finished, it needed to be turned right side out.  However, I didn’t realise ear loops would cause so many problems.  The first mask I made; the loops were too small.  The next one, the loops came away from the mask because I had not sewn them into the sides.  The third mask, the loops were too big but this was fixable.  It has been through the washing machine and survived!  It also smells OK too.

It’s all in the eyes

My other problem with masks is that the only visible feature now is the eyes.  I like eyes but do not like constant eye contact.  Also, I had hearing problems in my childhood and relied on looking at peoples’ mouths to help me understand what they were saying.  Obviously, I can’t do that anymore and have problems hearing people in a crowded room.

College

Wearing masks at college also poses problems especially when the course relies heavily on speaking and listening.  It is very difficult to spot facial cues when someone is wearing a mask.  However, we have been supplied with a visor which has helped and is especially useful if you like listening to the sound of your own voice!

Maybe one day, we’ll return to a time when we don’t need to wear masks. 

In the meantime, Happy Hallowe’en!

Next steps … return to education

It’s almost a year since my employment contract was terminated and I still haven’t been successful in finding another job.  I have applied for many vacancies but unfortunately that is where the process has stopped.  Therefore, I made the decision to return to college and enrol on an Introduction to Counselling course and I have now completed my third week out of ten.  You may be thinking ‘what’s unusual about that’ and to be honest that is what I thought but then the penny dropped.

Homework

The homework was to describe what we had learnt during the lesson in a diary type format detailing our feelings and emotions!  I had no problem with diary/journal writing stating facts and the course of events but including my feelings – whoa – that was new territory.  My daughter, aged twenty-four enquired how the course was going and I explained the homework to her.  She replied that must be difficult for you because you never say how you are feeling and confirmed that’s why she struggled with our relationship because I rarely supported her emotionally.  She then added that it was for this reason, my lack of showing emotion that had had a detrimental affect on the family as a whole.  To be honest, it was a life changing moment which was supported by a task which took place in the classroom during the second week.  I had to speak for two minutes about what had happened to me the previous week and my partner told me that I didn’t mention once how I felt.  It had never occurred to me that I have gone through life not relating my feelings to others until I eventually had a meltdown.

Feelings and emotions

I had been told on two separate occasions by two different ex-servicemen (Special Service trained) in the workplace that when they have looked at me, they have had no idea what I was thinking.  I thought it was an odd comment to make and shrugged it off.  One told me they usually could predict someone’s reactions/emotions but I was unusual!  Again, I just thought it was a throwaway comment.  Would I have thought about this more, had I been aware of my autistic traits?  Would my previous employer have taken my grievance seriously, had they known I was on the Autistic Spectrum?  I will never know the answer to the last question but I think that due to the way they behaved, I don’t think they would have been sympathetic or shown any empathy towards me.  However, I am in a better place now and feel much better about myself and the future.

Couch to 5K

You are probably thinking what’s the connection between autism or left handedness and taking part in ‘Couch to 5K’.  To be honest there isn’t too much.  However, I thought it would be a change to write about a topic which I thought I would never even contemplate doing and hopefully it may give you the inspiration to try something new.

Reasons for running

I absolutely hated running.  I was no good at sprinting and although I wasn’t the worst at long distance, I remember running 800m in 3 minutes and 33 seconds at school but it wasn’t something that came naturally to me.  I tried running in my late teens as a warm up before a gym session but again, I struggled and stopped when I was about twenty-one years old.  My approach to running was that it was only necessary in order to run from danger or if I was being paid a substantial amount of money!  However, back in May as lockdown was beginning to ease, my husband persuaded me to take part in Couch to 5K with him.  (He had competed in triathlons but running was his weakest link). 

Evening running

I decided that we would run at 8pm when there would be less people around and we would run around the fields rather than the road, again so no one could see me!  My sister-in-law had given me some trail trainers (she works for a sports supplier) and I wore an old pair of tennis shorts and a t-shirt (I had no intention of being seen as ‘having all the gear, but no idea’).  I opened the App, followed the instructions and then pressed ‘run now’.  Week 1: run 1 started with ‘run 60 seconds, walk 90 seconds.  Well that wasn’t too bad.  Week 2: run 90 seconds, walk 2 minutes.  Week 3: run 90 seconds, walk 90 seconds.  Again, not too bad.  However, Week 4: run 3 minutes, walk 90 seconds.  This was my first meltdown as I struggled to regulate my breathing.  I was counting to keep me focused which helped when counting to 90 but now it was 180, I had to change to counting to 100 and then repeating it.  Week 5, run 3 was run for 20 minutes!  Counting was not an option!  12 lots of 100, how was I going to keep track?  Be like a cricket umpire and put 12 stones in my pocket and transfer a stone into another pocket after each 100.  I didn’t think so.  It was time to start listening to music and so I put together a play list.  How I managed 20 minutes of running, I’ll never know but The Brothers Johnson and Stomp got me up the hill to the woods and Ricky Martin singing She Bangs got me home!  I had a couple more meltdowns running up hills but now they are no longer a problem.  Last Thursday, I completed my first ‘official’ 5K run – Dash in the Dark.

