After I lost my mom to dementia, I had very little confidence in myself. I had no voice. People would express their opinions and I would never tell others my perspective because I had no confidence. I could not stand up for myself. If I tried, I would wind up crying instead. I let myself get bullied and get talked down to. In some ways, I was trying to be a people pleaser. I was shy and I would hang my head in shame when I talked. I did not value myself and relied on the opinion of others to describe myself until I found a supportive job, several years of work and a pandemic.
The pandemic has been a plus for my confidence. I work at Morning Star, Inc., a recovery center for those with mental illness. We provide peer support where people listen to others and share experiences. When my job closed down for a couple of months, we were in charge of calling people who came to center. I called center volunteers. I actually gained two new friends who always encouraged me. They became more than just friends to me; they became mentors too. They became so special and important to me. One became another father figure and one a grandmother figure to me. Their encouragement inspired me to have confidence in myself to want to learn leadership skills. I wanted to teach my co-workers what I knew about bookwork and office tasks. My teaching was very bumpy at first, but I found my groove and I am happy how things have gone. With my enhanced confidence, I taught others some math techniques to check their work. At first, my co-workers would make mistakes and I would have to check their work and show them where they messed up. Now one of them is teaching the other and helping find their mistakes.
I think it is very important to collaborate and communicate with one another. After I taught others the bookkeeping, they were able to do important reports for our main grant provider without my help. I believe everybody is teachable. A good leader shares their knowledge. I wanted to become a Peer Support Specialist. This process required many tests and I was able to get my certification. Moreover, I helped someone else prepare to take the tests which made me feel I was becoming a better leader. I took additional online training to expand my skills. I also participated in a zoom mental health conference. It opened my world and it helped to build my confidence.
One of the other things at my job that has helped me build confidence is that I started an adult support group. It may not meet regularly, but I keep tabs on those individuals by phone and the process has helped me on my journey of self-discovery.
One of the setbacks I faced at my job changed the course of my life. There was an incident at work. It involved others along with my father-figure mentor. He couldn’t be in my life anymore. He was gone. This influenced the course my life was taking. It brought me emotional pain and dented my confidence. It was a really hard and sad time for me. In response to that, I decided to challenge myself to bounce back and to become an advocate for those with mental illness and autism. I searched for ways to do that by looking for autism groups and other mental health groups where I could be involved.
I found three groups; Autism Society – The Heartland, Toastmasters International, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where I found plenty of resources. With Autism Society – The Heartland, I went to adult and parent support groups and I shared my story with others. I started an adult autism group there and it has been going great. As time went on, I helped with office work. They asked me to contact businesses for donations for various fundraisers. I surprised myself because one day I contacted 80 businesses by email. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because I never thought I could do that.
I joined NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. My participation in this group has honed my leadership skills. I am taking several training courses and I hope to gain confidence to socialize and help teach others about what I am learning. I aspire for a job that deals with others and allows me to expand my skill set.
I joined Toastmasters International to become a better speaker for my advocacy journey. I am so glad I became involved with Toastmasters International because I’ve made new friends. I never thought I would want to become a speaker after high school or college. I also took on a couple of officer’s roles in Toastmaster clubs. I became the Treasurer in one group and a Secretary of Education in another. The Officer of Education helps members to be recognized for their achievements.
With my growing confidence, I began writing about my life experience to help others. I recently had the opportunity to help others in a big way. Through Toastmasters, I gave a talk to parents of children in Malaysia. I talked about positive influences in my life and answered questions. I did fine, but I hope to get better at this type of exchange as more opportunities come up in my life. I got feedback that I changed parents’ perspectives about the situations they are in by my sharing of how important it is to just love your child no matter what. The feedback made me feel great. This was a fulfilling experience and it makes me want to keep expanding.
The best part of all of this was that my friend, mentor and father figure came back into my life (it was a happy moment) after I became involved with my new organizations. He and my grandmother-mentor figure are always behind me. They were there or in spirit for the speech I gave to the parents in Malaysia. I am also learning that I can be independent and rely on myself with increased confidence.
My experiences and success have fueled my confidence and have inspired me to greater challenges. I have to make sure that my newfound confidence doesn’t make me arrogant and that I lose my patience with others. I continue to learn about standing up for myself; even when dealing with difficult individuals with big personalities. I have to continue to learn ways to diffuse disagreements and to not let situations get out of hand. If there is conflict, you have to find ways so there are not casualties. It is important to know that one can stand up for themselves and still show compassion and problem solve.
By learning to be a better problems solver I am capable of making things better. I am learning not to apologize for my perspective when I disagree with someone; they are entitled to their opinion but so am I. I can show humility and courage in those situations. Moreover, by working with others, in spite of our differences, we can succeed together.
I feel like I am getting stronger every day and am ready to take on more of the world. I won’t let myself or lack of confidence get in the way. I can take on advocacy issues head on. That is my goal.
My name is Angela Chapes and I am an autistic adult with anxiety and OCD. I have had depression in the past. I am 39 years old. I was not diagnosed with autism until my late 20’s. It was years later that I started figure out who I was. Thanks to the positive and supportive people in my life. I have a very encouraging job. I am transforming and growing at lightning speed. Learning all I can about leadership, advocacy and other organizations that can help shape my future. I want to be a voice for individuals with autism and mental illness. I love being busy, writing and speaking.
For more information, you can email Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org.