Half the World Away – Life since Graduation, Living with Asperger’s and My New Year Goals

This is the time of year where the majority of people begin unveiling the annual ‘new year, new me’ statuses which are practically inescapable on my news feed, and most I know are probably once again setting out resolutions which are perhaps slightly unrealistic and end up being abandoned by the first week of January. I have to admit to probably being one of them in the past and setting out goals I can never achieve, which is why I have stopped bothering with them in recent years.

However, 2014 has been different for me. At the start of the year, I was still a university student and my only wish, more than anything, was to graduate with the best possible grade. That is probably a slightly meagre resolution to make, but graduating with a university degree seemed for me unrealistic in itself so many years ago due to having a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. The thought of me even getting into university was, just a few years ago, a source of humour perhaps. It was the general assumption I would fail to get into university by my former school and many other people that drove me on to prove them wrong, and I like to think I finally have. Most of the things I set myself out to achieve this year I have mostly succeeded in doing, including the proud achievement of graduating with a degree. On top of that, I feel I have gained a newfound confidence which I have lacked in everything for so many years and which has held me back, but not anymore. With that, I go into 2015 with new goals and milestones I want to accomplish, and plenty of renewed positivity and confidence that I can do exactly that. Continue reading

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

TV Documentary Journalism assignment – ‘Recovery: The Stories of Eden Gate’

This is the 10-minute TV documentary I made for my 3rd year Journalism assignment, about the Newport charities Eden Gate and Newport Night Shelter who work with homeless people and addicts in Newport. This is the first documentary I made by myself and while I have briefly learned how to film and edit on the Journalism course, this is the first time I have had to film and edit a whole production by myself. I have to admit to feeling very much out of my comfort zone during the whole process, but I feel very proud with the end result and proud in myself for taking on this challenge on my own. However, I could not have done it without the help of my friend Jack Buckley who guided me through the whole editing process and somehow managed to put up with me. I’d like to thank Eden Gate volunteer Helen Shephard who helped introduce me to everyone at the charity and made the filming process much easier, and (of course) both Eden Gate and Newport Night Shelter for letting me film them, as well as the inspirational people I interviewed.

The whole process was very eye-opening for me and gave me an insight into just what these people go through, and I was privileged to meet some of the amazing people the charity has helped who have turned their lives around as well as the incredible volunteers and Caroline Johnson, who started Eden Gate.

This is my first documentary so it’s not without its flaws, but I’m very proud of the end result and hope that you enjoy it just as much.

Half the World Away – Balancing Asperger’s and the University Life

In my previous blog, I talked about growing up with the condition Asperger’s Syndrome. One subject I talked about was moving away to university, how I have coped away from home and how it has helped me overcome some of my difficulties. I thought I would expand more on this topic to give people a glimpse of my experiences, in the hope it will inform people more of what it is like balancing university life with a condition and maybe (just maybe) inspire and encourage anyone either with the same condition or other similar difficulties who may be undecided about going to university. There are many people I know with the condition who haven’t had the same opportunity as I have which is why I am hugely grateful to be where I am today. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone with the disorder and many have got into university, but the main challenge for everyone afflicted is becoming properly independent for the first time and adapting to the social life that comes hand-in-hand with university.

A few years ago, the concept of me going to university seemed a lightyear away and many people close to me wouldn’t have dreamed of it happening, especially myself. I had admittedly poor social skills and zero confidence in school. I grew up in Cornwall spending much of my childhood in the countryside and later moving to Lostwithiel in my late teens, so didn’t have much access to the same social life other people my age had. The thought of moving away to a city so far from home scared me.  It wasn’t until my tutor in college encouraged me that university would get the best out of me and gave me the belief that I could do well in university, that I then decided to make the move.

I didn’t know what kind of career I wanted to go into or what I was good at. One thing I did know was I liked writing, mainly because it gave me an outlet to express myself. I also had an interest in news. Putting the two together, journalism seemed like an ideal career path to pursue. However, doing a journalism course would mean having to be able to talk to and interview people in order to find stories which was an obvious disadvantage. However, than I thought maybe this is a reason why I should choose this course rather than a reason why I shouldn’t. It would force me to step out of my comfort zone and test the limit of my abilities, and in the process improve my confidence and social skills.

When I applied for what university I wanted to go to, the main criteria was it had to be far away from my home in Cornwall. I had to move away from my safety net back home and be more independent, plus I wanted to get a taste of the city life that I didn’t have in Cornwall. Cardiff was my first choice. The journalism course looked exciting but before I even looked at the course and the university campus, I immediately fell in love with Cardiff the first time I visited the city. It’s a small city which made it easier for me and despite being a completely new environment, somehow I felt right at home straight away. I would be staying in student halls as well which would give me the opportunity to experience the social life at university.