5K and beyond

Over the last couple of weeks, the weather has cooled down and I have learnt that I run better in temperatures of 22-24 degrees.  I am really not looking forward to running in the rain and the cold and we are going to have to switch to road running because the fields will become too slippery.  This weekend, I ran for the first time in the morning.  Now I am not a morning person but decided to run at this time because we had a busy day ahead.  I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it and the following didn’t help.  My earphones wouldn’t connect to my phone, then one did but the other didn’t.  The App wouldn’t open up and whilst running a fly flew into my mouth and my music stopped working.  I also learnt that the music I ran to at night was not suitable for running to in the morning so I would have to create a new ‘morning playlist’.  However, I still continue to run for three times a week and I feel so much better for doing it.  So, if you were like me – just grab the bull by the horns, put on some trainers, create that playlist and get out there and run.  Hopefully, you’ll never look back and be a lot fitter for doing it.

Happiness is . . . a tidy house

Family values

I was raised as a Christian and duly went to Sunday School.  My mother did not believe in couples ‘living in sin’ before they married and therefore, I felt I had to respect her wishes.  In hindsight, I should have ignored her and lived with my husband before I married him!

Love is blind

Just after we had got engaged my fiancé (now husband) relocated to the south west and as part of the relocation package, the company paid for their employees to stay in a hotel until they had found somewhere to live.  On leaving the hotel for the last time (after having bought a house), the housekeeper assigned to his room remarked that she hoped I realised I was marrying a ‘slob’!  At the time I thought her comment was very rude, but how right she was.

Early married life

My bedroom at home was very tidy, every item had its place and there wasn’t any clutter.  Bliss.  However, I was soon to have a very rude awakening.  Even though, we had bought a house, I had not moved in because I was waiting for a transfer within my company so I was visiting every weekend.  Now married, I used to arrive at the house late Friday evenings to find the kitchen window sill full of half rinsed, half empty milk bottles.  There was washing up in the sink and plates on the counter top.  I spent the first hour or so tidying the kitchen and asking why the house was like a pigsty.  Luckily, as we were newly married, we did not have too many items and there was sufficient cupboard space for all his sports equipment and books.

Present day

Moving on to present day.  My husband’s untidiness has caused me so much stress over the years and as my daughters have got older, they have been too embarrassed to invite their friends around.  Now I don’t think I am OCD or particularly house proud but I believe if an item is removed from its position or cupboard, it should be returned once it is no longer needed.  Unfortunately, the house is in a permanent state of clutter and even though in the early years, I tried to keep it tidy, I was fighting a losing battle.  I often just stand and stare at a room because the task of tidying up his belongings is just too overwhelming.  I believe my home should be a sanctuary not a hovel.  It was suggested I gather up all his belongings, put them in black bin bags and store them in the shed, which I once did and they remained there.  However, the empty space cried out to him and before long, it disappeared out of sight!!  Do I think I will make it to our 30th Wedding Anniversary next year? Mmmm – watch this space!

When do you suspect you may be on the Autistic Spectrum?

Early memories

We have come a long way since the 1960s and 1970s with regards to Child Development.  Looking back, there were signs that I was ‘different’ from other girls but I do question whether some of my differences were due to nature or nurture.  One of my earliest memories is climbing.  I remember that I liked to climb in my grandmother’s flower pots and then as I got older, I loved climbing trees.  I was always looking out for a tree which had good branches but I don’t know whether it was because I liked to sit at the top of the tree or it was the challenge of climbing it.  I was a self-taught reader and started with a comic called ‘Twinkle’.  As I progressed, my grandfather bought me four comics per week and I also borrowed books from the library.  By the time I was eight, I had probably read the complete children’s section of the local library.  At mealtimes, I used to smell my food before I attempted to eat it and avoided boiled egg yolks due to the texture.  For the same reason, I do not eat baked beans or that type but love runner and French beans!  I also loved to spin round and get dizzy and if I was upset or frightened, I remember being in bed, curled up in a ball and rocking back and forth because the motion calmed me down.

Being a tomboy

My neighbours were boys and my mother’s friends had boys so I never really mixed with any girls.  I was a typical tomboy.  I loved playing with cars, making camps and playing football with the boys.  At school, I played ‘war games’ again with the boys.  If I did play with girls, it was usually a game involving a ball and I never played with dolls.  Things started to change at junior school when two girls started to bully me.  I never knew the reason until I was about thirty, when a friend told me it was because I was popular with the boys.  Finally, I had the answer after all those years.

