For as long as I can remember, my mother has been fascinated with butterflies. She equates them with being free, not having to stay any one place for a long time. I was surprised at this interpretation. For me, butterflies symbolize change and the ability to transform into something new. But I also agree with her, because not only have they transformed from the earth-bound caterpillar, they have learned to fly. It is in this transformation that they are free.
Transformation is hard work. People resist change, and fall back into old habits more often than succeed in their goals. It takes a keen self-awareness, and dedication and understanding of the incremental goals to reach the finish line. It is not uncommon to reach those hard-won goals, only to slide back into old habits and undo all of the blood, sweat and tears it took to reach the finish line in the first place.
Perhaps the problem lies with feeling that we need to transform in the first place. Many approach transformation – take weight loss as an example – to make them more attractive to others. A keen desire for self-improvement should serve your own vision. As soon as you let others in to that vision, you can set yourself up for failure. Your transformation can be tainted by the perception of others, their judgement, their insights. In my experience, it has caused me second-guess myself, lose momentum, or quit entirely.
I have spent my life being a “people-pleaser.” I was raised that way, that other people are more important than me, or my feelings, and image is everything. The ultimate goal was to fit in. To that end, I have chameleon-like social skills. Socially, I see it as my job to raise the spirits of others, to support their objectives, to be a friend even to people who have hurt me. Personally, my friends are utterly amazing. They understand understand and support me. Professionally I am not as successful, and it is the people-pleaser tendency, and the way my brain is hard-wired, that create the biggest obstacles.
Being a people-pleaser is a curse, and doubly so as an Autistic woman. Although it isn’t part of the DSM-5, I identify as a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome – or Aspie – for short. I struggle with cognitive empathy and can often misinterpret the intentions of others. I also struggle with a surplus of affective and compassionate empathy. It makes me a natural caregiver, which is good. It also, however, makes me a natural target to my peers professionally – no matter how much someone has wronged me, I still find some way to have compassion for their struggle and make excuses for them.
Like many other people taught to people-please, I hadn’t learned how to say no. Boundaries, as a concept, was unknown to me. So it’s not surprising that, despite approaching 50, I still learning how to be collaborative with my team while employing appropriate boundaries with my peers. Apparently I can appear to be aggressive (something that shocked me) when I assert my needs. I don’t know if that is simply their perception (as formerly I cheerfully did whatever was asked of me,) or if I need assistance in learning how to define my boundaries to my peers (something I thought I was doing in an assertive way already.)
In my mother’s defence, she was raised the same way and I believe she is also on the Spectrum. Perhaps that is why she is so attracted to the butterfly…it symbolizes a freedom she has never has never experienced. Despite her wanderlust, she has almost never travelled. She didn’t marry, she said she couldn’t be pinned down. On the surface, she looks happy, and content. She is kind to everyone, the definition of a lady. But she knows she has always been the odd one out, the black sheep, the outcast. She hoped to save me from that fate by teaching me how to fit in. If anything, her coaching defined that I didn’t.
This year I am going to focus on me. My hopes. My dreams. Developing boundaries in a positive way. And writing. I have always wanted to be a writer. Starting as a small child, I have been fascinated with words, etymology, and writing. I write almost daily, whether it be Facebook, or my personal journal, or assisting with editing a friend’s work. For me writing is not only a creative outlet, it is my art, my masterpiece, my joy. It is like breathing for me.
Writing for the public is less scary than I thought it would be. I started on Facebook, writing posts for closed groups of Autistic adults. The support was phenomenal. It has given me the courage to return to my dream and pursue writing for a living. I am starting this journey by returning to The Prairie Asperian, a blog I started last June, with great enthusiasm. I feverishly wrote the first article, and then promptly abandoned it. It makes no sense, I know. As an Aspie, it can be like Anxiety and Self-Doubt live with me, gaslighting me at every opportunity. I abandoned the blog out of Fear. Like so many opportunities in the past, I abandoned it because “Oh my God, what if I’m rubbish at writing?” It’s no way to live. So now Anxiety and Self-Doubt share a locked cell with Fear…and I have tossed the key aside.
Going forward I will be posting a new blog every week, on Sunday. Some of my posts will be about being an Aspie woman, others will be about me, some may be observations of the process of writing, some may be political, news worthy, or insightful bits as I see it. It may wander a bit, but change is rarely a straight line. I suspect my metamorphosis will be the same way. I’m shedding the cocoon, and the comforting safety it represents, and emerging transformed, brightly-coloured, authentic, free and ready to fly. I hope you, the reader, will join me, and I welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback – please send them to me at email@example.com. I will be sure to reply.