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How I Choose To Define Myself

by Jo Redman.
Patron of Anna Kennedy Online talks about journey with Asperger's Syndrome. 

 

 Photo of Jo Redman with her dog Becks
Jo had a close bond with her dog Becks through difficult teenage years

 

We sometimes go through life looking for things to define who we are and I think this was one of the biggest problems I had growing up, I didn’t fit. I tried hard to be everything I wasn’t and did my best to impress people as a way to be accepted and as hard as I tried it never seemed to work. I was the subject of ridicule and scorn or worse disappointment and frustration by people in all areas of my life. They didn’t understand me and the way I saw things and I didn’t understand them. I grew up undiagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and at many points in my life I felt lonely and isolated.

 

As a younger child I was very quiet, in fact you would rarely get a word out of me when in public or with strangers but at home I wanted everything my way. One of the earliest memories I have of being different to the other children in my class was being asked in the first year of school to draw a map. All the other children proceeded to draw nice roads with houses and trees at the sides of the roads and cars driving along, then myself on the other hand I drew lots of squiggly different coloured lines. I recall being quite proud of my drawing, the teacher being slightly bemused and the other children mocking what I had done. The only map I had ever seen had been the road map my parents had and this was what I had tried to replicate and in my mind I had done an excellent job, I was right and all the other kids were dumb drawing little houses, didn’t they know you don’t see houses on road maps? Once I had sort of explained this to the teacher I do remember the teacher turning to the girl next to me and telling her that I hadn’t done it ‘wrong’ – now reflecting back on that after 20+ years and having been told my way of doing things is neither right nor wrong just different...I guess the teacher had got it right in some respect.

 

 Photo of Jo Redman writing as a child.
Jo has always loved to write since a young age.

 

Growing older through school things just got tougher, every time I got used to how things were they seemed to have changed the next day. I ended up becoming very depressed and anxious as it became more and more obvious to me how much I didn’t fit in. The more the girls in my age group started to talk about feelings, emotions and ‘liking’ certain boys the harder it got, I couldn’t talk about how I felt at all. By the end of senior school I would go through whole days not speaking to anyone at all. I was causing great concern to my teachers and also to my parents who found I would come home from school and then shut myself in my room all night. It got to the point at school where the teachers when going round the class asking everybody to volunteer an answer would purposefully skip me as they knew I wouldn’t answer. Predicted at least A’s in the majority of my school subjects I underachieved with B’s in nearly every subject, which considering I had done little to no revision and struggled a lot to concentrate in classes wasn’t too bad. I remember vividly being given a timed essay to complete in GCSE English class which I had no interest in writing so instead chose to write a timed essay of my own choosing which the teacher was only semi-impressed with. I had no idea where to start with my revision, no structure, no plan, no method – it just never seemed to happen for me.

 

 Photo of Jo Redman with her Mum and dog Becks as a puppy.
Jo's dog Becks as a puppy with Jo and her mum.

 

After leaving school I had no idea what I wanted to do, by this time I had already met and was in a relationship with my husband – we met in sixth form and became best friends before we were a couple. I had decided against going university as it seemed pointless when I didn’t know what I wanted to do and when I had so many things keeping me in the area and I just fell into an office job. These jobs were a difficult experience for me particularly after I was made redundant from my first job. Adapting to work culture was not easy in the slightest, working out what was acceptable and what wasn’t. My colleagues didn’t understand some of my behaviour which got worse after my mum became ill (eventually diagnosed with MS), in fact my reaction to this was pretty delayed and the enormity of the situation didn’t register for quite some time. I broke down spectacularly and it was this that eventually led to my diagnosis after years of intervention.

 

 Photo of Jo and Adam Redman at school prom.
Jo and future husband Adam at their sixth form prom.

 

Diagnosis seemed to give me something with which to define myself. I was now Jo Redman, a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. It was certainly my reason for finding certain things more difficult but it very nearly became my excuse for not doing things. I had never expected to be diagnosed with Asperger’s and didn’t really know what it was so I began to research fairly heavily and the more I found out, the more my life started to make sense. It became a relief to know that essentially there was nothing wrong with me, I was just different and the psychologist said to me the way I behaved, reacted and thought was not wrong but nor was it right, it was just different to how other people might sometimes behave, react and think and that that was ok. And really that was the first time in my life, at 23 years of age, that someone had told me it was ok to be me. At around the same time a friend of mine also told me that life was about choices, if you don’t like something in life you have two choices, you either accept it and get on with it or you choose to change it. And those two things really shaped what happened next for me. I started to accept and even embrace myself and who I was, my husband and I worked out things we could do to make life easier for us and to enable me to become more independent. We created processes for household chores and a timetable to show what I needed to do and when. I carried on trying to fit into office jobs until I realised that this just wasn’t working for me, I was stuck doing jobs that did not challenge me and I found boring. I didn’t want to be stuck in an office.

