Banishing the impostor – Managing self-doubt

The last week I have spent in a bit of a state. I had a couple of speaking  gigs cancel – not because of me, just because, and this was coupled with a perception by me that not many organisations were contacting me with speaking and other work. Was it my new name meaning they couldn’t find me? Not likely as my wonderful web designer Barb made sure that my old web address works even if you type in YennPurkis.com. Was it something more sinister? Was every autism organisation and university really transphobic / transprejudiced  and didn’t want an openly gender diverse person speaking for their events? Given the way my coming out has been received very positively by almost everyone that also seemed a little unlikely. Was I unable to deliver the goods any more? Had I lost my touch? Was I just the most tedious character and nobody wanted me working for them any more? 

The reason for the problem was something  entirely different. The reason for the problem had little to do with my work and a lot more to do with my self-perception. The concern around speaking gigs was  manifestation of a depressive state which was compounded by impostor syndrome and self-doubt, qualities of which I have a large amount! I found myself checking my emails constantly, disappointed every time there were no emails asking me to give a presentation. It got quite extreme and I was thinking self-destructive thoughts, and then thinking that would be the most nonsensical reason for self-destruction “didn’t get any speaking gigs”. At that point I realised it was something beyond my work and needed more than a couple of requests to be on a focus group or speaker panel to address. This was something in my psyche that was focussed on me not liking and valuing myself.

In the past few years I have been called a lot of very positive – and quite superlative – things: Autism world royalty, thought leader, game changer, rock star, that sort of thing. It never makes sense to me. My self-perception is very poor. I always say a little prayer before I go onstage and it is never a prayer for greatness. Instead it is a prayer to not screw up the presentation! So the perception of others who love my talks and my own perception are very different.

True to type I have been sharing my struggles with insecurity online. A few people suggested past trauma might be responsible, and I suspect they have a point. I had a very difficult start to life and lots of people gave me messaging that I was worthless. In fact when I started to change my life and become an autism advocate I was driven by the need to prove that I was not worthless, particularly to my parents (who I might add never demanded anything like that and were happy enough with me gong to university. I didn’t need to become the Prime mInister in their eyes but I sort of felt like I did).

When I realised my anxiety and feelings of worthlessness related to low mood I got into action. I have a whole book for of mental health strategies (I wrote it with Dr Emma Goodall and Dr Jane Nugent and its called The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum. It literally is all my strategies written down with a bunch of other useful stuff. Sadly I don’t have a spare copy at the moment!!) I also contacted some of my friends and walked through what was happening for me with them. It was great to have the chance to share stories about this kind of thing as it helped me to feel less alone. As often happens with my mental health issues, once I figure out what the problem is I can start to address it. I can report tat today I am feeling quite  a lot better, mostly thanks to my friends and my own ability to be self-aware and put in place strategies to help alleviate mood issues.

Some strategies which ca address this kind of mood issues and insecurity are:

  • Logical thinking can help although it usually needs some backup from emotional strategies and depression isn’t logical I find
  • Accessing friends, positive family members and networks. You don’t even need to talk about the issue. Just being around people who you care about and care about you can have a huge impact 
  • Distraction, distraction, distraction! This means doing something engaging that you enjoy to take you mind off your mood. This one is used in a number of therapy models and is the gold standard according to a lot of people, including me. You can use different distractions and make a list if you like
  • Do something nice for yourself
  • Do something you are good at. This can help banish those self-doubts
  • Ask a friend or someone you trust for a reality check. Tell them what you are worried about and see what their perspective is. It is likely to be very different form yours
  • If this works for you and you feel the need of it, get some professional help. There are some great counsellors and psychologists who can support you and help you with your thinking.

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Autism = Strengths

I just got back to my hotel after an all day event for Yellow Ladybugs (one of my favourite organisations), talking about mental health, autism and women and girls. One of the other speakers, Clem, related how her autism is at the heart of her strengths. This seems like it should be an obvious concept but I think it is one that people do not always keep in mind when in interacting with autistic people, yet it is close to the heart of neurodiversity.

While it isn’t  possible to sort the autistic ‘bits’ from an autistic person and identify which of them result in their skills, autistic people do have a lot of skills that they almost certainly have as part of being autistic and that this is a world-changing notion.

