This is going to be a rather reflective blog looking at my own experience of 2015. It will focus on a few things I have learned and observed this year.
Be careful what you wish for
Very early on in the year I joked that 2015 would be ‘the year of Jeanette.’ This was tongue in cheek – I am not a Chinese zodiac sign (although the thought is a little amusing. ‘People born in the year of the Jeanette will be ambitious and like pudding’). However it did seem that there was a perfect storm of success and recognition just waiting beyond the horizon. My prediction was correct. The thing I hadn’t figured on was just how overwhelming, challenging and confusing this storm would be.
The recognition I have been enjoying in Australia lately is a very recent occurrence. As an extroverted creative person the whole idea of recognition always seemed great. That is until I started to get it. I first began to realise that people outside my circle of friends knew who I was in mid-2014. By this year I found myself being singled out at conferences by large numbers of people and found out i even have my own following of people who go to all my talks and read all my literary efforts. In the past I would have been excited about this without qualification but in fact some big issues came with it.
Just say no!
A big issue with recognition is managing all the requests for my time and energy. Assertiveness and I do not know each other very well. As far as I am concerned, boundaries are something you get in cricket and limits are diet biscuits. This has had to change rapidly this year. Every week somebody asks me to speak at their event, contribute a chapter for their book or give permission for my memes to be on their website. I also have individuals who want to be my friend and almost always this is fine but a few times I have found myself needing to set boundaries in a hurry. I’m sure if I have a guardian angel, they have probably been doing a face-palm all year watching my pathetic attempts to set limits. However this is gradually improving. It will need to improve quickly as I have already got ten speaking events booked for 2016. This will probably be compounded with the release of my latest book, the collaboration The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum in April. Things could get very busy at Whimsy Manor so I will need my ‘no’, ‘maybe later’ and ‘I need to look at my calendar’ primed and ready to go from 4 January.
Up until 2015, for most of my life I felt isolated and lonely. Friends were a rare thing in my life and often the friendships were not based in anything real or shared and therefore weren’t particularly enjoyable. This year I have finally discovered my peer group. Probably 90 per cent of my friends at the moment are Autistic and many of them are fellow advocates and writers. I got to know one friend better this year. I will not embarrass her by saying her name but she is wonderful and we have this lovely reciprocal friendship. She is always very wise and gives me helpful advice. We worked on a project together this year and it was a joy. I value such a friendship highly. In fact I am little bit cute when it comes to friends I really like because when I see a message from them I get all excited, as if I was ten years old! The wonderful thing is that I have a good number of people in my life now for whom that is the case. Magic!
All work and no play makes Jeanette…er Jeanette
This year was my first year as a proper workaholic. This was partially by choice and partially because I couldn’t say ‘no.’
I haven’t kept accurate stats but I think my usual week in 2015 involved 38 hours of full-time paid work and about the same of advocacy, preparing presentations and writing, Down-time was something other people had. I would laugh when people mentioned ‘work-life balance’. I was speaking with my dad the other day about my great grandfather who was a multi-gazillionaire. My dad said when a doctor told great-grandad to take three days rest he went to London the next day because there was work to be done. ‘Oh dear’ I said ‘It’s genetic,’ because that is exactly what I would do! My work ethic this year has been absurd. People keep asking me how I have managed my huge workload and I have said such unhelpful things as ‘magic?’ and ‘picture my workload like a TARDIS….’ Thankfully I realised recently that the amount of busyness this year could well be the same for the rest of my life. As such I am trying to reassert a schedule which includes reading books and watching movies and things. It’s a work in progress…
The constant backdrop to my life is my soul-rending mental illness. Successful Jeanette spends a lot of her time at home being tormented by visions and voices and death and supernatural nastiness. My paid work and advocacy work is often used as a distraction against all this horror. I can honestly say that for every major presentation in the last three years I have been concerned that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it up until the day before the event. My work ethic and determination always gets me over the line but nobody has any idea of the difficulty and doubt I went through to prepare for the event at which I got a standing ovation from 1300 people or the conference where I was flavour of the month and was interviewed on national radio. My illness is usually a private battle. I hardly ever access assistance from friends, maybe occasionally from my family. It is an odd experience because it is often the thing I am pushing up against to give me motivation but it also threatens to destroy everything I have worked for. This is also a work in progress.
New year thoughts
I don’t make resolutions at new year – well no more than I do on other days. I have some intentions for the year ahead though:
- Learn to say NO! More often
- Manage people’s expectations and set limits where necessary
- Manage my health and stay aware of any warning signs for crisis
- Give Mr Kitty lots of cuddles
- Give out a bunch of Jeanette business cards
- Get to know my friends better
- Promote friends’ skills (writing, speaking etc) and support them on their advocacy journey as much as possible
- Write, write, write then write some more
- Remember about work life balance and watch some TV
- Change the world just a little bit