 

 Photo of Jo with arms raised as World Champion.
Jo winning her second world title in Montreal, 2012

 

Becoming diagnosed with Asperger’s really signalled a new start to my life. With the worry about who I was now gone and replaced with understanding all these things started to open up for me. I became more focused on the things I wanted to achieve and in 2011 I achieved the one thing I had wanted and wanted since I was 13, I became a kickboxing World Champion. I’d started kickboxing with my dad at 13 years old and decided then that I was going to get my black belt, fight for England and become a World Champion – I have done all three. Kickboxing has given me so much, I train with the BCKA in Northamptonshire, England under Alex Barrowman and being part of this club has done so much for me – it has given me a place where I feel I belong and where I fit. I have been trained to never give up and keep pushing for more and once I won my first world title this has been something I have been able to apply across other areas of my life. Suddenly I had a new way with which to define myself, as Jo Redman a World Champion with Asperger’s Syndrome. The feeling of this achievement was amazing and I became almost addicted to this, the amount of work, training and sacrifice that had gone into what I had achieved just made it feel so much better. If I didn’t have Asperger’s I’m not sure I would be a World Champion, Asperger’s gives me the ability to focus so strongly on my training, the attention to detail I have enabled me to pick out what I needed to improve from videos of my fights and my accuracy gave me the skill to be precise with the timing and placing of my punches and kicks. But as well as all those good things there are also things Asperger related which make doing my sport harder – I take criticism a lot harder, if I have a bad training session it stays with me a lot longer and affects my confidence, I struggle with the travel to international tournaments and sometimes with the noise and social aspects of being away at tournaments. I have to prepare myself very specifically and not a lot of my team mates fully realise this, I’m not able to live at a fast social pace.

 

 Photo of Jo and dog Becks with some trophies.
Jo with some of her early trophies and dog Becks.

 

With my world title secured I made a momentous decision to embark upon a career in sport and remedial massage, something that I had thought about before but dismissed due to my social skills. I left my job and started a course which was a massive achievement for me and also a huge risk. In October of 2012 I successfully defended my world title in Canada and sat my exams for my sport and remedial massage qualification – the combination would have defeated most people but I was determined to succeed…and I did. So now not only was I Jo Redman World Champion with Asperger’s Syndrome but also Jo Redman World Champion, Sports and Remedial Massage Practitioner with Asperger’s Syndrome. Since passing my exams I have set on another path to achieving another goal in setting up my own business (Top Form Sport & Remedial Massage) and in developing as a public/motivational speaker (something that as a kid in school I would never have imagined myself doing). This year I have spoken to 600 people at Autism’s Got Talent, a show put on by Anna Kennedy Online. Following this I spoke again at the Autism Show where Anna Kennedy asked me to become a patron for her charity. Again another way in which I could define myself.

 

 Photo of Jo Redman with Anna Kennedy meeting Victoria Pendleton.
Jo and Anna Kennedy meet Victoria Pendleton at the House of Commons.

 

I would say that the Asperger’s Syndrome was becoming less and less important as a way to define myself but this is not true, Asperger’s is part of who I am but it does not solely define me. I am now a successful person but this does not define me either. I am not defined by what I have done, by diagnoses or labels but more by who I choose to be and what I choose to do next. Growing up I didn’t think I would get married or pass my driving test but somehow I have done this and more. So what defines me is my determination and tenacity to succeed and give everything in order to fulfil my ambition and my potential – that in part is down to Asperger’s.

 

For more information on my kickboxing achievements and myself in general please see www.joredman.com, for more information on my business www.topformremedial.com

 

 Photo of Jo and Adam Redman on their wedding day.
Jo and Adam's wedding.

 

 

Article by Jo Redman
This article was received on the 19th August 2013

 

 

 

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