Why I Am Proud To Be French – Re-affirming Identity In The Aftermath Of Tragedy

It has been quite a while since I last wrote a blog post, and to be honest it had been somewhat hard to think of something coherent to write about. I often get all these random thoughts running through my head, but not quite enough to piece together in a blog post.

Then Friday 13 November occurred in Paris.

The first that I had heard about it was waking up on Saturday morning and checking my phone, and seeing all these reports on Twitter about shootings and hostages all throughout the Parisian city. And I was glued to social media for pretty much the whole day. As with any major situation that unfolds like this, it is like a watching a train wreck – too horrific for words, and yet you cannot keep your eyes away from it.

But as I was soon to find out, this hit me a lot deeper than I realised, for a number of reasons:

  • These were my fellow countrymen that were targeted, so brutally, cruelly, and unnecessarily;
  • It occurred in the city with which I share a very special connection (in fact, one of the reasons I moved to Melbourne in 2005 was because of the similarities that it had with Paris, a city I had been to twice in my life);
  • All my extended family live in France (both my mother’s and father’s sides), so I also have deep familial connections.

I taught six classes on that Saturday, and somehow I managed to get through them all without completely breaking down. By the end of it though, grief had overcome me. And when you’re an Aspie, those feelings come on quite strongly, almost to a point where you don’t know quite what you’re feeling and how to best handle it.

Here I was trying to register everything and come to terms with the shocking brutality of what occurred. And as all my Facebook friends have seen, my posts have been non-stop. I do this so that I know that my friends and family are there in this time of sadness (likewise I have other French friends that are feeling similar to me right now, and I have to be strong for them too).

The below photo shows both my Australian and French passports. The latter is one for which I experienced drama after drama for a number of years to obtain, so when I finally got it back in June this year, my pride in my French heritage was fully renewed.

  
That renewed sense of pride is another reason why the recent attacks have hit me so hard – I am a French citizen, and that attack struck through the heart of all French citizens worldwide. Just because I was born and raised in Australia does not mean I do not feel any less French (the blood runs fully and strongly through my veins).

Tonight there was a beautiful vigil at Federation Square to honour and commemorate all the victims of the tragedy. I estimate there were at least a few thousand people congregated to listen to the beautiful speeches made, including from the Deputy Premier of Victoria as well as the French Honorary Consulate-General of Melbourne.
There was also a rendition of the national anthems of both France and Australia, and I can honestly say that I have never been so proud in my life to sing La Marseillaise. In fact, being surrounded by my fellow French comrades and hearing them sing as well was quite an emotional moment.

  
The above monument had been created when I returned to Federation Square a bit later tonight. Being that close to it gave me goosebumps, seeing all the outpouring of grief and sadness, but yet also signs of hope and peace, and the longing for everyone to band together and stand up against the atrocity that threatens every single one of us.

I will be returning to France in the near future to spend some time with my family and also to visit Paris and re-establish the connection (the last time I had visited was 1997, so it will be a long overdue visit). When I do that, I will share that journey with you all, as there are a lot of beautiful things to be shared amongst everyone.

To everyone who has reached out to me over the last couple of days, I appreciate and thank you all for your concern. It is very touching to know that people can acknowledge the grief and stand by one another in these dark times.

Before I conclude this post, I’d like to ask just one request of you all who are reading this – please do not give in to hate, but instead fight it with love and compassion. Hate is what the enemy seeks from us. It uses hate to attempt to divide and conquer those in fear.

But I know that we are all people who are capable of standing up to that fear and not letting it impact our way of life. We must not let this overcome us – we shall overcome it instead.

Je suis fier d’être français. I am proud to be French.

From Sydney To Melbourne: 10 Years On…

Today, October 3rd 2015, marks 10 years since I hopped on a plane at Sydney Airport with two large suitcases, ready to fly south to Melbourne to start a new life. So much has happened in those 10 years that it is not easy to know where to start. Alas, the best place to start would be back in Sydney…

When I was in my early 20s, I was working as a call centre operator for a global loyalty marketing company. I was also studying at uni part-time and living with my mum and stepfather in Woolloomooloo. At this point in time, I had no idea about Aspergers or anything like that – I was just different and quite quirky.