Imagine a small child who has just been diagnosed as autistic. Their life might all of a sudden because quite medicalised and pathologised. Words like ‘’resistant’’, ‘obsessive’, ‘fixated’ and ‘atypical’ might be used. If that child has prodigious skills in area – as autistic people often do – the skills may well be dismissed as obsessive interests and things or something that isn’t much use to the child. The idea of ‘so what’ skills might be evoked – skills which are apparently ‘meaningless’ despite the fact that they are extremely meaningful for the autistic individual. In fact these skills may be extremely useful for the wider world but when someone is seen only or mostly through the lens of deficits, their skills are much more likely to be discounted, 

If you look at autistic adults who have done things that the wider world considers impressive, these ‘impressive’ skills are so frequently based in autism. There is a whole world of autistic experience based in strengths and talents, often based in passions and interests.

My areas of great skill are in the area of creativity – which is quite common for autistics. My autobiography was the first serious piece of writing I ever did. It took me four weeks to draft, two weeks and edit and was taken up by the first publisher I sent it to. I have never been to a class or read an article on how to write a book. I simply decided to write one and did it. Visual art is another skill of mine. I can pick up any art medium and make a meaningful, heartfelt picture using it. I have some strong musical ability – although in the talented rather than prodigious range – and anyone who has seen me on stage might think that public speaking is another of my skills. I have not really done much training in public speaking but it comes naturally to me. I also have some skills in caring and supporting others. All my skills are related to my autism – largely because I am autistic and they are my skills! 

Skills and strengths can come along as part of our experience, but they can be squashed or discouraged. Kids and young people with a great love or passion for a topic my be discouraged from talking about it and be shut down. This can in some cases lead to people giving up their passion despite the fact that their passion may encourage their deepest and most valuable skills. In some cases autistic people have only negative expectations placed on them meaning they often they internalise self-hate and negativity. They may not even feel able to do things they enjoy, and their strengths may be hidden. The attitudes of others around our skills and strengths can determine how we approach them – if we are encouraged then we are likely to keep on developing that strength but if we are shut down we might feel unable to engage in our strength and the world may lose the opportunity to benefit from it.

One of the most important things is fostering a sense of self-worth and pride in the strengths of autistics people and for people to view them as useful for the world. Instead of viewing skills as a ‘so what’ or ‘useless’ skill, make connections with areas where that skill is valuable. It doesn’t need to be hard. You don’t have to think too laterally to see the value of writing skills or coding, for example. I see it as requiring a tweak of thinking on the part of allistic people more than anything else and that tweak is the very important tweak which says ‘different not less.’ If people viewed the strengths and skills of autism and autistic people as a bonus and not an obsession or a useless skill then autistic people would almost certainly have more opportunity to share and appreciate our what we can do. This is a great way for us too feel good about ourselves too. 

To me our strengths are a fulfilment of my message and the message of so many others talk gin about autistic pride and empowerment. For if autism were all deficits and disability then our skills and strengths would not be possible. Just look at the value autistic people can bring to the workplace where their different perspectives and approaches make such a difference. Many companies now seek out autistic talent for this reason. Neurodiversity presents a world where skills are not subject to negative judgement, and where autistic people’s  skills are seen for the immense value they bring for us and everyone else. D0DeWk3VsAA_VPi 

 Me doing my thing this afternoon. 

Neurodivergence, inclusion and why I don’t celebrate International Aspergers Day

Yesterday (or today depending on where you live) was International Asperger’s Day. It is not a day I celebrate for a number of reasons, many of which are outlined in this post. 

I was asked to join an online group last year which had the term ‘Asperger’s’ prominently displayed. The questions the group admins needed me to answer to gain entry to this apparently prestigious club were all centred on the idea that there is a clear difference between ‘Asperger’s’ and ‘autism’ and the emphasis was on basically them not wanting to be included with ‘those autistics’. Horrified I deleted the request and advised the person who asked me to join that this was not an approach I would ever take.

It seemed amazing to me that at this point in history people wee thinking this way. These kinds of ideas were percolating around when the diagnostic manual the DSM 5 was being introduced a few years ago. As someone who had the Asperger’s diagnosis under the DSM IV I thought about how I wanted to describe myself and very soon after the change of diagnostic manuals I decided to identify as autistic not Asperger’s in keeping with both the new diagnostic label and my feeling that separatism was not going to serve our community well and besides it was elitist, mean and rude. 

