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When Life Gives You Lemons . . . . . . Make Lemonade!

In my previous blogs, I’ve mentioned about the problems I’ve had with my heating system and the company which we had a home care plan with, namely YourRepair.  This is quite a long post and I apologise now for it.  However, I’m sure that many of you can relate to ‘putting pen to paper’ can help with closure.

Way back In 2008, we had a new boiler installed by British Gas and because my partner worked away a lot of the time, we took out a home care plan with them.  Within two months or so, we needed to call out the engineer because the pilot light kept going out.  Over the years, we had several components including the motherboard replaced and I joked that they may have well installed a new boiler.  At one point, our issues were being discussed at regional meetings.  In October 2019, we received a renewal letter from British Gas informing us the cost of our plan was over £700 whereas new customers were being charged approximately £300.  I contacted customer services to ask if it could be reduced and they refused having little regard for customer loyalty.  Therefore, I cancelled the plan and searched on the Internet for a new company.  After reading several ‘good’ reviews, I decided to take out a two-year plan with YourRepair.  Now, you need to remember that I had been unfairly dismissed on 19 November 2019 and was dealing with ACAS.

In December 2019, we needed to call out an engineer for a leaking radiator valve.  They attempted to repair it with tape and said if it continued to leak to call them again.  It did, so we contacted them again and they installed a ‘new’ valve.  The warning signs were all there but I decided to give them the benefit of a doubt.  At the beginning of July 2020, we had our boiler ‘serviced.’  The engineer asked if we had had any problems and I replied the only issue we seemed to have was that the pump had become very noisy.  He told me he had tweaked the system and turned down the pump.  As last summer’s temperatures had been high, we didn’t need the heating on until the end of August when we found out there wasn’t any heat in the bathroom radiator due to a broken valve.  (Possibly from when the engineer serviced the boiler!).  We put in a request for an engineer and was informed they would contact us.  We waited and waited until I decided to text him the details the following day which was Saturday.  We still didn’t hear anything so I called him. He was in McDonalds and told me to call him tomorrow morning.  I duly called him and he eventually arrived looking like he was suffering from a hangover or something similar.  He didn’t bring a new valve with him and asked my partner to go and buy him one because YourRepair didn’t pay him travel time.  I didn’t want to be left on my own in the house with him, so I went and sourced a new valve from a neighbour which the engineer then fitted.  However, we now discovered that we didn’t have any heating whatsoever and the engineer thought we needed to replace the pump but would have to return another day.

On Monday morning, I reported the incident to YourRepair stressing I did not want the person who had previously visited us and a member of staff reassured me they would send another engineer.  However, on returning home from walking my dog, the original engineer had left a business card saying that he had come to fit a new pump but had missed me!  Anyway, another engineer arrived and unfortunately, he reported that the system had sludge in it which in effect null and voided our home plan unless we had a chemical flush.  He said we could do it ourselves which we did but according to YourRepair they had recommended a company when my partner had spoken to them – which was absolute blatant lies.  A new pump and three-way valve were also fitted by a different company but unfortunately, this did not rectify the problem.  The home care plan was mutually cancelled in October. 

The fun came when trying to find a company to install a new boiler.  We contacted British Gas on 24 November who said they could install a new one on 21st.  By this time, the house was so cold but the fact that we had a date was great news.  We had contacted independent plumbers but they were all too busy and couldn’t fit us in before Christmas.  I received an email the following day informing us the installation date was 21 January 2021!  The salesperson had promised us he would put us on the priority list, however, when we called the Regional Office, they told us we weren’t vulnerable and being vulnerable didn’t include autistic individuals.  Fortunately, a friend’s husband took pity on us and contacted a plumber he had worked with.  This wonderful person rescheduled their work so that they could install a new boiler during the first week of December.  We then found out whilst they were connecting the new boiler to the existing pipes that British Gas had incorrectly installed the old boiler which is why we’d had so many problems with it. 

