Over Holy Week I took part in the Student Cross pilgrimage (http://studentcross.org.uk), and walked for about 100 miles from Dovercourt in Essex to Walsingham in a group of 24, carrying with us a large and fairly heavy wooden cross. It was a really fulfilling week on a spiritual and social level, and importantly this gave me a lot of time and space away from everything to think. One thought that kept coming up was about having Asperger's, I'll try and put it into words here.
Since my diagnosis, I've been using my label of Asperger's as a reason for my social difficulties - this has led to the unhealthy mindset of not trying to overcome my problems. Rather than try to overcome my issues such as inability to speak naturally and slight anxiety in groups, I've taken to thinking that I don't need to push myself because I have Asperger's. While this has meant that I've avoided initial discomfort in group situations, it's also meant that I've taken to defining myself as an Aspie, and less as a person as a whole.
Over the pilgrimage I didn't feel my traits at all except on the first night when I knew nobody, and then I worked to overcome my issues and be involved in the group. I'd be seeing just these people for the next 6 days and so I'd have to learn to relax with them, I told myself. And after a day or two, it was natural - more natural than things have felt for a fair while. As we walked, sometimes we'd talk to the person next to us, sometimes we'd sing as a group, and sometimes we'd walk without speaking. And that felt natural too - to know that just because I wasn't talking to the person beside me didn't mean that things were awkward, or that we had nothing in common. Not to say that there weren't moments where I felt that social interaction was difficult, but then I didn't think twice about pushing myself to overcome the awkwardness I felt as I'd done countless times growing up.
In short, I forgot that I'm an Aspie, and remembered more that I'm Catherine. I'm an Aspie, yes, but I'm also a story-writer, a student, a singer, a player of video games, a good listener and a terrible footballer. One person on the pilgrimage asked me on the second day what I enjoyed doing, and I had to think for a second about that. Over the week as I sang and prayed and talked to others, I thought more about the things I do and enjoy, and what makes me the person I am.
By the end of the week I'd come out of my shell, as it were - the way I'd always done in the past when meeting new people. That's part of who I am, likely because of having Asperger's, but I'd decided then to not let this rule me. In the same way that I have depression and fight it, I'm going to try and fight the Asperger's traits that make things difficult for me. I'll have bad days, granted, but the negative parts of my condition don't have to affect everything I do. I don't have to be aware of being an Aspie all the time and take that into consideration with every small thing I do - if and when issues arise, I'll deal with them as a strong human being with the support of those around me.
That sounds motivational, no?
I'll end this post by talking about the very end of the week. Each of us was given a postcard just before we left Walsingham, on which the other members of the group had written comments. Most of mine were of the generic 'Nice walking with you' type, but one comment said 'Your quiet presence is an asset'. That stuck with me: yes I am quiet, but that doesn't mean that I'm not involved in things. I felt empowered by the end of the week, and having somebody say that I had 'presence' in the group really meant a lot to me.
Sometimes it takes being away from everything I know to remember that I am a person, and not just a label or a condition.