Anybody who lived in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics will tell you that those 15 days were the best time ever to be a Sydneysider. I can guarantee that you will never see Sydney as alive and happening in our lifetimes as it was during that fortnight. Party central everywhere!

But then came the early 2000s. This marked the start of the downturn in the city’s fortunes, particularly on a quality-of-life scale. It’s comparable to the timeline of a pill of ecstasy, where the Olympics marked the highs of the drug life cycle in the brain and bloodstream. But then, as with all recreational drugs, there comes the downer – and the years immediately following the Olympics were the downer for Sydney.

Cost of living had exploded, the city had lost its identity, its culture, its soul. All that was left were people going about their daily lives, travelling from point A to point B with nothing in between. Pure routine, with no sense of excitement or deviation from the “norm”. You would think that for someone like myself, it would be perfect. But I was bored shitless, and I was just not feeling Sydney anymore.

The great thing about working as a call centre operator at the time was the money I was earning and saving. And due to my incessant boredom, I took the opportunity to start exploring outside of Sydney.

Prior to this, the only time I could recall being out of Sydney proper and going to another capital city was the seemingly obligatory school excursion to Canberra in high school. As an old school friend once said to me, “it’s a hole, but a well-designed hole” (apologies to any of my Canberran friends reading this).

So I decided to expand my horizons a little. Being the adventurer that I was, I took the XPT on Easter Weekend 2004 up to Brisbane (or Brisvegas as it is affectionately known). I spent the weekend there just having a look around and catching up with some friends that I had been chatting to online.

As much as I liked Brisbane, it was way too quiet for me. At the risk of offending any of my Brissy friends reading this, the words “glorified country town” spring to mind. So I decided to do another trip elsewhere, and this time, it would end up changing my life course forever.

The beauty of 2004 was that the Easter long weekend was only two weeks earlier than the Anzac long weekend. So I took advantage of it and decided to catch the XPT again, but this time south of the border…

I recall getting the overnight XPT from Sydney Central station at around 8.30 on the Thursday evening, not knowing what to expect about Melbourne. Everything I heard about Melbourne in my prior years revolved around the “rivalry” with Sydney, so basically “Sydney is great, Melbourne is crap”, etc etc. They could not have been more wrong.

The train trip itself was non-eventful, but a couple of things stood out for me on that trip down. The first time I was aware of having crossed the border into Victoria was just after we had departed Albury (it was the middle of the night), and I remember seeing a large lit-up sign that said “SAFEWAY”, which closely resembled the Woolworths signage that I was more familiar with in Sydney. At that point, I realised that we were passing through Wodonga and were now officially on Victorian territory. For some reason, that excited me more than anything else on that train ride.

Approaching the Melbourne CBD the following morning, I had been listening to my early generation iPod (iPhones were not invented back then), and I had The Cars playing “It’s All I Can Do” as we were slowly making our way into Spencer Street Station. At that time, the Southern Cross Station rebuild was in full swing, so the whole station was a complete construction zone.

But it was when I got off the train that I knew things were about to change in a big way. The moment I stepped foot onto Platform 1, a great sense of belonging overcame me. 

I felt like I was home.

I stayed at the Victoria Hotel on Little Collins Street. A very nice hotel, I might add. But it was going out and about to explore the nightlife that I would discover my future home.

Back in 2004, Commercial Road in South Yarra was still a buzzing destination for the Melbourne gay community. No less than 3 popular clubs all within doors of each other, catering to different crowds. There was the Xchange, which was somewhat the equivalent (in my eyes) of Stonewall in Sydney. There was also the Market, a lesser version of ARQ. But the little club that caught my heart at the time was Diva Bar.

It was a very small and cramped place, which was a massive fire hazard waiting to happen. But the crowd were down-to-earth, the music was just my type, and I spent hours just dancing the night away. One of my big memories of that night was failing to find any taxis whatsoever on Commercial Rd at 4am, resulting in my walking up Chapel Street, Toorak Rd and St Kilda Rd all the way back to my hotel. It was a night I would never forget, and the walk itself opened my eyes to how awesome South Yarra and Prahran were.