Although I’d contracted COVID in February and gone through an employment tribunal which ended in July, the fiasco surrounding my central heating system caused me more anguish and meltdowns than either of these two events put together.  The fact that the house was so cold and there was just no one available to come and install a new boiler had a massive impact on my mental health.  Events relating to this though did not stop here.  Due to the house being so cold, we kept all the internal doors closed to try and heat up individual rooms.  The door into the lounge was quite hard to push open due to it catching on the carpet and our poor rescue dog came bounding up to it and caught his muzzle on the side of the door.  The next morning, his cheek had swollen but we decided to wait and see whether it went down.  Luckily, it did but then a day or so later, it swelled up again.  We ended up at the emergency vet on Boxing Day evening and on the following Wednesday, he had to have a tooth removed because he had got an infection.  So, all in all, it had been an expensive Christmas and I had still not found a new job to start the new year with.

In January, I decided to take YourRepair to the small claims court due to their poor service and lack of regard for their customers.  I had written and complained to them and all they could do was thank me for taking the time to WRITE to them.  I had a feeling we wouldn’t win but it was the principle of the matter.  The hearing was last Friday and as predicted, we didn’t win.  The CEO smugly sat on his sofa with his legal team of three but the worst was yet to come.  I had submitted to the court that I was going to be represented by my partner.  However, one of their legal team commented that I should have represented myself because the care plan contract was in my name.  My partner stated that I was autistic and I had notified the court that he would be representing me.  However, the legal team continued to argue this fact over and over until the judge had to step in and request that they accept I was autistic and would not be able to represent myself. It was absolutely shameful.

I look back and I don’t know how I managed to get through the last few months of 2020.  However, being neurodiverse has made me strong and determined because of having to deal with a world that I don’t always fit into.  Who knows what the future holds? But I’m just taking each day as it comes and as they say ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’

Endings and Beginnings

Since my last blog, I have now watched the ‘Glow Up’ final and happily learnt that Sophie Baverstock was the winner.  It was fantastic watching her confidence grow throughout the series and manage her fear of presenting to an audience.  She inspired me to put myself forward to apply for a vacancy on my parish council where I had to give a short presentation.  Amazingly, I delivered my speech although I did remain sitting down and was the first woman for some time to be voted onto the council. 

Following on from this, it was the last day of my Level 2 Counselling course on Friday and we all had to choose an object and talk about it for about four minutes.  I really didn’t know what to choose but, in the end, I decided on my Karate yellow belt certificate. When the time came to talk about our choices, I decided to go first because I knew it would be difficult for me to sit and listen if I was worrying about when it was going to be my turn.  To my astonishment, I talked about my experience and how I came to taking up Karate without becoming flustered or tongue tied.  When I finished, I realised my heart wasn’t beating as fast as it normally did when I was in this situation. I was so happy and surprised with my achievement that I couldn’t stop smiling.  However, what I came to realise though as my peers spoke about their items, was that my choice didn’t have the emotional attachment as theirs did.  They had brought in items such as photos, ornaments and jewellery which belonged to or reminded them of family members.  It was really apparent and highlighted how different I was to my peers but for the first time I felt I could celebrate my autism and it felt so liberating. 

Our last task was to write anonymous positive comments on separate pieces of paper about each member of the class.  We were given a piece of A4 paper and were asked to write our name at the bottom.  Then we had to pass it to the person on our left and keep going until we had written comments of every piece of paper.  This caused me more stress than talking about my Karate certificate!  To sit, think and write a comment in a matter of seconds was again out of my comfort zone but the comments I received made me feel like I had won the lottery jackpot and bought a tear to my eye.  I hadn’t felt this happiness since my wedding day or the birth of my children.  It was a fantastic end to the course and I just have my external assessment to do.  Then it’s the waiting game to see whether I have passed so I am able to continue with Level 3.  Below are some of the comments which touched my heart.

“I feel I have learnt so much from your honesty about yourself and your thoughts.  A genuine friend.”

“It has been lovely getting to know you and a privilege to watch your confidence flourish.”

