My international tour to Switzerland was magical and a yearning for life’s lessons too - I should have faith in myself and efforts, even without the need for positive feedback or approval - and so, should you!
It’s day 1, and amidst the enchanting embrace of sunshine pouring through the mountain peaks, I stand resolute at the Quayside, a study in contrast, ideas swirling my brain like the gentle wash of waves kissing the wooden slats and rocks of the shoreline. I find myself beaming, closed eyes, face and arms raised, as if in prayer to the mountains, revelling at the promise for a new adventure. Embracing the mountainous task before me, and the mountainous faith I must find within myself to overcome this quaking anxiety that had settled within my soul.
Yet I was so filled with doubt. What if I am not good enough? What if I can’t do it?! What if…?
Looking back now, Switzerland was a magical adventure of beauty, peace and astonishing moments of clarity and empowerment where I was enabled to do what I do I do best - help others, understand the hidden depths of Autisms hardships and quirks, by understanding in a fun and interactive way, how an autistic brains neurological networks process information.
On my third day, I stand at the hull of a boat, recovering from a majestic and exhausting workshop the days before. Here I stood, in the realms of mystery and allure pondering the success and plights we had faced so far. All around me as we glide through water, the mountains stand tall like a muse, reflected in the glistening green lake, captivating me with the beauty hidden within my own shadows and my own Autism - the very depths, hidden hardships, and quirks, I had been so passionate to teach the students within my care. The dance of dark and light within us all, and how to mindfully help humanity’s beautiful diversity with a good intention to try.
The dance of light and dark has always fascinated me; what goes on within, our invisible plights and what goes on behind closed doors. Here, the mountains sooth my anxieties and imposter syndrome that I hadn’t done as well as I had hoped, and remind me to embrace my uniqueness, my efforts with gratitude, and accept these lesser-known paths with open arms.
The truth I had hidden from? I can’t let myself win- so even when I do everything perfectly and everything is incredible (like with the workshops) I still find fault - that’s trauma for you! - so I still pondered the previous workshop with a nervous heart, attest to my ‘failure’ and a head filled with nightmares and dreams. When I received the email from the school, I had toured last year I nearly cried in disbelief at the dawning of another path yet to be travelled. It was magical to be back in Switzerland and in Lausanne and Geneva and Montreux - so much familiarity - the same gorgeous luxury hotel, the same horse hooves over the Tannoy in the metro, the same sculptures, and the same trains and boats, the same journey to school, the same places to eat, the same beauty as astonishing as ever. Yet with all the familiarity came the wonder and curiosity of this new path, etched into our destiny’s map – New sights, new smells, new foods, and new beauty to witness and cry over. New demands and expectations and a whole new journey to take, as I struggle down this new path laid ahead of me, cobbled pebbles glistening in the suns welcoming glow. I have a whole new autism understanding interactive workshops to deliver based off of my new books insights - and I was so terrified! I have not delivered workshops based off my NEW book yet- and so the path was destined to me, a path of beauty, and still, it was a path for me yet to see!
I was so scared! So doubtful! so nervous! and yet, so very excited!
On the third day, even though I should have felt relief and excitement and inner faith, I felt these feeling of inner turmoil and lack of faith in my own efforts. For some reason I needed a positive affirmation to confirm to me what I already knew and so I stood at the boats hull, watching the mountains and reading the evaluation sheets with tearful eyes and wild giggles of relief, as the pages flutter in the winds fresh breeze.
And the most motivation I had ever felt!
As an advocate who is passionate about raising understanding of Autism, mindfulness, and mental health, I strive to capture these moments of stillness - the journey, not just the destination - how my heart beats, my breath feels, my skin embraced by the suns kiss and the breezes soothing snuggle. How the important part to remember about Autism, is the journey in which our neural network takes to process information, because processing information and the root of why we struggle with this, is the very umbrella and root of every other hardship we have. Therefore, the destination (our hardships) is not enough to help us truly understand and empower – we must understand the journey our neural network takes, to truly understand how to empower more. Switzerland and the school, with all its empowering staff members and respectful students, taught me so much of this masterclass in accepting what matters; life’s journey is all about learning and continuing to expand your learning adventure no matter how much you think you already know, because we should never do ourselves the injustice of believing we already know and understand all that there is to know. That’s why we learn from as many perspectives as possible and expand our horizons, beginning that mountainous climb with the inner faith that we can help, if only we try to. Especially when, in those shadows that twist and dance us away from light, hope can shine in the darkest and agonised of places. Agonised positivity is my lived reality – my Autism is my disability because it impacts every second of my life in a multitude of invisible, complex, painful and endearing ways, and my autism is also a gift because the two can coexist without cancelling each other out, because agonised positivity is still a place of resilience power and strength if we continue to learn from it. Looking from the shadows and dancing with the lightness of resilience and taking time to embrace these moments, allows us to make room for the timeless art within us, and challenging what it truly means to try, to have patience, to succeed, to love yourself, the have faith and to understand what it means to accept and have a gift. The moment we realise that we could be loving ourselves more or improving ourselves, is the moment we learn from our emotions, our anger, our anxiety and mistakes and start justice seeking. Capturing such moments of human weakness and twisting it to find power and beauty is something I adore as an advocate. You see weakness? I see beauty. The dark elegance is also in our perceptions - some see themselves powerful when they are cruel, but I see weakness. Some see Autism as only a disability, or only good, but I see both, because there’s no shame in that. Finding these moments of truth and power is like poetry to me. The tapestry of life with its intricately woven threads participating in a mesmerising play of art and beauty and power in its purest form - humanity and our diversity within. Our perceptions. How our brain works, so diversely to the norm, and why this diversity is okay and can still be empowered.