When I got back to Sydney, I started missing Melbourne instantly. I had to go back and explore some more. So I booked a week around the Queens Birthday weekend to spend some more time down there. This time, I stayed at the Claremont Hotel in South Yarra. Very boutique guesthouse close to everything – including Commercial Road. It was that week that I realised that I could possibly live in South Yarra. I then proceeded to make another two trips to Melbourne in 2004 – one in October, and one for NYE. I just couldn’t get enough of the place.

New Years Day 2005 was a funny one in Melbourne, and one which demonstrated the concept of 4 seasons in one day. It had started out as a balmy and sunny 35 degrees, and within 15 minutes had plummeted to 17 degrees with storms. None of that was going to deter me from my ultimate goal…

By that point, there was no denying it. Melbourne was more home to me than Sydney could ever be. It was where I could feel more myself without anyone pushing expectations on me. So I made a New Years resolution that I would move to Melbourne by the end of 2005.

And I kept it.

In the lead-up to the move, I made one more trip in June 2005 to suss out job opportunities, and then the big move came. All my stuff was already packed at my parent’s house, but for now I just needed two suitcases of clothes to get me by. After two initial weeks of house-hopping with friends, I eventually found what would be my home in South Yarra. I have lived in that same place to this day (yes, ten years in the same place!!!).

Moving to Melbourne also served to open a lot of doors and opportunities, but brought with it some character-building experiences. The big things are below:

  • I discovered group fitness. It would later lead me to one of the best things I have ever done with my life – becoming a group fitness instructor;
  • I experienced what it was like to be at rock bottom financially, and having to fight my way from the brink to get back to a position of financial stability – it helped me believe that I could get myself out of any bleak situation if I put my mind to it, and allowed me to appreciate those silver linings that much more;
  • The ultimate discovery of my having Aspergers – this, more than anything else, has helped me let go of so many demons in my life and allowed me to be more assertive and confident about who I am and what I want out of the life ahead;
  • Stumbling across people who have embraced my quirks and idiosyncracies and love me for the person that I am (even pre-Aspergers). You know who you are if you’re reading this;
  • Finally confirming my dual national status and getting the relevant passports. There will be a lot of travel on the horizon for 2016; and
  • Gaining the confidence to start this blog 🙂

One thing I get asked a lot by people is “why Melbourne over Sydney?”. Put simply, Melbourne has the big city feel, but without the prententiousness of Sydney. It suits my personality a lot better. Much less hustle and bustle, and more time and headspace to just chill and relax.

The past 10 years in Melbourne have been such an amazing journey for me. Thank you to everyone who has supported me all the way and come across my path during the last decade. You all have played a part in my life thus far, no matter how big or small.

The journey continues henceforth, and I look forward to sharing more general and random thoughts with you in the coming months and years. Enjoy the read and feel free to comment 🙂

Expectations Of An Aspie Group Fitness Instructor

Being on the Autism Spectrum allows me to perceive the world in a much different way to those who are neurotypical, and thus to think outside the square in some ways. However, Aspies in general (and me included) also think in terms of black and white – shades of grey are anti-thema and mess with our minds much more than they should.

For me, being a neurodiverse group fitness instructor particularly enhances the black-white differential, and I look at things a lot more rigidly than an instructor who is considered neurotypcial, ie. most instructors out there in the fitness world. And it is that rigidity that leads to potentially higher levels of conflict, both internally within the mind, and externally with members and management.

Nowadays though, I find it much easier to navigate with the black and white. My psychologist said to me once that a good way to deal with those pesky grey shades is to see if it is closer in shade to black or to white. And that is a system that helps me to deal with those more complex situations.

It has also allowed me to be more firm in terms of my belief system and to stand up more for those beliefs in the face of any adversity. I know that I am never going to please everyone in a group fitness class, but why should that inhibit me from being the firm but knowledgable instructor that I know I am? I am not a bully or aggressive by any means (at least not intentionally), but there are issues and topics about which I feel very strongly. 

Delivering high-quality group fitness classes is one of them.