I don’t think Sophie will ever know how much she has inspired me these past few weeks.  As a fifty plus year old woman, I have learnt so much from her and admire her passion for her profession.  If truth be known, I wanted to become a make up artist and work on film sets when I was in my late teens.  However, I never had the confidence or support to pursue this career.  Also, I discovered that my hands shake terribly when I am nervous which is somewhat of a hinderance when you are applying make up or prosthetics!

From Presentations to Paintings

I realised it’s been a while since I have added to my blog but college has taken up a great deal of my time because I had to complete three assignments.  Two of them were completely out of my comfort zone – a taped transcript and presentation.  However, the presentation was by far the worse.  The last time I had given a presentation was about thirty years ago as part of a job interview and the feedback was: content – 80%, delivery – 35%.  I knew the feedback wasn’t going to be great because I was so nervous and it was obvious to my audience.  I have always wanted to overcome my fear of presenting but have never had the confidence to try and achieve this.  The thought of having to give a presentation for the Level 2 Counselling course was giving me doubts about whether or not to enrol.  However, my peers have been extremely supportive and I have registered for Level 3 even though there are still three weeks left of this course!  I didn’t get as far as presenting but I did take part in a role play scenario which was about self-disclosure and I played the helpee.  I decided to ad-lib rather than follow a script and all went well apart from one tiny hiccup where I paused because I had lost my train of thought.  But then a helping session consists of silences and timings so it didn’t really matter.  At various times, I have spoken about my autism to my peers so that they can gain an understanding of the way I perceive the world.  Last week I spoke about how the lighting can affect me and the fact that I will move the chair to reduce the intensity of eye contact during a helping session.

Returning to job interviews, I had my first one since December 2019.  It was at a local garden centre and was a part-time office position liaising with traders who required specialist trees/plants.  It sounded very interesting and I hoped I had conveyed my enthusiasm for the role.  Unfortunately, today I received an email informing me that I hadn’t been successful.  I was quite disappointed due to it being another rejection but it obviously wasn’t to be.  In the meantime, I will continue volunteering at the museum which hopefully will become busier once COVID restrictions continue to be lifted.  However, my first shift wasn’t without its issues.  It was quite cold in the museum so I turned on the fan heater and alarmingly, it caught fire. Luckily, the flames soon went out and my heart rate returned to normal!  Apparently, it had been used the day before so no one could understand why it had burst into flames. I haven’t been asked to leave – yet! 

One of my favourite TV programmes at the moment is ‘Glow Up’.  I’m particularly interested in this series because there is a make up artist called Sophie Baverstock who is autistic.  She was diagnosed at seventeen years old whilst she was at college.  I really enjoy the programme because it is so creative and all the make up artists are so talented.  It is not often a programme includes a female with Aspergers so I hope she can be a positive role model for other autistic people.  I know she’s in the final but I haven’t watched it yet so I’m hoping she wins.  I haven’t sketched or painted in twenty years or so and decided to paint a picture for an old family friend. He has always been interested in horse racing so one afternoon, I took out my pencils and painted a horse and jockey. For a first attempt, it wasn’t too bad and I decided to give it to him for his birthday. He was so pleased, he immediately went out and bought a frame for it. Once I’ve completed my course, I may get out my palette and see where my brushes take me!

Slowly, slowly catchy monkey

I have been unemployed for almost fifteen months now and although I have been applying for jobs, sadly, I haven’t been successful.  These last few weeks, I have struggled with my mental health because I applied for a job which I thought I would be suitable for but once again my application seems to have disappeared into the ether.  I don’t know which is worse – not applying for jobs because there is nothing to base your hopes upon or applying and then having your hopes disappear because you never receive a response.  Like most people in lockdown, I have tidied my cupboards, read more books, tackled the garden, attempted DIY, baked some cakes and started painting again but it doesn’t replace the routine of being employed.  I think it’s because I haven’t been able to find a new job that I keep referring back to my previous job which I loved and was always thinking of new ways to improve the environment and community.  Lately, I have had a few ‘low’ days where I have just felt like crying.  I am usually able to overcome these blips but as the months pass by, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain my optimism.  I try and read positive quotes throughout the day and even dipped into numerology which was very interesting!  However, practising these activities doesn’t conjure up an interview or a job offer.

