Friday, 31 March 2017

NAS Speakers' day at Wrexham.

It's been a while since I last wrote anything. I've been busy preparing myself for a journey to Wrexham to join other autistic people at the National Autistic Society's public speaking day.

Preparations have included the practical; booking train tickets, working out where to go and when, where to stay, what to eat, plus the emotional parts; getting my head around doing something that involves me stepping out of my small comfort zone with no-one seeing me through the difficult stuff, taking a journey to somewhere I've never been, the prospect of meeting people who I've never met or don't know. Terrifying stuff, I know.

The last week has been spent in a state of sheer terror or manic excitement, with a dash of "wtf was I thinking!" thrown in for good measure.

The journey, thankfully, was uneventful. Don't get me wrong, it was scary, there were tears, there were huge amounts of anxiety, but I managed it, something I'm very proud of. The journey back was easier, but not without anxious, panicky and teary moments.

The day itself was better than I could imagine. I'm resisting the urge to write "It was really, really good and I can't stop grinning!" and trying to make this a little bit informative.

The whole of the morning was a talk by Sarah Hendrickx, an autistic speaker I have admired for some time. She did not disappoint, delivering information about the reality of life as a speaker, in all its glamorous detail. It's so good to hear someone talk about possible pitfalls instead of solely focusing on the unrealistic positive points only. Without knowing the difficulties and potential problems, it's impossible to prepare for them and be able to deal with them without freezing or melting. I don't know if this is an autistic feature, but I have often been accused of being negative, when I don't think I am, I'm simply being careful to plan for all eventualities.

One of the things I was worried about was if I would be, yet again, on the periphery of conversations, awkwardly listening in, not knowing how to interact and feeling drained and exhausted from all the peopling. It was a welcome surprise to find that this wasn't the case, which has been the highlight of my adventure.

Normal socialising is difficult, constantly being conscious of how you're responding, your appearance, where to look, what to do with your hands, and usually, after half an hour or so, I'm done. My eyes feel boggy, my hearing starts to distort and I am physically and mentally exhausted.
Socialising with fellow autistics was easy. Conversation was interesting and meaningful, if a break was needed a break was taken and it wasn't considered rude. I'm not exactly sure why, but I didn't experience any of the usual difficulties, and for what feels like the first time in my life, I felt like I fit in, I belonged, I felt comfortable. I feel like I've finally found my people.

I also had the chance to meet someone I've been chatting online to for a few years, and I'm very pleased to report that we got on well (which concerned me - plenty of people meet me in real life and decide that a first meeting is enough for them!), we chatted for some time, nearly three hours one evening without being peopled out, and have progressed to being friends, which I'm very happy about.

I stayed in a Premier Inn, which I can recommend, if only for the chance of some peace and quiet, early nights and the chance to catch up with The Walking Dead without constant interruptions from children, husband or dogs.

These last few days have gone some way to help me over my fear of travelling to new places. Using trains instead of relying on my driving skills was liberating, and hopefully next time (and there definitely will be a next time) my anxiety will not be quite so high.

I apologise that this post is disjointed, barely thought through and probably fairly crap. I'm exhausted, I have a banging headache, I am pretty much down to my last teaspoon, but I so wanted to write this before I crash. I don't think I can put into words how wonderful the last couple of days have been, or how free and empowered I feel right now.

It has spurred me on to consider making some videos (I'll apologise now, but as Sarah Hendrickx pointed out in her talk, if you want to speak, you need to get out there, and I'm following orders!). I don't think I can whinge and rant so much without at least trying to do something about the problems we and so many others encounter, so I am enlisting PDA boy to teach me how to make and edit videos. At this stage I'm not sure if this is something anyone should be looking forward to, and I will consider filming with a bag over my head!

Hopefully now this hurdle (albeit a fantastic one) is out of the way I can write regularly again, and more eloquently than I have done today.

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