The Les Mills suite of group fitness programs helps to provide me with a solid framework in which to perform my duties, and they set very clear expectations of the instructor who then teaches those classes. For example:

  • All programs are pre-choreographed, and the choreography must be delivered as prescribed. 
  • Certain technique must be executed and role-modeled at all times, whether it is high-intensity or low-intensity. The instructor is also expected to correct any unsafe technique throughout the class. 
  • Coaching cues should be delivered in a certain way to maximise member adherence and enhance their experience of the program.

Some programs require a bigger technique and safety focus than others due to their nature and equipment used, eg. BODYPUMP, CXWORX, and BODYSTEP. Instructors of these programs are more than aware of the number of injuries that can occur in one of these classes, and thus are required to have that higher level of diligence in terms of safe movement and execution. On a side note, I am overzealous about technique, and quite frankly other instructors should strive to be the same. The theory goes that when instructors give 100%, the members will only give back 70%. Hence as instructors, we need to be going above and beyond to ensure that our members give it their absolute best. If we do not deliver that role-model technique, how can we expect our members to do the same?

It might sound strange to some people out there, but another consequence of having Aspergers is the need for predictability (remember we see things black and white). Anything that deviates from that has the potential to send our minds into meltdown. Because of this, as an instructor who teaches a lot of equipment-based programs, there are certain things that I expect of members who participate in my classes (and in fact these should be standard for all instructors)…

IF YOU HAVE ANY INJURIES, TELL ME BEFORE THE CLASS STARTS!!

  • If there are any pre-existing injuries or other limitations that the member might have, these should be known to the instructor prior to the class starting. I have been in situations where I have attempted to correct technique for a member on multiple occasions during a class, only to find out afterwards (grrr!) that they had injured themselves or were recovering from an injury. This situation could have been avoided if they had mentioned it before the class starting.

EXPECT A BIG FOCUS  ON TECHNIQUE, AND DON’T BE SURPRISED IF I CORRECT YOU DURING CLASS!

  • All members should be open to technique correction, even if they have done group fitness for years. If I attempt to correct your technique during a class, it is not because I am intentionally being an asshole, but ensuring that you are moving safely and effectively and getting the most out of the routine. There have been a few instances over the last couple of years where members have complained that I pick on them too much during a class. Well, guess what? It’s my job as an instructor to correct people, and sometimes it might take more than one attempt to do so. 

On a related topic, I recently had a male member in one of my classes who objected rather loudly during a class to be corrected by me (apparently I was “yelling at him”, and “men shouldn’t be shouting at other men”). It’s amusing actually because I get a few males in my classes and I do not treat them any differently to how I treat females (everyone is considered equal in any class that I teach). I have also never been approached by any other males to say that I yell at them at all. I also make a conscious effort not to yell or scream at any of my members. I will be firm if I need to be (eg. if repeated correction is required), but having been on the tail end of being yelled and screamed at myself in the past, it’s not something I wish to inflict on my members.

IF I KNOW YOUR NAME, I WILL MOST LIKELY MENTION YOU ONCE DURING THE CLASS

  • I also use names a lot to connect with people, so if I refer to you by name during a class, it is to establish an individual connection. It is a strength that other instructors and assessors have observed and commented on throughout my years as an instructor. Les Mills have a saying, “Connection is Retention Glue“, and names form a big part of that philosophy. It is something that I will not stop doing unless someone has a genuine issue with having their name called out (and it actually bewilders me sometimes why that is the case with some people). 

WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER, FROM START TO FINISH

  • A Les Mills class is a journey in itself for a lot of people, particularly those new to group fitness. As such, I am very much a believer of working together and moving together to ensure that we all achieve the results that we come for, no matter which class or program it happens to be. 

I AM APPROACHABLE AND OPEN TO POSITIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK

  • I also have a policy of being open to feedback, whether it is positive or constructive. Constructive feedback can be a powerful learning tool when used correctly, but other times people confuse it for an opportunity to rant about the smallest thing – particularly if it is about something that you are perfectly justified in doing in the first place. And for someone like myself who is commited to delivering a great class and is always looking to improve, those kinds of things do not give me much to go on.