On reflection, working has allowed me to manage my autism because I had routine and structure for thirty-five years.  For fifteen months, I have endeavoured to keep myself busy and tried to establish and maintain a routine.  However, I am hoping that in the coming months, job opportunities will increase due to the relaxation of lockdown and I will eventually find employment.  In the meantime, I am due to start volunteering at the local museum and next week I shall be undertaking some training prior to the museum reopening – so it’s a start.  In January 2020, I was due to start volunteering at my local primary school but due to COVID, they were unable to allow parents or volunteers on site and then lockdown was imposed.  I am hoping that working for the museum will give me the opportunity to learn new skills and gain a greater depth of knowledge about the history of the local area.  I have always enjoyed learning and I have discovered so much whilst completing the Level 2 Counselling course.  The content has kept me focused and I enjoy writing learning reviews and have completed my first assignment.  I am eagerly waiting to return to college so routine can be resumed.  And today – I am getting my hair cut so I no longer look like I am touching a Van de Graff generator!

Snakes and Ladders

Today is International Women’s Day which is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  With this in mind, I decided to look back at my career and think about the women who had encouraged me during my working life.  I started work at the age of eighteen after resitting some ‘O’ levels and continued working for thirty-five years until I was unfairly dismissed in November 2019.  During that time, I have recalled I have had nineteen jobs.  The longest one lasted just over six years and the shortest, a school term.  Before I had my daughter, I worked in administration both within and outside the public sector.  Once my daughter started school, I became a special needs assistant at the local primary school and worked within education for almost fourteen years.  I was in my last job for five and a half years until I was unfairly dismissed.  Unfortunately, out of the nineteen jobs, sixteen of them involved women treating me unfairly and I left some of these jobs due to their behaviour!  Women complain that they can’t break the glass ceiling due to men and whilst I am not saying that the male sex don’t contribute towards this, women need to examine their behaviour towards other women too.  Instead of being bitchy and gossiping about their female colleagues, they should support, encourage and help them to climb the career ladder.

During my first job as office junior for a local builder, I was told by my manager, I was only good for making the coffee and did not have a kind word to say to me.  I eventually found out that she was jealous because I was the ‘new girl’ and the tradesmen were talking to me.  I left after three months, with the builder apologising for her behaviour.  Next, I became a receptionist in an opticians.  There, I was given the nickname ‘HP’ which stood for (manager’s name) pet.  This type of behaviour towards me continued and I just tried to ignore most of it.  In one job, a female colleague complained to me that I didn’t welcome or help her when she moved into the office.  I was recovering from a chest infection at the time and unbeknown to me, I was about six weeks pregnant.  I have been rudely spoken to in front of visitors and had office equipment dropped onto my keyboard whilst trying to work at my desk.  I have been told it’s because I don’t gossip and women can’t relate to me but now, I realise it was probably because I am Asperger’s and women just didn’t understand me.

Before I was dismissed, a mediation session had been arranged earlier in the year.  The mediator was female and I thought she would understand my concerns and the situation regarding my grievance.  Sadly, that was not to be.  In my opinion, she colluded with my male line managers and in her report stated that I had exaggerated the circumstances.  I have recently contacted her and requested that she increase her awareness of autism in the workplace and suggested she read, ‘The Shape of Autism’.  The deputy manager was also a woman and initially she told me she would support me during the grievance procedure.  Unfortunately, she retracted, even though she too was being bullied by the manager.  If we, and two other female colleagues had collaborated, the outcome may have been different.  As far as I am aware, the manager is still employed and his behaviour hasn’t changed.

So, my final word to women in the workplace is ‘be kind to your female colleagues’.  Rather than knocking your ‘sisters’ down (the snake!), help them up the career ladder instead.

Things can only get better . . .

