Jeanette Purkis - Autistic woman with (the right) attitude

07 March 2015 - Celebrating International Women's Day 2015

Guest Blogger: Jeanette Purkis

The first 25 years of my life were not easy. Having been bullied all through school, getting in with the ‘wrong crowd’ as a young adult and ending up in prison, I didn’t see myself in a positive light. Added to that, a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome at 20 and schizophrenia at 21 meant that other people - including those in positions of trust - told me there was little hope for me to achieve any sort of conventional success. I received the disability pension and lived in public housing. I was ashamed of my Autism and mental illness. I hated who I was and didn’t see much of a future for myself.

When I was 25, my attitude changed from that of self-destruction and negativity to one of ambition following my participation in a therapy program where people demonstrated their trust in me for the first time ever. Shortly after completing this course, I decided to become ‘ordinary’. To me, that meant to have an education, a professional job and a mortgage, with the optional addition of a suit. I enrolled in a  university degree. Before long I was gaining high distinctions at uni and soon afterwards was studying for my Masters degree in Fine Arts. In my travels, I befriended an Autistic author called Donna who encouraged me to tell my story of living a difficult life with undiagnosed Asperger syndrome. I finished the manuscript in no time at all and sent my 200 pages of catharsis to Donna’s publisher. They accepted it and my attitude towards myself changed once more.

I no longer viewed myself as a public housing tenant or an ex-criminal. I was now an author. Being an author changed my life, and not because it made me rich or famous  -it didn’t. What happened was far better: I saw myself as a worthwhile person who could achieve what I chose to. This was a new development for me and a welcome one at that. A year later I applied for a graduate job in the Australian Public Service and was successful. Once that attitudinal change around being an author had happened, I hardly needed to make an effort to change. It was as if that shift in focus had propelled me on a trajectory of positivity.

I am now an eight year veteran of public administration, complete with two promotions and awards for my hard work. I have more books published and travel around Australia speaking about my experiences as a woman with Asperger’s at conferences, schools and workplaces. I certainly do not feel ashamed of my mental illness or my Autism. Instead I am a proud advocate for people with disability and mental illness. In my own way, I use my experiences to change the attitudes of others - both those with Autism spectrum conditions or mental illness and their families, partners, friends and professionals who might work with them.  I firmly believe that with the right attitude and appropriate support, anyone can achieve what I have.


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