The soothing whispers of the lake, empowers me with this fresh reminder, amongst the pebbled shores of serenity and self-discovery – I should have faith in myself, because my efforts, even when I fail or make mistakes, were the same as when I succeeded. I shouldn’t need a positive evaluation or approval to have faith that I tried my best. Just like the tides, life takes us all on a journey of growth, teaching us to embrace the meandering wash with every plot twist and waterfall and glistening current that makes us feel out of our depth. Being out of my depth does not mean I am always drowning, I could just be treading water, floating, or even… swimming… and goodness, do I love the challenge of swimming! I wouldn’t know, unless I try, and I especially wont know if I don’t allow myself to have faith in my own efforts to stay afloat.
On this boat, as I look out after my first workshop at the School, I stand, for the first time in days, leaning against the boats side, hands clutching for dear life as my legs wobble like jelly on ice, I realise that I too, am a testament of the resilience found within us all. I found such resilience and respect and motivation in the students I taught. I found it as they listened with great care and interest, I found it as they participated in fun interactive activities to help them better understand how the autistic brain processes information and I found it in their beautiful and honest evaluations of what they learnt with me about Autism.
I hadn’t realised at the time how successful the workshop had been even though it had gone gloriously well - but once I read those evaluation sheets with their paragraphs of positive feedback, I suddenly realised that, like them, my hope and my dreams stand firm against the roaring crash of waves and self-doubt around us. My fear of time, taunting me, with the nightmare of failure, soon went on by to prove to me that I was worthy all along, because I had good intentions. Like the students, feeling anxious for something new at the start of my workshop and feeling like they may not enjoy or learn from the workshop when they first came into my workshop, time flew by and promised them, that yes, they could, and they would. Just like the waves of the current teaching us to go with the flow, time often goes on by and teaches us that even with the darkness we feel, we can find light and beauty and power in our perseverance too.
Our first workshop of 2023 was filled with nerves and anxiety. The students filed into the room all joking and chatting and they sit down, looking at me expectantly, I gulp, suddenly feeling like I might faint or have a seizure all at once. “Hi everyone! I so appreciate you all being here today! My name is Joely!” And as soon as the words left my mouth, my monologue began, and sure enough, my motivational speaking expertise sets sail, and the workshops flows by effortlessly. With each activity the students were all engaged and respectful, they listened and paid attention when I asked them to and all seemed quite keen in their own way to learn more. Activity one rolls around, and I have them watching a dramatization of how the autistic brain neurological network processes information, communicates and problems solves compared to that of a non-autistic brain and they were all fixated and intrigued. We discussed the labels autistic people may face as a result and how to role model kindness and had open discussions about stereotypes and the reality that even if you say, you would never bully an autistic people doesn’t mean you wouldn’t because most people bully anyone who is a little different to them; too shy, too vulnerable, too passionate, too nerdy, too whatever. It challenges their perceptions in a shame free manner, with a real-life example in a memorable way and you could see that, although we had only been working together for a few minutes, they were already fully in swing and motivated to learn more. Our second activity about the autistic persons hidden hardships processing needs to corresponding action and they all delighted in role playing the activity and learning about the individual hardships from an interactive and neurological perspective. From experience and also the evaluations, this was many of the groups favourite activity. We discuss the detrimental impact this can have on things like executive function and energy levels and that leads us straight to activity 3! They sit in obedient and patient silence mulling over their worksheets, each more engaged than the last as they establish how and what to do, and they come up to me, eagerly and proudly showing me their paperwork! “Look! I managed it!” they would say and I would smile and go through answers together. Others looked nervous as they reveal that they couldn't 'succeed' at the worksheet: "I had to make impossible choices! I would get in trouble with teachers or my family if I didn't do my classwork or chores, but I need to eat and shower!" and I reassured them that, regardless of the outcome, they tried their best to 'succeed' in the worksheet and that is where the winning and success really comes from- their effort to try was the same even though they deemed themselves as failures. Further we learnt as a group the value of our relationship with our efforts and our failures, because true acceptance and self confidence comes from the things we are bad at, and not the things we are good at. Quite an eye opening insight to these students who put so much pressure on themselves to be the perfect kid - so much pressure, when they are already perfectly imperfect. We discussed with openness the importance of valuing our efforts and energy levels. This is many of the groups second favourite activity as it showed a very real-life example of what autistic people face in terms of labels and judgments and why it’s not their fault that they may process demands and priorities differently. We move on to activity 4, and we created some insightful discussion of stereotypes and what autistic people face. Then we discuss the opposite of such labels. For example - if we are labelled as lazy and selfish and we are not lazy or selfish, what is the opposite of lazy? What is the opposite of selfish? And so they would discuss and write things like motivated and selfless or caring. Then, we discuss the power within us all to role model kindness and build up an Autistic persons capabilities by learning to remove our own bias and labels of autistic people to reveal what is underneath.