Coping technique

I try and not let circumstances affect me too much because I know that becoming anxious or worrying doesn’t really help the situation.  My coping technique is usually to go out for a walk around the fields where I live and watch the birds, usually kites and skylarks.  However, the past year or so has taken its toll and just lately, I have found it increasingly difficult to maintain a positive outlook. Having been unfairly dismissed in November 2019, I continue to seek employment and apply for administration and reception vacancies.  I have updated my CV several times and write covering letters but unfortunately, I have not been successful to date.

Covid

 I submitted my employment tribunal claim in January 2020, knowing the coming months were going to be a ‘bumpy ride’.  In February 2020, I contracted Covid and fortunately, I recovered from it after about two weeks.  I spent a couple of days ‘in bed’, but forced myself to go out to walk my Labrador and whilst doing so, made sure that I took in deep breaths of fresh air.  I have never drunk so much in all my life during that time.  No sooner had I finished one cup of tea; I needed another.  I also noticed that considering I had drunk goodness knows how many cups of one drink or another, I did not need to go to the toilet!  This lasted for a couple of days and thankfully by the end of the week, the symptoms started to subside.  Having recovered from Covid, I continued applying for jobs and then on 23 March 2020, the UK went into lockdown.  Over the summer months, people were furloughed or lost their jobs and finding employment became even more difficult.

Central heating boiler

During July, the employment tribunal claim was settled out of court and we had our boiler ‘serviced’ under our homecare plan (not British Gas).  I was asked if we had experienced any problems with the boiler which I replied, ‘No’, but informed the engineer the pump seemed to be making more noise that usual.  He adjusted the pump and carried out some other ‘tweaks’ on the central heating system.  The engineer then gave me his card and told me to call him if we had any problems.  I thought this was unusual at the time because we had a homecare plan.  Anyway, to cut a very long story short, the boiler and heating system were never the same since the ‘service’ and it resulted in us having a new boiler installed.

Over three months later, on 24 November, we contacted British Gas and paid a deposit for a new boiler.  I received a call saying they could install it on 21st and thought we had waited this long without any heating, what’s another three weeks.  However, when I received the confirmation email, it was 21 January 2021, not December!  Apparently, we were on the priority list but because we weren’t vulnerable, we would have to wait.  I ended up cancelling British Gas because thankfully a friend had taken pity on me and told her husband who called in a favour from a plumber he knew.  On 3 December, to all our relief, the plumber arrived and installed a new boiler. 

Visit to the vets

The house had got so cold, we had to close the internal doors to try and heat up the rooms.  However, our ten-year-old Lab was not used to this and caught his cheek on one of the doors.  The next day his cheek had swollen up and it had started to go down until he knocked his head again and the swelling got worse. On Boxing Day evening, we were sat in the car park of the Emergency Vet for three hours!  The following Wednesday, he had to have an operation to remove some teeth and luckily, he survived to ‘bark the tale’.

2021

We were glad to see the back of 2020 and hoped that as we had dealt with three highly emotional events namely the employment tribunal, the boiler and the lastly the dog, 2021 would be a better year.  However, to date, we have had to replace the radiator in our daughter’s car and last Saturday the fuel pump went on my car.  To add to this, my husband’s car failed its MOT last year and needs replacing because it’s twenty years old but we had a new boiler instead! 

The saying ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ is my new mantra! And I’m reading Ant Middleton’s book, ‘Zero Negativity’ to help me focus on that ‘things can only get better’.

Would you change sex to fix life’s problems?

There was article in a Sunday paper this week which had the heading, “Autistic girls ‘seizing on sex change’ to fix life’s problems” with a sub heading of “vulnerable teenagers are being used as ‘live experiments’, according to new High Court evidence.”

I can remember when I was a child and before I was a teenager that I wished I was a boy because in my household, the male species were the dominant sex.  Even though I was a tomboy and enjoyed being outside, making camps and playing war games, I was still treated as a female.  I grew up being compared to my brother and was often told I was highly strung and was nothing like his affable character.  He was favoured by my father due to their common interest in sport, especially football and cricket.  My mother could not relate to me because I was an avid reader and to my dismay, to this day, she claims she had never read a whole book in her life!  I was made to feel like an outsider and the black sheep of the family.

