“Conquering the Beginning” by Carla Burns

When I found out I had Asperger’s I realised that I thought outside the square. I was ten years old, and smart enough to know that kids didn’t just get taken to psychologists for story time; there was something up.

It was 2006, and my parents were driving me back to school after the strange encounter with some woman who told me to talk about myself. The woman had also had a conversation with my parents, while I was not in the room. All I could think of was, is there something I should know about? Being the blunt child that I was, I demanded my parents to tell me what was wrong, and if I had some kind of problem. My Mum didn’t like to keep things from me, so she told me that I had a little disorder that went by the amusing title of Asperger’s syndrome. I smiled at how funny it sounded when they told me; “Ass burgers syndrome?” I laughed a little.

From then on, my life would escalate in challenges that I would recognise and cope with in my own way. Leading me to acquire certain wisdom I never thought I could. I started high school in 2009 and had no idea how overwhelming it would be. My Mum being the protective kind, encouraged me to enrol in a co-ed school, because she thought a single sex school would be too socially abrasive for my sensitive needs. She was right; I was a pretty sensitive kid. If one so much as breathed a word to me with a slightly annoyed or what I might deem as patronising tone, I would get very flustered and possibly say something I regret.

I found it hard, but I did make some friends in the year. They were all a little different like myself, and accepted me for who I was. We would fight, and they wouldn’t always take my side, but I knew it was because I hadn’t earned the social right to be a valued friend just yet. I was too uneasy. At the time, I didn’t know that it wasn’t fair to argue as to why your ideas are ‘more acceptable’ than others. At the time I had no idea that flapping my hands in excitement was considered strange and not advised in social situations where hormonally judgemental teenagers are surrounding you. I also was unaware that when a friend asked for your honest opinion, you weren’t necessarily always supposed to give them your honest opinion. (Especially if it is an unflattering one!)

No, you couldn’t grip your head when stressed, run away from class when upset, panic when things don’t go as expected, yell at your friends if they upset you. So, I had to learn. Learn to be what society called ‘normal’.

It was during my first Drama class that I found my calling, a special talent that I soon came to understand that I could rock. I loved to act, express myself. Put on silly voices, and pull exaggerated facial expressions. Drama became my new home at school. Even though I knew I was pretty good at drama, the boys in my class didn’t see it that way. I attracted some negative attention and they began making fun of me for my actions.

I wouldn’t just tell a joke, I’d act it out, and though my friends laughed the boys didn’t – well they did, but then they whispered amongst each other, glancing my way. I felt abnormal. I’d respond by looking down, embarrassed by how I’d acted. I felt intimidated. Otherwise, I took the defensive and talked back to them, but only seeming like more of a ‘weirdo’. I had very little idea of how to cope.

In year 8, I lost all faith in myself and chose to seek refuge in the library every lunchtime. There, I befriended some fellow Aspies, and buried myself in books on Nazi Germany. (My latest special interest) I deliberately cut myself off from my friends, believing I was better suited being alone. High school at this point had thoroughly damaged my self-esteem. However, my passion for performing still had a space in the back of my mind, and so I continued to pursue my interest in it. I was going to choose something other than drama for year 9 actually, but then went back and changed it again due to realising that it was my calling. I felt like I had a kind of friendship with it, as if it was a safe haven.

If it wasn’t for Drama, I would not have become the confident person I am today. I know myself, and I can stick up for myself when necessary. Later in high school I gained the confidence to laugh off unkind comments from the boys, and even treat them with respect which annoyed them inside because they expected me to scream in their faces. I had a sense of humour, and so people came to like me.

In my senior years, I auditioned and received main roles in school plays, which made me ecstatic because I had the opportunity to show people what I could do. Social cues became less of a problem, and inappropriate jokes became my reputation; which people quite enjoyed.

I managed to turn a negative into a positive, which gave me a sense of accomplishment.

When life seemed to be on a high, something awful happened. It was in the holidays before year 11 commenced when my Mum became suddenly ill and died three weeks later from a ruptured aneurism. She had been the light of my life, my sole support and she was taken away from me so quickly. She was always the person I would confide in, express my obsessive thoughts to. She was the ointment to the itch of anxiety inside. When she passed away, it was really hard. No one ever ‘recovers’ from grief. You grieve every day, mourning the loss of a loved one, but life does go on. Humans have an innate instinct to survive, and so to accept grief with open arms while living is the best option. I learnt that from experience.

But I went on. It was terribly difficult, but life hadn’t ended, I couldn’t just give up. The pain of losing Mum, and the memory of her chirpy demeanour would always throb like an aching bruise – but who has ever heard of a mere bruise killing anyone? I certainly haven’t.

I continued Drama, I worked on my social skills, and received assistance from friends and my psychiatrist as well. I became recognised as “very entertaining” and “funny” by both teachers and students at school. I could identify as a part of something, I was somebody. Not just the freaky Aspie girl who has no idea how to not be awkward, but a cool kid with guts.

By the time year 12 came around, I had already set myself in the mindset that I wasn’t going to freak out. Due to my anxiety and stress problems, I knew aspiring for an impressively high ATAR score was not realistic, because of the immense pressure I was under, so I just aimed for what I needed, and only studied when I was calm and collected. It was what worked for me, and you know what? It turns out I got into the course I needed, and even got an ATAR I expected. (I had it all planned muhahahhha) I wasn’t disappointed in myself, because it didn’t determine how intelligent I was; I was intelligent enough to realise that.

The mere fact that I had completed school without dying from a swollen ulcer or something, was good enough. The rough patch was done, and I exited those school gates for the last time being sure that I had achieved something:

– Finding confidence
– Finding strength and resilience
– Being social but in an acceptably Aspie way

I’d say life complete, but it has only just begun. 😉

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