Stress management techniques

As I grew older, my walls were covered with pictures of animals, not pop stars and they were put up symmetrically.  Everything had its place in my bedroom and my clothes were hung in colour order replicating a rainbow.  My parents used to make the comment that I was highly strung and that I wasn’t like my brother.  I collected ‘lucky charms’ relying on them to keep me safe and believed in guardian angels.  I became obsessed with going to the gym and was proud that I had a ‘six pack’.  I had a couple of girl friends who I socialised with but mainly I was one of a group of four where I was the only girl.

Office politics

Life was manageable until I started working and it was my first job which looking back was the beginning of a recurring problem – the nightmare of office politics.

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

The Unanswered Question

Diagnostic Assessment

I decided it was time to start a blog because having had my employment contract terminated due to submitting a grievance regarding bullying in the workplace, I felt I wanted to share some of my experiences which may be related to autism.  (I did ask my GP if I could be referred for a diagnostic assessment but unfortunately, possibly due to funding, this was not forthcoming.  However, I was given the email contact for a support group in the area).

Unfair Dismissal

It all started back in November when I had returned to work from a week’s holiday to be called into the office and told that my employment was being terminated.  You could have knocked me down with a feather.  I had followed the correct procedure as stated in the Staff Handbook but unfortunately, it appeared to be worth no more than the paper it was written on.  I had been a conscientious and hard-working member of staff but could not tolerate the office politics and the Jekyll and Hyde behaviour of a certain member of staff.

Caroline Flack

I was following the story on Caroline Flack at the time and could totally relate to her in the way that my working life had been totally ripped out from under my feet.  I had been working since I was thirteen years old and my only breaks were four months of maternity leave for each of my children.  I was now fifty-three and my highest qualification was an incomplete Open University degree which I had started in the mid-nineties.  I had left my previous job due to office politics and now when I looked backed at my work history, I realised that I usually changed my job after two or three years and it was always due to the same reason.

COVID 19 Unemployment

We are now in August and living through the effects of COVID-19.  I haven’t worked for nine months.  I have been applying for jobs but with no luck.  I have rewritten my CV, included covering letters and apart from one interview back in December, I have not had any success.  However, my question is now – Do I want to work for another company and encounter the office politics which I know I can’t handle or do I try and work for myself?

Female Asperger Syndrome traits

I discovered a list of female Asperger Syndrome traits and I am able to tick many of them including ‘will often have trouble holding onto a job and may find employment daunting.’  Whilst I don’t mind hard work and enjoy a full and varied day, I do find the social aspects of the workplace to be somewhat of a nightmare.  Therefore, it is time to re-evaluate and try to implement some plans for the future.  My mother is still working at the age of seventy-nine, so I am looking for a career which will last me another twenty or thirty years!

Left Handed Challenges

Handwriting ‘hook’ position

I tried to remember when I realised, I was left-handed.  To be honest, I don’t think I gave it much thought until I went to Secondary School and I noticed one of my friends wrote with her hand in a ‘hook’ position.  I asked her why she wrote that way and she said it was because she was left-handed.  I replied that I was too but wrote ‘normally’.  I then adjusted my hand position and found I could replicate her handwriting and copy her signature.  We joked that maybe we could see if the teacher could tell the difference if I wrote in her exercise book.  I wrote a couple of sentences, and I don’t think the teacher was any the wiser!

Ironing

Being left-handed has never really been a hinderance.  If anything, it probably served me well when it came to ironing and cooking.  My mother’s ironing board was permanently up in the kitchen, pushed up against the wall.  It was set up for a right-handed person so if I wanted to use it, I had to push it away and stand with my back against the wall.  However, this meant that access was restricted in and out of the kitchen so I had to use the iron right-handed.  Needless to say, my ironing skills are poor and to this day my husband does not trust me to iron him a shirt!

Cooking

My cooking skills were also relatively poor because my mother could not bear to watch me use a bread knife to cut a slice of bread.  I was always being told I looked ‘cack-handed’ and therefore she used to remove the knife from my hand and cut it herself.  Unfortunately, this had a knock-on effect on my confidence and my home economics lessons at school. More often than not, the teacher had to rectify the mistakes I had made with the recipes and my mother took great pleasure in announcing that I couldn’t boil water!

Needlework

Needlework proved to be another mystery when using a sewing machine.  Hand sewing was no problem.  Simple, I produced many items neatly sewn but when it came to patterns and sewing machines that was a different story.  I don’t know if it was because the machine was set up for a right-handed person but I remember struggling with sleeves and zips.  How I managed to sew two left sleeves for a blouse I shall never know.  It was a shame because the lesson was really fun.  You have probably worked out by now that I took Art as an option at school.  Thankfully, I was good at still life but still managed to slice my thumb open when using a lino cutter.  The classroom sink was a lovely shade of red!

Sport

Luckily, I enjoy sport and I am right-handed when it comes to hockey, golf and cricket.  I love rounders because I can’t decide which hand to use so it’s a bit of a surprise to the opposing team when I hit the ball so hard, I usually score a rounder.

Teaching Assistant

Having been a left-handed teaching assistant for fourteen years, it was very interesting observing left-handed children in the classroom but I will write about that another time.