When I was younger, I was plagued with doubt. I did not seem to fit the mould and I thought that I ought to. I was different in so many ways.
The doubts started just before the end of primary school. I could sense that I was not as popular and it hurt. The happy carefree child that had laughed and danced through the early years started to feel self conscious. Things were about to get worse.
Big school started at eleven and so did the systematic bullying. The daily humiliation of the school playground took its toll. I stopped being me but the bullying continued. At sixteen I was suicidal and anxious and by eighteen I had surrendered my dreams and dropped out.
I often refer to my twenties as the lost years. I battled depression and failed. I bought a house and tried to fit into a suburban life that didn’t fit. As I approached thirty I lost my job and I felt worthless.
I met a woman on a plane. She was an English teacher and she reached out to me. The conversation with her didn’t change my life but it did help me turn a corner. Her positivity helped me see the hurdles I saw could be overcome.
I trained to be a teacher. I taught. I perfected my craft. I took risks in the classroom. I took risks outside of the classroom. I grew. I worked. I became less self conscious and more self aware.
Now I’m fifty one. I do not fit the mould and I ought not too. I am different in so many ways. In becoming me I have learnt that surviving is not living but it is important. I survived and now my life is on my terms.
So, if you are struggling, hurt, bullied or victimised please do not give up. We all have a place in life. The more unique your place is, the harder your struggle may be to get there. Breaking the mould isn’t easy but when you do, life can be anything you want it to be.
You only live once they say. YOLO says a generation who have not lived much as yet. I feel I have had many lives before this one. Each different, and each separated, so that my life is more like the different scenes of a play than a novel.
Dancing round the garden with a hole in my sock and my 99p sunglasses, I was a happy child who loved his mum. Bright yet wilful, I found it hard to settle at school and as I started to mature I realised that boys like me loved their mums because the world outside didn’t like fairies in the garden.
With my bleached hair covering half my face I declared to the no one that was listening my theory on music. The B52s were great and obviously Talking Heads were seminal. Grace was thrown in as reference to the cool indie gay I thought I was. He bore no resemblance to the plain fat boy staring at me in the mirror who dreamt of dance floors
Once I had a house with a gate and a privet hedge that required more attention than it got. I worked for the council and let out my spare room to meet the mortgage. I hated life and it seemed life hated me back. I was bored and realised, once again, that if you don’t fit you shouldn’t force it. I stopped going out and just stayed in.
Slovakia was an unexpected move. The grief of my early departed mother was set aside and I tried on some wings. I was no angel but sometimes I felt like a benevolent god in the classroom. I accepted life and being a foreigner, allowed myself to stand out from the crowd in so many ways.
Tired of London…
A decade in the capital was squandered in never ending round of parties and nightclubs. My career soared and so did my anxiety. Each promotion fuelling an ever more chaotic social life and an ever darker horizon. When I left London I moved to the quiet gravelled beaches of the east and walked myself into sanity. I found a sobriety and a calm in the flat landscape with large skies. I thought I’d never leave.
I sold it all. Everything I own can fit in a suitcase. I have nothing. I have no one. I have a freedom that makes me dizzy. My past is gone and here I am living in the moment. Inner calm has been hard won and I exercise my mind to exorcise its demons. The fairy has left the garden behind and dances on the world’s stage. Have I reincarnated myself until I have found nirvana or are there more short stories still to come.
As you like it
I run away from who I am or perhaps run towards the who I want to be. I have only had one life but my goodness I have played all the parts. All the world’s a stage, and even in Shakespeare’s day we were allowed to live multiple lives. So to the YOLO generation I say this – you just don’t know what’s coming next and that, for me is the greatest gift. Live life as you like it and if you don’t like it, change it until you do.
It’s quite a feat. I have been in the same job for 6 months. Three months from now I will have completed my contract. Then, finally, it will be time to move on.
When I arrived in Cambodia I ricocheted like a pinball. I had lost any faith in myself to settle. Even in the ever changing world of English teaching in Asia, I was a wild card. I changed towns three times in two months and had three jobs in the first six months.