With this in mind, I asked myself whether I would have considered a sex change to fix my problems?  Obviously, puberty-blocking drugs were not readily available back in the late 70s/early 80s but if they were, would I have wanted to take them?  Yes, I repeatedly told my parents, I wished I had been born a boy but would I have taken it a step further?  The answer is ‘no’.  I think that what would have deterred me was the fact that I had undergone several operations and spent time attending ENT out-patient appointments between the ages of five and nine.  So why would I want to spend more time going for medical consultations?  Also, the books I read, involved female detectives (Nancy Drew mysteries) and girls having great adventures which meant it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

My outlook really started to change when I went to secondary school.  I had pleaded with my mother to send me to a nearby comprehensive school which was mixed because I did not want to go to an ‘all-girls’ school.  However, she would not entertain the idea and I had to go to said school.  Luckily, I was placed in a class with other girls who were either sporty or ‘different’ in various ways.  School became a blessing in disguise and I preferred being there than at home.  The school environment was empowering and I began to find the confidence to question the male domination at home.  However, this caused more unrest which as a result pushed me into seeking solace from the opposite sex! 

During my early teens, I became obsessed with going to the gym because my mother had told me I had a large backside and I wanted to get rid of it.  Whilst I was at the gym, I became aware of the effects on the body from taking steroids and it wasn’t always a pretty sight.  This made me conscious of what I ate and I certainly did not smoke. At school, there was increasing peer pressure regarding who would be the first one to lose their virginity and whether it was right or not, once I was sixteen, I became sexually active. Consequently, having a sex change was definitely ‘off the cards’. However, times have changed and I am sure this question will continue to be a topic of debate.

A big decision

I thought I would give you an update on the counselling course I am studying.  I handed in my portfolio last week and am now waiting to hear whether I have passed.  The dilemma has been whether I continue with the next level because although I have enjoyed learning the theory, skills work has been difficult.  I have struggled with the repetition and the fact that it is a simulated environment.  I realise the importance of skills work and that you can only improve with practise but trying to convey empathic understanding has certainly been a challenge.

In order to make the decision of whether to continue, I decided I needed to inform my peers that I was on the autistic spectrum.  I have never done this before but in my heart of hearts, I knew I needed to try and break the habit of walking away from a situation because I could not deal with it.

I don’t think I would have reached this decision, however, if it had not been for the fact that I have been without central heating and hot water for about a month and the earliest a well-known company could have fitted a new boiler was 21 January 2021.  I had contacted a number of plumbers but they were all busy and the earliest they could have a look at the boiler was in about two weeks’ time.  There is a lot more to this story but today is not the day for writing about it.  I think the cold was really dragging me down and I dreaded getting out of bed in the mornings.  So, this week I sat down and decided to compose a message on the WhatsApp group explaining if I came across as a bit ‘odd’ it was because I was on the autistic spectrum.  With a deep breath, I pressed ‘send’.  I immediately burst into tears and felt like I had opened the floodgates to release all the emotions and upset that I had bottled up over the years.  The responses I received from the group were overwhelming.  They were so supportive and urged me to continue with the course.  I know this sounds overdramatic but it felt like it was the first day of the rest of my life.  One of them posted that she could not tell that I was different and I replied that females were better at hiding their traits than their male counterparts.  I added that I had had years of practice too! 

I think the relief was that I no longer had to hide behind a mask whilst at college and I could be who I truly was.  I have never mentioned being on the autistic spectrum before because I didn’t want special treatment and I did not want it to go against me when applying for a job.  But on the flip side, not mentioning it has caused me relationship and work-related issues especially when I haven’t been able to deal with ‘office politics’.  I realised I haven’t shown the ‘real’ me for many, many years.  I have hidden behind the mask which probably started as a coping mechanism but over time became a way of life.  I hope with the help of my peers I will study the next course and continue to grow as a person who is not afraid to hide behind a mask anymore.

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!