4 November 2013

World Champion...Again - Not As Easy As It Seems

Well I went to Italy and came back World Champion, my third world title.  And I am pleased to have achieved this, really pleased but that week was a tough week.  I should be really proud of how I handled it but last couple of weeks I have felt a little bit sad about it and I wasn't sure if I should write about it because at the end of the day I came out of it as a World Champion but this is exactly the reason I set up my blog for, to write about and bring awareness to things like this.

Going into a competition as the reigning two times World Champion it gets difficult.  There is the pressure of being the champion and people expecting you to win but also there is that how do you measure yourself and how do you show you get better?  Personally I measure against myself and my previous performances, so I set myself my own standards to beat.  Last year I had injuries and didn't feel fully fit, this year I did and I wanted to fight as well as I could - that's what it is all about putting on your best performance on the big stage and sadly I didn't feel that I quite did that.  As a person with Asperger's I find it difficult to let go of disappointments and need to understand why things happen like they do.  So I ruminate and dwell.  

I have said in speeches and in things I have written that it wasn't easy for me doing what I do and that there are barriers caused by Asperger's to my sport.  But even so sometimes even I forget these as "normal" and think really?  In Italy I was unlucky, a lot of things happened out of my control that all together meant that the issues I have were more prominent for me where normally I cope so well.  I rarely feel so on the spectrum as I did that week and chances are few people actually really noticed this.

Anyone who has Asperger's or autism in their lives, whether it be themselves or family, will understand the importance of or even how vital plans are.  I have to have everything planned out, step by step how I expect it to happen, I love my processes and knowing how things are going to work.  By now I get the plan and process of going to a world championship, this was my fifth time but I still need to reaffirm and go over that plan before we go away just to remind myself and to take into account travel plans.  I dont like to be away from what is familiar to me.  And this year things were different. 

I have been fighting with my team for over 10 years now and for the first time ever unexpectedly my coach was unable to come with us due to illness.  Before we even left I really didn't like this, it didn't feel right, I'm sure a lot of my team felt the same but for me it wasn't part of the plan and a major change.  I don't like changes to the plan.  We still as a team had to carry on but I really felt the loss of him not being there.

We set off and it took us 15 hours to reach our destination in Italy.  Now I'm sure there are few people who would actually enjoy a journey like this but can you imagine spending all that time in airports waiting around if you are on the spectrum or have a family member on the spectrum?  You guys will know exactly what I mean.  The journeys are usually long and I use diazepam to help me cope in airports, I needed two lots of medication on the way out.  All it does is chill me out so I don't reach the point where I shut or melt down.  I'm still coping with the sensory input and social stuff going on around me to an extent and I still present as I would normally albeit more spaced out.  I was diagnosed late in my life and have learnt to just "get through" things with minimal fuss despite how much pain it causes me, and you can't always tell when I'm in pain.  I have people say Jo why don't you do this, try this or ask for this - those things never occurred to me before because its not something I knew I could do.  So I wore sunglasses in the airport this year, which massively massively helped.

At the end of this journey was weighing in, possibly what I find the worst part of the whole fighting experience - my feelings and issues on weighing in are covered in my book, so I won't spoil it!  I get really anxious about it worrying I won't make my weight, despite this having never happened to me and there is a lot of waiting around which makes it like hell.  Not making my weight to me would be disastrous because I would not be where I was supposed to be, again it would be another deviation from the plan but on this occasion and as usual my weight was spot on.

So once that was over I thought I can relax now, eat what I like and look forward to fighting.  Wrong.  There was no choice of food.  And the food that was there was ridiculously priced.  Obviously another inconvenience for everyone but on the spectrum I had a plan of the kind of food I wanted to try and eat and when and I couldn't do this.  I respond like a child when I'm not able to do the things I want to do because I can't cope with it, so instantly I hated everything and my husband had a real nightmare on his hands.  The place to eat was full of everyone in the hotel all trying to get some food, buffet style - queues, lots of background noise which is hard for me to filter out.  I struggled a lot in there, I felt on edge, anxious and sick everytime we were there.  All of which probably only my husband would be able to tell.  The meals I had were not meals, they were random foods thrown together, a little bit of this or that on a plate.