The day when I found out I got the grades I needed and had been accepted into university was one of the happiest days of the life, maybe the happiest, and I remember feeling a range of emotions from purely excited to deeply nervous at the knowledge that I would actually be making the brave move from home for the first time in my life in just a few weeks. Going to university, far away from my quiet life back home and doing a journalism course, not to mention the concept of meeting new people from completely different backgrounds to mine – it was a huge, huge risk for me but one I knew I needed to take.

On my first day at university, I felt completely out of my depth. My new flat held a flat party inviting a few people on our floor and I was so nervous I could hardly speak to anyone. It was the exactly the same when I started my new course, and a couple of months had gone by and suddenly I could all of my coursemates clicking as one big circle of friends, and little groups of mates within that circle, and I didn’t feel a part of any of it. The lonely experiences of my school days came back to haunt me. Despite being in a busy social environment, I felt isolated and cut off from everyone, and I remember thinking that I already blew any chance I had to make new friends. It was that thought, and the fear I would forever be doomed as a loner, that spurred me on to be more confident and thrust myself into social nights out. I did exactly that. Within a week, I had made friends with my flatmates and by the end of term, I had started getting on more with the majority of my course.

Being at university, doing this course and living by myself in a big city has definitely helped me grow and develop as a person. I can definitely say since being here that I am more confident and laid-back, and a million miles away from the shy, withdrawn person I once was. There are things I can do now which I never could before and I’ve found so much about myself that I didn’t know I possessed. Many people didn’t think I could get this far and I owe all this to my belief in myself, my determination and the hard work in put in to get this far. However, I wouldn’t have achieved getting into university without the support and encouragement I had from the few who did believe in me. They are my parents, my brother and sister, the amazing lecturers I had in college and my tutor who encouraged me university was the best option for me. I have a lot to thank him for.

For anyone who is in my position and is contemplating whether to go to university at the end of their school, sixth form or college days, I can honestly say it is the best decision you will ever make and you will not regret it.

Half the World Away – Growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome

Growing up and getting by in the world is hard enough for anyone and everyone has their own unique challenges they face daily , but the challenges are ten times harder when you also have to cope with autism. This month is Autism Awareness Month which aims to generate a better understanding of the condition and highlight the issues those affected by the disorder face. I like to share my own experiences growing up with autism.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, which means I have difficulties with coping in social situations, communicating with people and carrying out day-to-day tasks other people would find easy. Being in a crowded, noisy or busy social environment can often make me feel uneasy. Also, I struggle with being flexible and often have to do things by routine, and any changes to that routine can often be stressful. Growing up, I’ve found it hard to meet people and make friends, and couldn’t understand what I couldn’t mix with people easily and why socialising was virtually impossible. There were all these unwritten rules of socialising that I didn’t seem to have access to. To reference a song by my favourite band Oasis, it can be like living half the world away, in an alien culture that makes no sense to you and people speaking a language you don’t understand. Being painfully honest, I felt lonely and isolated throughout much of my early life.

Nowadays, my difficulties have faded though not completely disappeared, I find it easier to cope and have made a lot of good friends. Most of my friends who don’t know much about my condition say that they can barely recognise it, and that it’s virtually invisible. However, deep down some of those difficulties are still there, I’ve just learned to hide them better. There are times where I still struggle, and even though I have made plenty of friends in the past few years I still harbour those old feelings of isolation.

I don’t see my condition as being a disability, but merely a different way of living. The best way I can describe it is it’s like being a three legged dog. The dog can still walk, but it just has to learn to walk a little differently. People on the spectrum can still do the things that ‘normal’ people can, but we have to adjust to certain things in a unique way.

Going to university has, for me, been a huge stepping stone to regaining my confidence and becoming the person I am today. There are many people with the condition who haven’t been given the same opportunities that I have, and I’m very lucky to be where I am today and to have had the amount of support I’ve been given. In a way, I’ve come from nothing and I wouldn’t have got where I am today if it wasn’t for not just the belief I had in myself, but other people’s faith in me and the confidence they instilled in me.

My biggest hope now is that more effort is made to inform people of and create a better understanding of this condition and how the right support can help those afflicted to achieve their full potential. I hope that more people with the condition are gifted with the same opportunities I have been given. When I was growing up, there was very little awareness promoted of the condition and people didn’t exactly what it was, and because people didn’t know why I struggled the way I did it made life very difficult for me. In the past few years, there has definitely been more information endorsed about it, but I still think there is a long way to go. There are still many people who don’t know anything about it, and often the condition had been misrepresented or negatively stereotyped in the media. There are many negative opinions about people with the condition, which only heightens the difficulties faced by people on the autistic spectrum.

Despite some of the constant negative stories I come across written about people with autism, occasionally I come across one story which restores my optimism. I recently read a news article on a girl with autism, who managed to organise her own charity awards ceremony all by herself, Holly’s Ball. Inspirational stories like this are just proof of the great things people on the spectrum can go on to achieve if they are given the right support, and reminds me why I have reason to remain optimistic about my future regardless of the hardships I face.

There’s an old Beatles lyric that in a way sums up everything I’ve said here. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly.”