A year ago, with the ink still drying on my autism diagnosis, I waved goodbye to the ugly face of blatant, corporate discrimination. Someone had decided I didn't fit and my professional life became a living hell. I was good at my job and wanted to continue there. I was assured that obtaining this diagnosis would ease the situation and protect me. It did not. After fighting and losing the battle to keep my job, I gave up. I gave up the round hole life I had been living.
I am no stranger to starting again. I have had to do it before. I was once a teacher, possibly a good one. However, I battled homophobia every day in the classrooms and the corridors of London. After a few incidents outside of school too, I decided I couldn't take any more. I lost that fight but preserved my sanity. Years before that, I lost my job in a local authority up north. My boss decided I didn't fit in. She made it clear that she could find no fault with my work. It was me that was a problem. I was a square peg.
I may lose jobs but I am not a loser. Life can be unkind because I am a gay man with cerebral palsy and Asperger's Syndrome. However hidden beneath the labels and the isms, I am just another human being. I may not fit in but that is because I no longer choose to. I am a lover of life and a seeker of happiness. I am a pacifist but will go bare knuckle to fight my corner.
That life I love is now the Asperger Path. Since I set off a year ago I have seen and done things I never thought I'd do. I am travelling very slowly and stopping to look at life along the way. I am exploring whatever I choose. Writing is one way I explore the world. It has become very important to me and I make time to write every day. My thoughts and my poetry will never change the universe, but they are changing my perception of the world and my place in it. It's my way of squaring the circle.
It’s been a year. How am I?
A year ago I lost my job in circumstances that were less than savoury. I discovered that discrimination is alive and kicking in twenty first century Britain. When it rears its ugly head its price is cold hard cash. Hush money was paid and I went. My head may have appeared to be held high but inside my tail was firmly between my legs.
So my first steps along the Asperger Path were walking away. Away from people who saw my weaknesses and seemed blind to what I could offer. Away from people who tried to get inside my head and happily trampled my self esteem and my dignity under dirty, corporate feet.
I went far and now my scars are no longer livid. A year has passed and my life has changed. I have taken my diagnosis, put it in with the rest of my baggage, and I have travelled. This rigid creature of habit who couldn’t cope without routines has slept on sofas, hitchhiked, stayed with strangers, made new friends and travelled half way around the world. I’ve seen the sun rise over mountains, deserts and oceans. With each sunrise came another day of my new life.
Here in Cambodia, I met an extraordinary man. With the gentle honesty that sometimes only a stranger can exercise, he pointed out my strengths and dismissed my protestations. He was passing through, geographically speaking, but he will be around for a long time. He gently told me that my fine mind is balanced by a fine heart. In doing so he reminded me of someone I used to think I was.
So here I am. That goodhearted man, blue eyed and smiling, is older but he is not lost. I’m not walking away anymore. The Asperger Path is mine. I don’t deny it; I own it. I will go where it takes me and I am confident it will take me where I want to go.
It’s been a year. How am I? I am fine.
It’s all too easy to romanticise the simple country life. How wonderful things could be without the complex trappings of our twenty-first century existence. The dream of a simple home and simple food and the removal of the stresses and strains of modernity. An Aga to bake delicious bread and organic produce from your own well tended garden. An idyllic life drizzled in lemon juice and virgin olive oil and bursting with juicy tomatoes and ripe plums.
In Cambodia, there are people who live a simple life. Wooden houses on a plot of land with garden and some chickens. They have no access to the modernity of sanitation or clean running water in their home. They don’t have the worry of electricity or gas bills because they aren’t connected to a mains supply. No mountains of email because they don’t own a computer and if they did would not have wifi or power to use with it.
I am a hopeless romantic but I am also aware that for many our notion of the simple life comes with many givens. Givens that much of the world’s population are still years from achieving. I don’t want to stop people from being dreamy romantics but we need to look beyond our first world lives with our second homes and those three well deserved foreign holidays and look at what they truly cost.
The gap between the rich and the poor is widening not only internationally but also intentionally. Change needs to happen in the developing world but even more so in the so called developed nations. We need to start thinking about equality not just between men and women or different minority groups. What about equality of access to clean water, education and health? What about looking at equality of life expectancy and expectations across the world? Nation states and multinational corporations encourage us to close our minds, markets and borders to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet. However we must be mindful of the poverty gap because it is the world’s biggest killer.
The roads of Cambodia seem chaotic and most people in Cambodia travel by moto. Helmets, like lessons, are scarily optional and as a foreigner, you see things that are almost inconceivable. It’s not uncommon to see mum, dad and two or three young children riding on a motorbike together. Often you just see three children, none with helmets and all under fourteen. The motorbike is king and can have all kinds of trailers attached enabling you to carry much, much more than my western imagination thought possible. Small tractors also feature heavily outside of the cities with bizarre long steering shafts at the front. These two forms of transport seem slightly safer as the speeds are generally low. Cambodia is changing. Now you must factor in the rich, cruising in their enormous, powerful 4 x 4 cars. For them, speed is king and the horn is fair warning to get out of their way. On all the major highways horns blare while feet seem allergic to the brake pedal. They are wealthy and successful and demand priority. Money talks loudly in Cambodia. I saw a man dead on the highway. His bike was someway off and his brains were drying in the sun. I wonder if the driver stopped. And if he did, was he able to buy his way out of the situation. An ambulance passed us slowly some twenty minutes later. Perhaps they knew they were too late or perhaps they at least put safety above speed. Cambodia is changing rapidly but those changes must prioritise protection and safety for all who live in The Kingdom of Wonder.