Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Asperger's Sisterhood retreat.

On March 29, 2014 I, and two other lovely Aspie women (A and W) friends drove from the Sunshine Coast down to Manly, Brisbane. We drove into a drive way with a quaint looking building. It was held at the Presentation Spirituality Centre. The building had a lot of history to it which really appealed to me. I like buildings with history, they have a story to tell.

I wore my ‘Ask me about neurodiversity, it’s my special interest’ tshirt because I thought it was appropriate for the day. It turned out to be a great conversation starter. I am glad I wore it.
We got a photo of the three of us in front of the building before we went in.

We went into the presentation room and met R (the presenter), her husband and son. We were the first to arrive at just on 9am. I was so excited!!

We shook hands with R and her husband and did the general introductions and greetings.

I was excitedly nervous, like so excited that I could barely contain myself. I felt flappy but did not flap. I wanted to but didn’t know how it would be perceived by others. Ha ha! The irony. I realise I self-censor my stims a lot and that I do not have quiet hands, I have loud hands. I was very much looking forward to meeting the other Asperwomen who were coming along and interacting with them.

One by one the other women arrived. A, W and myself chatting happily amongst ourselves in the very comfortable padded chairs with armrests! They were awesome chairs. I took note of what each woman looked like and what they were wearing. I noted we all looked different but we shared a common neurology. I knew overall looks would not even matter at all and they didn’t. I of course cannot help but notice people’s appearances and clothes but do not judge. It’s a pattern noticing exercise for me, really. Nothing more.

We were all a bit shy around each other at first and did not get a chance to really talk much as R wanted to start the program. So we focused on the introduction which was several minutes. Then came the morning tea break and that was when I started talking to some of the other women. I was so excited I felt like I was going to explode. I could barely contain myself. I felt like an excited puppy and it showed!! Ha ha!

I met a woman at the morning tea break who was wearing a Neurodiversity tshirt which is from last years ASAN (Autistic self-advocacy society) for Autism Acceptance Month (April, 2013). We saw each other’s shirts and instantly connected in conversation. It was awesome. We realised we both liked Brene Brown which was another connection. Very cool. We were both really excited about that!

R called us back to continue the rest of the program. She told us about a woman called Caryll Houselander, who upon reading about her life and writings, Rachael had come to the conclusion that she was an undiagnosed historical Asperwoman. We sat enthralled listening to Caryl’s story and how she struggled to fit in and knew from a young age that she was different. Rachael shared some of Caryl’s quotes which were truly profound and insightful to the intense internal struggle that Caryl faced everyday. She overcame those struggles and forced herself to interact with people. From Wikipedia ‘During the Second World War, doctors began sending patients to Houselander for counselling and therapy. Even though she lacked formal education in this area, she seemed to have a natural empathy for people in mental anguish and the talent for helping them to rebuild their world. A visitor once found her alone on the floor, apparently in great pain, which she attributed to her willingness to take on herself a great trial and temptation that was overwhelming another person.’ Rachael shared how amazing it was that she had worked hard to work with people and help them even though she had no formal training. She was well known in her area as having a gift of being able to help others and help them re-build their lives.

R handed out questions on little pieces of cardboard with different quotes that Caryl had written about different aspects of her life. We separated into groups of three to discuss the question and share our answers. I did not go with the women who I came with. I wanted to meet and interact with some of the other women. I went with two other women who were sitting near me. K and L. Our question was ‘How has your difference brought joy to others?’

Two of us shared our experiences with how validating our diagnosis was and what that meant. It was amazing to hear a similar story from a another Aspie woman of how amazing diagnosis was for us.

I shared about how I advocate openly on FB and in everyday life and have a good little community of people following me online, who find my insights fascinating and helpful. I shared that I had been told a few times by online Aspie friends and even one NT friend how much they appreciated what I do by sharing my insights.

The other two in our little group seemed quite interested in my little story. I over-shared and talked too long so one woman missed out on sharing her story, unfortunately. I felt a bit bad about that. I struggle to know when to stop and how to summarise.

We got an opportunity to share with the rest of the group what each little group had discovered in our discussions. It was quite insightful and interesting hearing each group share a little of their insights. I cannot remember everything that was shared but I know I found it insightful and helpful to hear from other Asperwomen and their stories.