Here I am now. Hitting society’s success criteria with my steady job and home in the heart of chaotic Cambodia. Externally it’s all great.
I sold my freedom for the price of the filthy dollar. My job means long hours in the sedentary prison of the staff room. My blood pressure is up because the nine hour days make healthy choices more difficult. I exercise little and, once home, I have no will to head back into the hot crowded streets to forage for what’s left at the closing markets. This cat is getting too fat.
Success is a double edge sword. Society’s approval has come at the cost of my health and, more sadly, my inner contentment. I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of depression. I look at my escape which is a pinhole at the end of a long and dark tunnel.
June can’t come to soon. My feet are itching to roam. So I will say goodbye to success and achievement and return to the Asperger path. Seemingly purposeless, it will meander until I find a place to rest and recuperate.
It’s been quite a feat, but these feet long for some walking boots and a distant horizon. I am the wild card and taming my game has come at quite a price.
Imagine standing in the middle of the desert. Nothing as far as the eye can see. Imagine looking at the ocean. Only the horizon disrupts waves. There is a majesty and splendour in that frightening isolation.
Here I sit in a café. The cars pass by, horns sounding warnings to the market shoppers. The street vendor’s bell jangles above the humming drum of the city. All of the chaos of Asian life is crammed into the narrow streets of Phnom Penh and in the February heat it feels as if there is no space for air.
Here I sit in a café. I shift my focus. The heat cools and the sounds silence. In the glaciers of my psyche I create a shimmering isolation. The lone man lost in his mental landscape and divided from the jarring reality of life.
Once I found the world as an overload on my senses. It attacked and assaulted me with unwelcome sights and smells that left me aching and disoriented. Now I can disappear. I have made my Aspergers a rabbit hole and with a little focus I can fall into the detached wonderland of mind.
I can imagine standing in the middle of the desert for I do not fear the majesty and splendour of my own isolation.
I am a traveller of sorts. A meanderer who has no set path or clear destination. After a year in one country you might argue I am settled, but my journey is more than merely physical.
I see the collectors of experience. They meticulously checklist their way through tomorrow’s memories without even stopping to whistle. Cultures are sipped and palates rarely cleansed before the next new taste is up for consumption.
I am no different. Instead of travelling through countries, I travel through people. Life is kept fresh by keeping the door to my mind wide open to passing souls who come, and sometimes go, with ease. Rapport is something that can build in a moment, especially with those rare few who resonate with the deepest vibrations of my soul.
This weekend I met man, so earnest and passionate and we talked. Stories of youth were shared and the depressingly universal experiences of growing up gay were bemoaned. My new friend was interested in self esteem and bullying, and the role educators can play in breaking the cycle of depression and self harm for young gay men. Bad histories were being turned into better tomorrows by his actions. It was talk that went somewhere.
We may not meet again but we are connected. A good conversation can change the course of life. I may not be the fastest traveller but he has moved me and shown me places I never expected to see.
When I look inside myself I am constantly disappointed. I want to be a better person, so why do I fail? Surely at 51, I should be who I want to be.
I suppose I should contextualise this. I am not a bad person. I teach in secondary school and I am considered to be a fair teacher. I am not popular or cool, but I think most of my pupils view me as a kindly soul.
Outside of work I am not an axe murderer. I have a few good friends. I don’t steal, and I am as honest a man as you are ever likely to meet.
It is this honesty that is my downfall. Because it is combined with an analytical capability to finely dissect the events of the day, each day’s weaknesses are laid bare. My Aspergerian compassion is applied with its usual “could do better” assessment, so I judge myself, over and over again, as lacking.
Though I claim not to aspire to sainthood, I indulge in this mental flagellation over my inability to epitomise perfection. I have hurt myself over the years and at times, withdrawing to lick the wounds I try to keep hidden, have hurt those who tried to comfort me.
I don’t know if I can change. However this is my start. My biggest weakness is not that I don’t accept others, it is that I do not truly accept myself. If I say that out loud, perhaps it will scare me less. If I acknowledge it perhaps you will scare me less when you notice. If I am not scared perhaps I will allow you to help me.
