“Your work is to discover your world and with all your heart give yourself to it.” ~Buddha
Let me paint a picture for you, instead of clouding this post with emotion. To be more specific, I think I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and even if I wanted to cloud it with emotion, I would probably fail to convey the correct ones.
I was born in Zimbabwe to well-educated and financially comfortable parents, which is as lucky a background as some people on this continent get to have. Unfortunately, my parents were also incredibly emotionally distant, and my earliest memories include several instances of domestic violence.
Fortunately, they very rarely lived in the same house at the same time; we were usually a two-household family.
My father, in the end, died of AIDS, and I’m not in contact with my mother or any reatives because they don’t want to talk about the abuse, the disease, or anything that happened within our family.
I’m happy to accept that they are uncomfortable talking about it. After several years of struggle, I have learned a lot about my parents that teaches me what amazing people they were—and I am grateful to have been born into this family, because there was an incredible flip-side.
Although my parents were emotionally distant, they pushed me intellectually more than any parents I have ever met.
My mother relates a story of having purchased a VHS player in the United Kingdom when we lived there. At the time I was apparently around two or three years old.
I pestered them about where the cartoon characters were, because I wanted to play with them. They dismissively told me that the cartoon characters lived inside the video machine. I waited until they were gone, and I remember painstakingly prying that VHS player open, so that I could have someone to play with.
Instead of being annoyed or angry, my parents were amazed. From then on, they pumped me full of intellectual material. I remember reading Hemmingway and Cousteau to my mother while she obsessively cleaned the house before I was even in middle school. It was incredible.
It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that I chose to study medicine, or that I succeeded.
Sadly, my motivation was that the subject matter promised to be difficult. I was disappointed. I managed to pass my courses without attending lectures, and I spent most of my university career locked in my room, trying to drown or smoke my bad childhood memories away while playing computer games.
Even when I graduated, which was considered a sort of miracle by my lecturers, I walked into a world that was not where I wanted to be.
It was harrowing. Instead of feeling proud of myself, I hated the fact that I had to stay awake because people couldn’t be bothered to take care of their own health.
I hated being mistaken for a nurse because I was female. I hated having to do rectal exams. I hated being insulted by every single patient because I was native African, but can’t speak an African language.
In fact, I spent most of my time outside of the hospital getting high and teaching myself Japanese as a way to escape.
After two years of this, I figured I would be better off in an IT job. After all, I had spent my childhood in front of a computer—I get along better with machines and books than I ever have with people.
I got a job at Accenture, and I was so amped to be a techie that I threw myself in full-force! Except again, I was disappointed. I was forced to learn social skills by virtue of interacting with people constantly for two years, prior to which I had very few friends and spent most of my time alone.
It’s not that I wanted to have good social skills; they were just there. These came in handy during this job, but something even more sinister happened: I made friends.
In itself, this was a wonderful thing, because it taught me the importance of having friends. The problem, however, is that people who made friends with me during my time at Accenture thought I was a friendly and social person. I’m not a friendly and social person, and I love myself just the way I am—hard as it has been to get here.
I prefer spending time alone. In fact, I dread going to social gatherings. I am not insecure—if anything, people frequently tell me that I am unduly arrogant—and I have been to a number of psychiatrists who have pumped me full of all sorts of expensive medication, none of which has made any difference to the fact that I prefer being alone.
Amidst all of this drama, something incredible, powerful, and amazing happened.
I decided it was enough. Sure, at the time I was in a job where I felt underappreciated and my boss was a jerk, but that was just superficial. Deep down inside, about a year ago, I finally let go.
I finally decided I was no longer going to push myself to do the hardest things, just because I thought they were hard. I refused to earn above a certain figure just because people said it was the right thing to do. I quit my job on impulse, and chose to believe that the universe would guide me in the right direction to enable me to bring the greatest benefit to mankind.
I stopped listening to everyone who told me I could have a boyfriend if I changed everything about myself. I just closed down entirely and limited my entire world to my flat and what I was going to do about my life. I cut off all internet access except my daily subscription to the then-recently discovered Tiny Buddha.
It was magical.
It was uplifting.
Instead of trying to expand my world and chasing after things that other people thought were admirable goals, I stepped back.
I now have an amazing job. I translate medical articles from Japanese to English, which uses all my medical training and my self-taught Japanese. I work from home, which gives me the space I need from people. I have learned to take care of myself and my body because it makes me feel good.
Every step of the way, I had support and understanding. There was always somewhere I could go to—Tiny Buddha.
More importantly, I’ve learned that the hardest thing to do in life is to be yourself—to know, understand, and love yourself for everything you are.
I’ve had months where I don’t even know if I’ll be able to pay the rent, and I’ve had months where I worked incessantly to make more money than I knew what to do with. It really made no difference to the outcome.
The truth is, when I slowed down and started focusing on what is really important, I always found a way to pull through. I didn’t have a support group or people to talk to, I didn’t have positive coping mechanisms. I just believed that I deserved to receive the best the universe had to offer, and it happened.
The most important thing you can ever do for yourself is to take a step back, examine your life, and see if you like where it is going. It’s not easy to change that pathway, especially when the whole world tells you that you’re crazy.
On the other hand, when you get to take a step back a year later and you love the way your life is going, it makes you feel more awesome than doing nothing ever can.
*Since I started reading Tiny Buddha a year ago, I’ve always wanted to write a post. Fortunately, I have managed to exercise the patience to hold back for an entire year, in order to be able to reflect on the changes that I’ve undergone during this time.
I feel it appropriate that I get this opportunity to thank the Tiny Buddha community, simply for being itself and being a warm, loving sanctuary for anyone who feels alone or confused in the world.
Photo by egor.gribanov