Reflections on a life less ordinary…and coming home

I just got back from Melbourne, where I had travelled to give a presentation about Autism and employment – probably the main reason I leave Canberra these days is to gee such presentations. For those who don;t know it, Melbourne is a big, beautiful city, an idiosyncratic place full of great coffee, quirky little shops and all sorts of art. A genteel sister to the more gritty and fast-paced Sydney, Melbourne was built in the 1850s on money from the Victorian gold rush, I lived in Melbourne from 1992 to 2007. I protested on its streets, lived in a number of share houses of varying degrees of squalor. I studied for eight years, made friends and penned an autobiography within Melbourne’s arms. I have a strong connection to the city, along with a lot of friends, colleagues and family members who live there. I love visiting my former hometown and this visit was no exception.

I was a little concerned prior to my trip as I had a lot of activities booked, probably mode than is wise. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I have more energy than anyone I know and probably more motivate than anyone anywhere. I had activities packed in from the moment I arrived to the day I left.

My life has taken a bit of an interesting turn in the past couple of years. I have been an Autism advocate and author since about 2005. For the first eight or so years not many people knew who I was. I had a couple of gigs which I thought were cool – a chapter in a book about Autistic experiences, a documentary which was shown on national television and a few interviews in various news media, but mostly I just went to work and wished I had a broader audience for my ideas around Autism. All this changed in 2013. I was coming off a long period of mental ill health which had threatened to finish my public service career and leave me incapable of useful activity of any kind.  I had just got myself a little friend in Mr Kitty, my beautiful little mini black panther cat.  I had unexpectedly won an award for leadership at work and was trying to regain my self-confidence. Out of the blue I was asked to audition for a TEDx conference. I couldn’t believe that this was real but it was and in September 2013 – on the day of an election in Australia which ushered in a new government – I delivered a presentation on Autism and resilience to around 700 eager audience members on the TEDx stage. It was terrifying and exhilarating and the best talk I had ever given.  2013 was also a literary year. Spurred on by meeting a young man on the Autism spectrum who was very limited in his independence due to low expectations of his capability by family and educators, I decided to write a book about employment for teens on the spectrum to help build confidence and knowledge around employment. The book – ‘The Wonderful World of Work: A Workbook for Asperteens’  was published without amendment by my lovely publishing house, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

The two events – my TEDx talk and the new book – combined to change my profile in the Autism world from someone who a few people liked and appreciated to where I am now, with a much bigger following and a schedule and workload which are completely impossible but which I manage to navigate somehow (possibly by magic – who knows?? :)) So now when I travel to a city, I tend to have a lot of requests for me to meet people and do additional things, which I actually love. During my Melbourne trip I caught up with:

  • My friend and awesome Autism world colleague Penny
  • Another friend and possibly the nicest person in Victoria, Daniel
  • My uni friend Deb who I met in 2002 and love as dearly as family
  • My epigenetic researcher friend Jeff who showed me around the labs and the Royal Children’s Hospital
  • My long-term friend, fellow cat lover and hopefully soon to be co-author, Catriona
  • The staff at Irabina, who are hosting an event later in the year where I will speak with Temple Grandin
  • My lovely friend and fellow artist, Anniene
  • My Facebook friend and prospective web designer, Richard
  • My young advocate friend Ben and a roomful of people in Orange (via Skype)
  • My excellent disability advocate friends Rosemary and Chris and their other guests, Kaye and Rosemary
  • My family (Mum, Dub, Den, Caz, Chloe, Katie and Ben, Cam, Sarah and Caz’s friend Kirsten and her husband Sam and their two boys)
  • A number of cats at the Melbourne cat cafe
  • Some people I met in my travels who I gave business cards because I’m the networking ninja!

It was such an amazing trip. Highlights included giving two talks and having the inevitable discussions with attendees, spending an afternoon with my family and newly nine year-old niece Chloe, having dinner in a little laneway cafe with Anniene, having a long conversation on the jetty at Sandringham with Penny and meeting her mum and little doggie and buying matryoshka doll/s from a shop in Royal arcade which I have longed to go into for years and having a lovely conversation with the young woman shop assistant. It was all amazing though,

I came home this afternoon. I caught a lunchtime flight which got to Canberra in great time. It was a little scary when we landed because we came in really fast and it was a little bumpy – there’s always that 30 seconds in the landing when you think ‘Is this actually going to stop before the end of the runway?’ Thankfully it did and now I am home in my beautiful Whimsy Manor. I had a snooze and unpacked, had a long, hot shower and sat down to write this. I am such a fortunate person. I have a life that I love and people I care about. Given the struggles I have had through life, I take pleasure where I can find it. I don’t know what is in the future but I’m not going to worry about it. I am happy, fulfilled, loved, accomplished and warm right now, this instant, and that is good enough for me. I do sometimes worry about my workload and where my profile might take me. People often say unhelpful things about how well-known I will be in the near future and I ignore this, I will deal with whatever the world may give me as it happens. I don’t really want much, oner than my little furry feline person, meaningful activity to keep me engaged and respect and love for my friends and family. Everything else is less important. I have the strangest life which shouldn’t work at all but somehow it does. I look forward to getting my Kitty back tomorrow and returning to work on Tuesday. Happy Sunday readers. Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate it and I hope you find it helpful.  – Jeanette

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Me organising stuff…

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