Half the World Away – Overcoming Asperger’s, Graduating University and The Next Phase

For those of you who (I like to hope) might regularly read my blog and have read any of my past blog posts, you are probably aware that I have a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. A year ago, I wrote two blogs about my struggles with the condition, how I battled against all the difficulties to eventually get into university, and how I had to balance my condition with the pressures of university life.

Since then, my blog has been more of a hub for music reviews and interviews in my quest to pursue a career in music journalism and the media, as music is a huge passion in my life and a fundamental part of my life journey. However, in light of what was undeniably the biggest week of my life so far, I have decided to temporarily side track from all that and reflect back on the past week, my journey up to then and my hopes for the future from this point onwards.

At the time I wrote those two blogs, I was in a place where I was much happier and more aware of both the difficulties I had and how I could overcome them, and also my strengths as a person. At the same time, I was in the busiest, most eventful and most pivotal stage of my life – the midway point of university with my final year lurking around the corner. Since then, a lot has happened in my life during my third, concluding year of university. I’ve had plenty more ups as well as downs, and grown much more as an individual.

Two weeks ago, I received what was undoubtedly the best news I ever had. After three of the hardest, most stressful yet most rewarding years of my life at university in Cardiff, I’d received the news that I’d be graduating in a couple of weeks with a 2:1 in BA Journalism at University of South Wales.

Just six years previously, I had been kicked out of my sixth form due to the shared (and now misinformed) belief by the staff there that I would fail in my studies and wouldn’t get any further. It was both my defiant refusal to succumb to that fate and my fight to be allowed to study at a higher education college, along with a bout of sheer (and then very rare) luck that I was interviewed for and subsequently allowed onto two courses at Cornwall College St Austell – BTEC Media Studies and A-Level Film Studies – just a couple of weeks later. The three years of college were both the making of me and a test of my character as I navigated both the academic and social battleground of college, and it was my two main tutors who had allowed me onto their course in the first place that helped me survive those three brutal years. To go from all that to getting into university (having passed Media with a Distinction, Film with a B and Communications and Culture with an A*) and getting a 2:1 degree just three years later is something that I’m deeply humbled by and at one point would never have dreamed possible, yet which I know is down to both my hard work and determination to succeed in pursuit of my goals, and the unshakable support of my family, my few friends and my college tutors.

Just before the start of this year, I said to myself that a 2:1 was exactly the minimum grade I wanted to achieve. Obviously, by just getting into university I had already come further than I ever could’ve imagined and finishing with any degree would be an amazing achievement. However, I knew I had the potential to get at least a 2:1 and that if I committed myself and worked harder than usual, I could get it. Getting this result shows that my belief, my hard work and my positivity in the face of adversity has paid off. Getting a 2:1 for my dissertation as well is just the icing on the cake. As well as having the degree, I now have the knowledge that I can be anything I want to be if I set my mind to it and work for it, regardless of any obstacles that decorate my path.

After all I’ve had to go through to achieve my goal of graduating with a degree, the day of my graduation was a fitting culmination of, and reward for, all those years of hard work as well as all the triumphs I’ve achieved in the first half of this year, with my 23rd birthday fittingly a week before. Simultaneously, it marked the end of one chapter in my life and the beginning of another. My graduation was very much the pivotal turning point in my life journey.

It was undoubtedly one of the happiest, proudest days of my life so far if not the happiest. I will always cherish the few priceless seconds of walking up to the stage and officially receiving my degree to the applause of the audience and my family, that flashed by in an instant yet which I will never forget. When I walked up, I didn’t even take notice of the applause, probably because there was so much going through my mind although perhaps I was so focused on not making a fool of myself on stage on one of the biggest occasions of my life. Just walking up on stage in front of a big audience of people is something that used to petrify me, yet now I was walking on stage with no nerves or hesitation at all.

In addition, I received a special award on my course that I was nominated for by all my lecturers unanimously – a Certificate of Academic Excellence. To receive that award and to get such amazing praise form my lecturer after the ceremony made me feel so proud.

For me, achieving my degree provides me with closure for the struggles I’ve had to deal with on my way to graduating and makes a bit of that feel worth it. I move on into the next phase of my life with my head held high knowing that I’ve achieved a degree and done so against all the odds. It hasn’t entirely hinged on fate; because I could have so easily been in an opposite position had I not battled to get into college and university. I owe it to all my hard work and determination to succeed, because that is what has got me here.

I’m still on a high from that amazing day that will forever be etched in my mind, but at the same time feeling slightly deflated now that it has ended, and the reality of the real working world has fully sunk in again. It’s a strange mixture of emotions I’m feeling because as delighted as I am, I’m also sad that arguably the best three years of my life at university have now come to an end, and I’ve now left Cardiff and my whole course. But while one door has closed, another has opened for me.

While the unknown aspect of what the post-uni world holds in store for me is something that is slightly daunting, I’m very positive and confident now about entering the next phase of my life. The first half of this year has already brought me so much in my life, and whatever happens in the remaining half of 2014, this year is already the best year I’ve had. Now I’m looking forward to what the second half and the rest of the future will bring me, and to achieving more new milestones. I still have more goals that I want to achieve, and believe I can.

As many people who know me and who might regularly read my blog (or not), one of my main passions is music and journalism, and this is something which I hope I can make a lifestyle out of and hopefully a career. While I have always loved music and loved writing, doing interviews and getting myself out there is something that a few years ago would have intimidated me due to my lack of social skills, and tested my limits. Regardless, I have worked extremely hard to overcome the difficulties I had, and doing a journalism course at university, as well as living in Cardiff far from my home in Lostwithiel in Cornwall, has helped me step out of my comfort zone and improve both my chances of succeeding in a potential career in journalism and my social skills in general. Now, I am doing reviews regularly and have met so many great people along the way that have supported me and pushed me closer in pursuit of my dreams.

Additionally, I have recently done work experience in the PR industry, which is a route I definitely want to explore further. Now that I have found something which I enjoy and which I’m getting plenty of great feedback for, I am determined to keep doing journalism as a freelance hobby for now, improve as a writer, and get myself out there as I have done and as I’m doing now.

Then there’s the usual goals that everyone else has – to have a successful job, live independently, to travel, to have a happy relationship and a family. A few years ago, these are probably dreams that would have been impossible for me. Now, nothing is impossible.

In what has already been a great year, I am certainly hoping to accomplish plenty more in the remaining months and beyond.

‘How many corners do I have to turn, how many times do I have to learn, all the love I have is in my mind’ – Richard Ashcroft, ‘Lucky Man’, The Verve, 1997