I delivered a speech to a powerful, fist pounding applause from the boys especially, and smiling, clapping encouragement from the girls and everything in between. We all settle into some amazing questions and answers, covering everything from gaslighting, ableism, cures, gifts, healthy relationships and so much more.
Then it’s all over. The students leave smiling and chatting and waving me goodbye as they thank me for teaching them, and as I watch them leave, a huge weight is lifted and I feel overwhelmed by the sheer relief that I had managed to do, what I had come all this way to do - empower understanding of Autism - and change lives while I’m at it. Some students were not on the school radar as being Autistic and I am thrilled that through my workshop and interactions with students they now have a better idea of how to offer more support. It was an emotional time, with students sharing the depths of their soul, and feeling safe to reveal their hidden realities that the school had yet not realised -they felt like a monster – a stark contrast to the strength and kindness I could see pouring out of them with their good intentions – our discussions were valuable and according to the school, they took those life lessons I taught them 121, home, with them, learning to advocate for themselves with their own families and create change too! Hopefully, they don’t feel like a monster as much anymore, hopefully they just feel Autistic, and all the beauty that entails.
All in all, the sessions were each more magical and amazing than the last, and yet it wasn’t until I read through those evaluations on the boat as we sailed upon Lake Geneva, so I could recover in beauty, that I realised just how special it was helping students to be the change by empowering them to change lives. The waves of hope create a beautiful voyage and this is a belief I held firm as I gazed from the boats stern, at the endless maze of mountains ahead of me, tears in my eyes after reading their amazing feedback and remembering the staffs positive feedback and gratitude. The life lessons, my international Switzerland tour reminded me, is that we should have faith – because we are not monsters when we fail or make mistakes, and our beauty can shine through because we have good intentions. We stand the test of time, just like the grains of sand, crumbling from the mountains, we are powerful, even when our efforts feel insignificant. We stand tall among the shifting sands of possibility and the waters of truth. Our inner beauty shines even with the darkness contradictions that we feel overpower us. Those waves can be dark, can feel like they will drown us, take us away from the healthy navigation of hope yet these mountains and this journey with my international tour reminds me to keep writing our stories, keep speaking out, because our voices are like song, our words are like poetry, and all this communication can help us embrace our diversity and those shifting sands of power and darkened depths. This tour and this school has also taught me, to appreciate the challenge in change. Sometimes we feel as if we have been swept away by the current and are fighting to stay afloat. We find ourselves washed onto unfamiliar shores where nothing makes sense, and everything is scary and the injustice loops and fixates until we cannot make head or tail. We must have a good intention to perch ourselves upon those forbidden rocks and look out to the coves of our fears, and emerge a harbinger of darkness, a mighty warrior on a quest for better. Even in the realm of shadows and treachery, fascination and that twisted dance of light mottled with dark can intertwine if only we keep trying to have good intentions.
Together we can climb our own mountains, sail our own storms and learn how to stay afloat in a way that’s healthy for us, we can stroke the sands of time, and not feel bad as it passes so smoothly and quickly through our fingertips – because in all that time running away from us , like sand in a sand timer, our efforts to try and have good intentions were the same, and so our faith is deserved. Above all, be proud of every step and every good intention you have because they all reflect your mountain of resilience, power and beauty within you even when you are filled with doubt.
Just remember, one day, you won't need an evaluation or approval to teach you to love your efforts and good will, so stay faithful, you are learning, and you are filled with power and beauty because of your good intentions! Switzerland is a place of a magical accessibility, beauty and serenity, and a place of learning and self-discovery too, helping me stand tall, as I captain my very own ship in life. Just like how I contributed to empowering the students, the school empowered me too, they gave me so many reasonable adjustments and flexibility and accessibility, that even I - someone who can only work for a few hours every month - could thrive and empower others to be the change too! This wonderful School and I, share many values - one of which, is to respectfully be the change, and change lives!
Peace out, friends x