At the end of the day, my overriding principle is to make all my classes a positive experience. The above expectations help both myself and my members to contribute to that. Some people will say that it makes things too predictable, but believe it or not, a lot of people find comfort and feel more relaxed in that predictable setting (myself included). The members who come to my classes regularly know full well that I am quite technique driven, and some of them have told me that they get a better experience because of the fact that I am so focused on delivering that great technique and coaching. Those are the kind of members that I love having in my classes, because they love the program and the results that the program gives them. It also means I can relax more and can have that little bit of fun now and then.

Sadly though, there will be those members who do not share those same principles and beliefs. These are the ones who walk in thinking that they own the room and know everything there is to know (when in fact they know almost nothing). For me personally, it brings a very negative energy into the room, but can also be quite amusing at the same time seeing them just completely flounder, oblivious to how they look around them (they’re also the ones more likely not to take on corrective technique recommendations). As much as we are expected as instructors to welcome everyone and be positive, these are the types of members that I personally just do not want to be teaching to as I know they will not be open to anything.

I always find it intriguing when I get feedback from people saying that I should do this or shouldn’t do that, because this person might get offended or that person feels uncomfortable. For someone like myself, it very often seems to come back to the “unwritten rules of Western Society”, which aim to guide and influence our behaviour. And as a younger male, back in my teens and 20’s, I always used to take it personally whenever I was told something was “inapppropriate”. Because it was a shade of grey that my mind couldn’t process, and I would always beat myself up for not being smart enough to pick up on it.

There is the well known cliche of the simple things in life being the best things. And a black and white approach is, a lot of the time, the simplest yet most fulfilling approach to take on anything. It is certainly what works for me.

As usual, feedback and comments are welcome below (see, I am approachable, even on the Internet).

Navigating One’s Way Through Gay Social Apps – Aspie Style

I recently posted some random thoughts about gay social apps on Facebook and Twitter, more specifically along the lines of how gay Aspie men would even begin to navigate their way through these apps (and also the gay community in general). The comments and reactions I got were quite fascinating…

My initial thoughts were that there would be so many variables to consider, such as “social rules and etiquette” as well as “expectations” (a lot of things that Aspies have issues with in general, not just in the gay community). However, one of my close friends made the following comment (and I paraphrase here):

  • Any gay man, whether they be on or off the Autism Spectrum, would struggle with the apparent rules of gay social apps, especially because they don’t seem to exist! If they do, no one knows what they are, and thus no one would be capable of being completely successful in navigating them. 

Furthermore, he made a classic quote (“The rules are, there are no rules!“). And I think that seems to sum up nicely one of the fundamental flaws of online dating apps – everyone has their own set of expectations that never seem to exactly match up with anyone else’s, and thus when those expectations end up not getting met, both parties get completely annoyed with each other.

And when this scenario occurs repeatedly ad infinitum, it ends up having a detrimental and chaotic effect on the well-being and self-esteem of those people. As my friend put it, it does become soul-destroying and demoralising (not to mention the fact that it would be considered anti-social behaviour in the real world).

And yet (and this is the kicker)… it’s addictive. And for someone like myself who has an addictive personality, that can be almost dangerous. 

When you’re on the spectrum, you have enough trouble reading non-verbal cues in spoken conversation. Online, you don’t even have non-verbal cues, just words on a screen. And the only choice you have is to take things at face value, which in the realm of online dating can come back to bite you really hard.

I remember the first time I ever encountered Grindr. It was during dinner with an old friend of mine back in 2009 (I remember it as clear as yesterday). We were discussing cool apps for our respective iPhones, and he told me about this app that picked up other gay guys in the near vicinity. I found it quite unusual, but also rather exciting at the same time.

You see, I was not a big fan of the gay scene (I had stopped going to gay bars on a regular basis about 2-3 years prior due to the fact that I was simply not fitting in as I thought I would). So my contact with other gay guys was limited back then to actual gay dating websites such as Gaydar, Manhunt, Gaymatchmaker (remember that one?), gay.com, etc. 

In the eyes of some people, that makes me desperate for attention. But I don’t quite see it that way.

Admittedly, I do crave interaction with people, and particularly intimacy with other men. But me being the socially awkward person that I am, it’s not easy to find other guys who want that as well (unless they’re the creepy sort that seem to find you first).