I will never be perfect. I may never be a better person than I am now. Accepting that, however, might just make me a happier one.
Living in Phnom Penh has made a capitalist of this small town boy. Happier of late on my funny little path because I have realised that life in the big, bad city can be managed. I have put in a few kerb stones and carved out routes to make a personal village within the metropolis.
Limitations, like safety barriers, protect me from the harsher realities of the twenty-first century. What you might see as a padded cell I simply regard as well upholstered space. Cambodia can be chaotic and Phnom Penh is a city of violent change, where the extremities of life are laid bare. Wealth drives roughshod over the bones of the poor. I am both outsider and part of the status quo. I sip my iced coffee and observe the dirtiness of the everyday being transacted from my bespoke, gilded cage.
I am already supposed to be elsewhere and yet here I remain. Sane within the craziness and standing still in the constant traffic the Asperger Path is on a detour. The rolling stone is mossed. I have a home, a job and a somebody else to soften the urban loneliness of this brutal capitalisation.
I no longer mark time. Time is very different here. The punctuations I took for granted have gone. Now time doesn’t comma or full stop.
You see things differently at a distance. The detail is lost but the panorama allows each piece a place, and the whole is quite unlike the parts.
Once there were four seasons. Nature kept my clock ticking. Larks and robins, buds and falling leaves, late sunsets and dark mornings, each a reminder and each setting me in a context. Here it’s hot. Sometimes it’s wet. It’s light for breakfast and dark for dinner. A year can pass unnoticed.
The seasons come with much more. Emotionally I used to shift. I was carefree in June, melancholy in November and oh so hopeful in March. Activities would change. Life would move to the garden, the balcony or the beach for the brief halcyon summer before beating a retreat to log fires and drawn curtains. My friends are far from me so birthdays are Facebook updates and Christmas isn’t coming. Now that I am no longer on it, I can see I was immersed in a cultural calendar.
My days run on like badly constructed sentences, weeks are just ill defined paragraphs and without the seasons there are no chapters. I am in a stream of consciousness and living in the now because the passing of my time is no longer marked.
Living in the Emerald City, where life is fast, can leave the best of us feeling a little bruised and battered. The cut and thrust of life is a double edged sword of dangerous excitement. The Asperger Path, like the Yellow Brick Road, has its pitfalls so I need to be more careful with my forays.
The first thing I need to remember is my emotional armour. I am strong and capable, but if I don’t head out prepared and protected, it is inevitable that I will get hurt. A little veneer, preferably wipe clean, can keep the city at a slight remove. I’m not talking about walling myself in, but maybe I could erect a fence to chat over before I invite my neighbour in.
I also need to manage my expectations. Life isn’t actually any better here than it was in nowhere. It’s just different. It’s still allowed to live a quiet life. The hot spots are not compulsory and it’s fine to leave when I find my senses are battered rather than stimulated. Sometimes those bright lights are blinding to hide the emptiness.
Most importantly I need to remember that good people will find me. They always have and they always will. I may be a small fish in this ocean of a city but not everyone is swimming with sharks.
If this is the return to Oz, I must be patient. I have my heart and brains and even though I’m not lionhearted I have the courage I need to manage the big city life. This friend of Dorothy is in no place like home, but a little time and a few friends can make all the difference.
The circus is coming to town. Life cannot be planned because things happen that are unexpected, uninvited or even unwelcome. Those of us who try to control our lives end up running around like crazy clowns. So success is never about controlling what we have, it is about managing the unexpected.
Thus life needs flexibility. So what happens to those of us who are rigid and don’t have the social malleability that most of society is born with. We change. We learn. We study the patterns and we analyse the results. It’s learnt behaviour and it’s not intuitive, but it is what we do.
We are the cognitively different, the spectrum reordered, the walkers of the Asperger Path. We bring a new perspective and a different view to life. At our best, we are breathtaking and we must learn to fit in the world and take our proper place. Being born different is my gift from the universe and I intend to make my difference make a difference.
You can be a tightrope walking trapeze artist in the circus of life or a straitjacket wearing lunatic locked in the control asylum.
Me? I’m running away to join the circus.