Bryanne Weaver Smith
I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2002, shortly before I graduated high school. In the 15 years since I was diagnosed I have grown in many ways. Pathways Core Training was and continues to be a significant part of this growth.
I found out about the training in the spring of 2012 while having lunch with my best friend. My friend was getting ready to graduate and was telling me about her Pathways experience and told me I should go. I noticed a change in her from previous times that we had hung out. She seemed kinder, more empathetic, calmer, and less rigid with her religious beliefs. She talked more about her feelings and the quality of her relationships. She seemed at peace with herself.
At this point in my life I was 28 years old. I had just moved out of my mother’s house permanently 11 months prior. I had been dating Thomas for about four months, and I was going to school and working two part-time jobs. I had a lot of friends in my church and was very busy between work, choir, school, church activities and my boyfriend. I would take my CCNA exam at the end of the month and pass it, putting me on track to having a career in IT. My life was at its best point yet and I felt proud to be where I was.
At the same time, I had many issues with my self-worth, sense of self, sense of belonging, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, sexual and gender identity, and feeling like I would never be okay in the eyes of God or in the eyes of my church. I did everything for the approval of other people, including my friend who suggested Pathways. I felt stuck in a lot of ways, especially when it came to emotional intimacy with my boyfriend and my friendships with other women. I felt traumatized by emotional abuse that I had experienced when I was younger. In a lot of ways, I felt stunted emotionally. I also hated myself because of my Aspergers and felt like I had to atone for my existence. Due to the need to conform and change myself to adapt to social situations frequently, I had no sense of self and had no idea who I was. During that lunch meeting with my friend I realized that maybe Pathways would help me find what I needed.
It would be nearly five months before I would start my training. Because I was a student and an employee at tech school, I needed to start in the summer and get a bulk of my training out of the way before classes started again in the fall. I also needed time to fill out the scholarship application for the Kayden Joy Fund (now called the Special Needs Fund) since I only made minimum wage at my jobs. And, being an adult with Aspergers and requesting help from the Kayden Joy Fund meant that I had to have a couple of phone calls with various people from Pathways. Due to some of our challenges and sensitivities, there are parts of Pathways that can illicit extreme reactions in people with Aspergers and be difficult for us. I respect the people at Pathways for keeping my safety in mind and ensuring that Pathways was a good fit for me. I also had to arrange my days off with my job and make other arrangements since I served in ministry every Friday night.
I was in training from July to October 2012 as a member of Class 302. The training was very difficult in some aspects, and quite simple in other aspects. I have never had a problem with honestly or being at heart level. I don’t play games with my speech, and though I try to be diplomatic with how I present things, if I am asked a question I will answer it directly. This proved to be a strength for me in my training because we were able to get to the heart of what I wanted and needed very quickly. Other strong points for me were my memory for facts and my ability to empathize. I would have conversations with my classmates and remember things about them that were important to their heart. I could also insert myself in many situations and understand the feelings of the people in the situations. Because of who I am, I was able to contribute to other people’s training in a positive way. Pathways was the first experience where I felt affirmed for who I was at my core.
The difficult parts of Pathways involved sensory issues with sound, some parts where I didn’t know what was expected of me, and dealing with complicated interpersonal relationships within my class. For the first time, I learned that people without Aspergers also have real issues relating to other people and that I wasn’t the only “odd woman out.” By working with and overcoming these difficulties, I learned that I didn’t need other people to give me permission to live my life. I could live my life on my terms, the way I want, and do the things I want. I discovered that I have everything I need inside of me to accomplish what I want and to overcome any situation. I also learned that I am responsible for taking care of myself, and that if others aren’t responsive to me taking care of myself so that I can function in a situation, they aren’t worthy of my time.
Going through Pathways also helped me connect with my boyfriend on an emotional level. Finally, I was able to relate to another person romantically. I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Thomas, and we got married in March of 2013 after 18 months of dating, and 8 months after I started the training. Thomas also went through Pathways shortly after I finished, and his Pathways experience helped him be more secure in his personal strength and less clingy with people. Like any married couple, we have our issues, but I believe our shared Pathways experience makes our bond stronger.
Pathways hasn’t made my difficulties with Aspergers go away. I still have many days where I get depressed and some days where my thoughts go where they shouldn’t, but because of my training I am aware of the path that leads me to those thoughts and I am often able to take myself off that path before it gets to that point. I know that depression and suicidal thoughts are very closely tied to self-care for me. It is vital that I get enough sleep and eat right. I also need to stay away from certain movies and articles that involve upsetting subjects, and I need to take a bit of downtime everyday where I can stim, move my body in ways that are comfortable, and wear comfortable clothes. These little rituals help me stay emotionally regulated, and they help me calm down from the day so that I can go to sleep. My biggest issue that I am working on right now is learning how to accept criticism and not fear failure. My self-worth still isn’t where I want it to be, and when I receive criticism it shakes me up. I fear failure because I fear the repercussions of failing. Because I’m now working in IT and making more than minimum wage, the stakes are higher if I lose my job. I am presently working through these issues with a counselor and I plan to make this my focus the next time I refresh.
My greatest gift that I see in myself is my new sense of self. When I used to look inside my heart, I would see a black hole. I didn’t know who I was, because I was constantly conforming to what others wanted. Now when I look inside myself, I see a beautiful songbird with beautiful red wings. I live, sing, and dance with freedom. I do my best to live a life that fits me best, not one that makes other people like me better. I have dropped some friends and many activities from my life since Pathways, but I feel better about myself. I feel saner, stronger, and more secure with who I am and who God created me to be. I no longer feel as if I have to atone for having Aspergers. I am who I am supposed to be, and there are no mistakes here.
I am grateful for the Special Needs Fund and the Deys family for using their personal journey to help others heal. This fund was vital for me being able to go through Pathways while still in school and working in food service. I know that I became the person I am today because of Pathways and the lessons I learned in those rooms. I have followed the Deys’ example of using my journey to help others by investing in young adults on the autism spectrum. I want to help others because I have been helped. I want other young adults to know that they can create a life for themselves that makes sense to them, that they don’t have to atone for their existence, and that they bless their environments by simply being who they are. These are the most important lessons I learned because of Pathways.