Part of my plan for the week was that I was going to fight on a certain day, this didn't happen.  It was different to my plan and that was really tough for me to cope with.  I'd built myself up psychologically, prepared physically and it didn't happen.  That change in the plan again was one thing but there's also the need I have to fight.  Fighting relieves my stress and after a long stressful journey the sooner I have a good scrap the better.  Instead this time these feelings were left to build up.  I like to work my way through competitions and go through the process, on this occasion I went into the process at a later stage and for me that was difficult to cope with.

Then where we would be fighting, in a marquee in a field.  This was not so bad, there were the usual crowds of people shouting, cheering and clapping which is painful to me but which I am accustomed to, expect and cope with using my iPod and taking time out if I can.  The issue here was the lighting, the marquee was lit up by bright halogen lights shining onto the fighting mats.  They didn't startle me but they did feel like they were burning into me when I fought.  And when I fought for the first time I can remember there was no escape.  Normally fighting relaxes me and I lose track of all the shouting and what's going on around me, this time these lights were drawing me out of that place that I like to be in and it was as frustrating as hell.  I trained so hard, travelled all that way and I didn't feel like normal when I fought.  And because of that I hated myself.  Again most people are probably now thinking why?!  But when it comes to fighting, the thing I love to do the most, my feelings are always extreme.  I don't always notice how I feel until I feel in an extreme way and I blamed myself for being on the spectrum for not fighting as I wanted, for stopping me from escaping and taking away those moments I usually enjoy so much.   It was my fault because I had Asperger's and those issues were there because of that - which doesn't make sense but gives an indication of how extreme I felt.

Of course as well there were the social things to deal with too.  I love my team, who did amazingly well bringing back around 40 medals between 22 of us, and I do feel part of my team but when it comes to the social stuff I sometimes feel like a complete idiot.  It's hard to sit and not know how to get involved.  The fact I don't drink probably makes it a little harder.  At the after party again I hated I had Asperger's, like nobody liked me because of that - which is of course stupid but that's just how I feel sometimes because I'm frustrated and I feel like the odd one out.  The social stuff was harder because everything else had been harder.

Anyone who has heard me speak or who has had a conversation with me about Asperger's will know that I am entirely positive about who I am and that having Asperger's is part of that - so you know things were bad if I'm saying I hate myself because I have Asperger's right?  Any parent of a kid with Asperger's who has said this will know those are some hard feelings to be dealing with and I still am now.  It won't last long, it never does but it does happen and I can't not be open about those feelings now because these moments make me who I am too and if I hide them doesn't that make me ashamed of them?  I'm not infallible, I'm not perfect and I don't have all the answers - I have to show both the good and the bad.  On returning from Italy I had lost sight of my achievement and I couldn't recognise that I did well to get through the week but I do now.  Now two weeks on I'm still drained, exhausted and feeling the impact of the travel, the tough week and the months of preparation.  I'm struggling to adjust to a life without the focus of the world championships and to be social again after a week spent pushed to the limits of social interaction.  I've been quiet and withdrawn - this is not me ignoring people, I'm just too worn out to cope with people.  I'm proud to be a three times world champion but I'm also tired and not feeling my best.  This is all part of me and part of living with Aspergers and that's why I had to share this. 

Once again I'm really grateful to all those who supported me in getting to this competition and those who supported me once out there in whatever capacity.  That support means a lot to me and is crucial.  I love to compete on this stage and some of the challenges I faced are always there and expected but this time I struggled more with the process as there were some additional challenges I didn't expect or foresee.  This is all part of life and learning and I have chosen to write this because being on the spectrum it is important to me to bring awareness to issues like these that might otherwise not be seen.  Just because they are not as visible it doesn't mean they aren't there.  I want to congratulate all my team mates on their success too and to thank my husband for keeping it all together for me that week.

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