The ideas of neurodiversity and neurodivergence are not new but I have seen great usage of them  in recent times rather than using specific diagnostic terms like autism or ADHD. Similarly to those of us in the autistic community when the DSM 5 and its changed diagnoses came in, we now get to think about how we describe ourselves in relation to others with similar but different experiences. Lately I keep finding myself writing ‘autistic people’ and then realise that what I refer to relates to people with other neurodivergences than autism alone. I feel it is a matter of inclusion. If something is experienced by people from a number of different neurodiverse groups, I feel it is often better to says neurodivergent rather than list the different diagnostic labels which whatever is being discussed applies too.

For those who haven’t  come across the term, neurodiversity is based in the idea that all humans have differently wired brains. People who are neurodivergent have brains which are ‘wired differently’ to the typical neurology. This is not a deficit or something ‘wrong’ but it is a difference to the ‘neurotypical’ majority. The idea of ‘different, not less’ is firmly based in ideas of neurodiversity, The neurodiversity movement works to address the disparities and discrimination against neurodivergent people. And neurodivergence definitely doesn’t relate only to autistic experience.

I must admit that up until quite recently when I thought about neurodiversity I only really conceptualised that as being an autistic experience  but of course that is far from the truth. Some experiences relate only to autistics, some things only to people with dyslexia or those with dyspraxia etc. but where there are commonalities I like the idea of capturing them within the umbrella of neurodivergence.

There is also the fact that many neurodiverse people have a number of neurodivergences. For example I am currently in the process of being assessed for ADHD (OK, I am just starting out but that still counts as being in the process!). I know a number of autistic people who also have a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other things. 

Not everyone will agree with my approach of course and, as so many of us had to when the autism diagnostic label was changed, this is something people will need to consider where it relates to them.

I may be wrong but I think the current focus on neurodivergence rather than specific diagnostic descriptors  is a relatively new thing. As such it is an evolving understanding. I love evolving understandings because there is so much opportunity to find a way forward into an inclusive and respectful space. I tend to think that the concept of diagnosis is quite fraught anyway when talking about neurodiversity. I mean I know in current society we need to have a diagnosis in order to access the necessary services and supports but I don’t think I have a ‘disorder’ at all. I’m not broken and neither are my neurodivergent peers.  My ‘disorder’ is based in living in world that struggles – and sometimes completely fails – to understand or respect me a lot of the time. My disability is very much from the social model more than the medical model. A world full of Yenn Purkises would be a functioning world, just a bit of a different world from the one we have now. I am always aware when speaking of diagnostic labels that in a better world our diversity would not be so pathologised and that neurodivergence to me is more a sort of cultural linguistic thing than a deficits thing. If allistic folks l learned our ‘language’ a lot of the issues would cease to be issues.

So if we accept that diagnosis and disorders are a problematic concept and that the things which disable us are frequently nothing to do with any deficits on our part and are more due to a world which doesn’t understand us…well that suggests to me that a focus on what different neurodivergent people share rather than our differences is a good place to focus in order to make change and support one another to live our potential. 

So I am Yenn and I am neurodivergent and proud. 

We do so much better united than divided

New name, new blog site, new article on misconceptions about autism

Welcome to my very new WordPress blog page. Along with my new blog I have a new name. Here is a link to a post which I wrote recently which explains my new name if you were wondering. Blog post: I am Yenn

This post is a revision of  post from some years ago looking at misconceptions about autism which are frequent and very annoying and unhelpful for autistic people. There are many more misconceptions out there than these. These are just a selection but hopefully you will find some use from the post.

🙂 Yenn

“You don’t seem very autistic to me. My [insert relative here] is autistic, and s/he/they can’t even get the bus. You have a job…”

While autistic people often share a number of general characteristics, we are all individuals. Two autistic people can be vastly different from one another. Autism is not a determinant of character or a person’s path through life. It is  different wiring of the brain but autistic people are still individuals. Comping ‘degrees’ of autism is really unhelpful.

 “Are you high-functioning?”

Labels of “high” or “low” functioning autism are fraught and unhelpful. These labels are in fact not even part of the diagnostic criteria but they are used as a shorthand by many clinicians.  These labels simply don’t work. An autistic person who works full-time might have a meltdown. So while they are working they might appear “high” functioning, but in the meltdown their level of functioning is different. So the functioning label fails to describe the frequent changes in ability to cope that can occur in an autistic person’s life. The functioning label can also become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially  for autistic kids and young people. A person described as “low” functioning may be given negative messaging and low expectations for their life. Their “high” functioning peers often have unrealistically high expectations put on them and their issues may be ignored because they are articulate and seem to be coping well.  I never  use functioning labels around autism as they are so misleading and counter-productive.