I chose not to share my story and what our group had shared as I felt I had already talked a bit too much so I did not, even though I wanted to. I never know if I am taking over and sharing too much, so chose not to share.

R talked about mindfulness and meditation - benefits. We did three short mindfulness and meditation exercises which were 3, 5 and 3 minutes each. Then we gave her feedback. I learnt a new technique for meditation - repeating a short phrase, in this case ‘All shall be well’ over and over to myself and focusing on my breath. I found speaking the phrase quietly to myself helped me focus and get into a meditative state easier. I have had previous experience with mindfulness and meditation which made it easier for me to do.

Then it was time for lunch. I started chatting to a few of the other women there. It was so awesome to chat with women who have been through similar struggles. I got so caught up talking that I almost forgot to eat. It was very exciting for me. I have never been in a room of so many Asperwomen at the same time. I clicked with all the women I chatted to. It was such a wonderful experience for me. I have never experienced that before.

I wanted to chat to EVERYONE! I was intensely excited and happy to be in a roomful of Asperwomen. I was a bit shy at first, but soon got over that. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to chat to all of the amazing women there. I really wanted to but it was just too hard to get around to talk to everyone. There was just not enough time and I did not have energy to do so. At the end someone suggested we all connect online and start a google or yahoo group. Which we are going to do. I am looking forward to this.

After lots of talking (which was tiring, but good), it was time for the afternoon session. The afternoon session consisted of R sharing a diagram about the different layers of who we are and how our true self is hidden under layers of other things that get in the way of learning who we are. It was interesting and helpful. She talked about how we need to uncover those layers through meditation and discover our true self.

Then we had a longer meditation session. This one went for 10 minutes where we once again repeated ‘All shall be well’ over and over, focusing on breathing. It was very relaxing, calming and centring for me. I did not think I would be able to do 10 minutes of meditation as I do struggle to sit still at times (especially when I am excited) but I managed it quite well.

We did this candle lighting ceremony to symbolise our sisterhood and the beautiful day we had had together. Each of us lit a small tealight candle using a long thin candle from a bigger candle. it was a beautiful set up with a rainbow chiffon scarf draped over a little table. It was so relaxing to watch the gorgeous scarf blowing in the refreshing ocean breeze. It was a visual stim for me. I took photos and a short video of the ceremony. beautiful calming music. It was to symbolise our sisterhood and how our neurology connected and united us. A very beautiful ceremony.

Then we took a group photo so we can remember each other and the day. Someone asked if everyone was ok to keep in contact with each other. R made an announcement to see if everyone was ok with connecting in some way via email or some type of group. Yes! They were! I am looking forward to connecting with the other amazing women that were there.

Afterwards I chatted to a number of lovely women - K, R, M, C, L, F and others. I have unfortunately forgotten some of their names but it was amazing being able to chat to each one. We added each other on FB and exchanged email addresses. I am looking forward to connecting and chatting more with these amazing women. I feel so blessed to able to have an opportunity to meet so many Asperwomen all at once in real life, not just online. I was almost the last to leave, I was having such a great time. I was sad that it had ended but all good things do have to come to an end.

It was funny, afterwards on the trip home. A and W told me about how I politely pushed R out of the way to get a photo of the lit candles. Apparently R was adjusting herself getting ready for a photo which I did not notice at all. I was so hyper-focused on taking a photos of the candles that I did not notice R getting ready for a photo. Ha ha! I was a little embarrassed and felt like I had been rude (definitely did not mean to be), but soon realised that we are all Aspie so would understand our social stuff ups. I definitely cringed inwardly a little when A and W told me what I did. They were laughing with me because really it is funny!

R shared a little of her own struggles of being an Asperwoman which I very much appreciated. She explained that years ago she would have freaked out over the slide show and remote not working (it had a few moments of not working) but now she is able to keep calm and move forward. I would have loved to hear a bit more about her own journey and understanding of self. Perhaps another time?

I also would have liked to have more group talking time to share our struggles, successes and really connect as a group of Asperwoman. I strongly believe that Asperwoman can and should mentor each other as we can all learn off each other. Perhaps next time?

Further reading:

Mindfulness changes the brain

Mindful and Asperger’s

Caryll Houselander

Caryll Houselander’s books

For the women who attended the AS retreat and who are reading this, if you wish to contact me (so we can create some form of online group) please email me here. Looking forward to re-connecting with you all again.

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