So anyway, here I am downloading this Grindr app onto my phone, and instantly a new world was opened up to me. “OMG”, I thought, “so many nice guys on here to chat (and potentially hookup with)!”

The problem was, as time went by, I realised that Grindr was actually more fickle than the real gay world. Many guys saying that they want particular traits, blatantly ignoring (and often blocking) those who dared  to deviate outside those specifications. And yet, I found myself trying to put it all out there (so to speak) in the hope that one of those buff torsos might actually be attracted to me as well.

It fucked with my head for years, and in a way, it still does. For someone like myself who prefers people to be upfront and honest with what they want, I see so much hypocrisy in the profiles that I encounter. You do learn after a while to suss out those guys who are genuinely after connection and those who just bank on their looks to get attention (and sex), but alas it doesn’t always work out that way (remember, everyone has their own rules – no consistency).

I’ll be really honest here – I do have body image issues, and it is something I have struggled with most of my life. Despite the fact that BMI-wise, I sit well and truly in the healthy range for my age, and have a very lean build, I don’t seem to attract those guys who work out in the gym and look like they have come off the cover of Men’s Health magazine. And it always goes through my head that if I bulk up like those guys do, then maybe I’ll get noticed more. Therefore I need to change myself to make myself more appealing to more people…

HOLD UP!! WAIT A GODDAMN MINUTE!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???

It took a conversation with my psychologist a couple of months ago to gain another perspective on the above. You see, here I am thinking that the muscly guys on the gym floor will only be attracted to other muscly guys on the gym floor. But that is not necessarily true.

Just as I am attracted to a wide variety of guys for different reasons, the same applies for them too. Eg. maybe there is a really fit athletic guy out there that prefers someone lean like myself over the bigger guys. 

Everyone’s tastes are different, and sometimes when we focus on one thing too much, we lose sight of all the other beautiful things in the universe. And when we start to look outside, we open ourselves up as people even more. To use another cliche, beauty shines from within.

I have recently started using Tinder, with the sole aim of breaking out of the Grindr mindset that has been so demoralising over the years. And for me, it was a revelation of sorts.

On Tinder, you can only use photos from your Facebook profile. For someone like me who likes context, it is awesome, because you get to see people in a more real setting (as opposed to the torso pics you usually see on Grindr). And that gives you a bit of an idea of what they could be like as a person. Also, you can only chat with them if they also liked your profile.

And that is one of the big differences I see between Tinder and other dating apps – for me, it becomes more about the intellectual interaction and less about the hookup/sex talk. And you very rarely, if at all, get anything intellectual from Grindr, Scruff, et al. 

One way that I have resolved to use these apps moving forward is to actually be more open about who I am  as a person on those apps. It then means that other guys who view my profile can see what I am about right from the word go. And if they choose to be fickle and ignore that, then that’s their issue (and trust me, it took me a loooong time to accept that). 

The above is a direct consequence of finding out my Aspie status. One thing that being diagnosed on the spectrum has done for me is empower me to take more control of my life and stop taking shit from people who give me crap. And gay social apps are no different here.

In fact, I now use it as a talking point in my various profiles, firstly because I want to raise awareness of Aspergers, and secondly because it sets me apart from everyone else instead of becoming homogenised and blending in with the scenery. A number of people I have met off Tinder thus far have been some of the loveliest people I have met, and almost all of them had read this blog (the link is in all my profiles).

So there you go! Gay social interaction does not always have to be about sex (shock horror!). I honestly find myself looking forward to what other interaction opportunities arise in the near future.

The best thing I can advise to any other gay Aspie out there is to just know what you want and have the courage and confidence to stand up for it (in a diplomatic way of course). Sometimes you do need to make yourself really clear about any expectations you might have in terms of conversation or outcomes, and while that might seem over the top to some people, it at least sets the boundaries early on. 

You might have guys who will not take kindly to that and insult you or block you (and trust me this will happen a lot). But you know what? It says more about them than it does about you. And it ensures that you maintain integrity and self-respect in the long run (and allows you to build confidence and keep a positive outlook along the way).

As always, I look forward to any questions or comments you might have about this post. There will inevitably be points that I have overlooked and you might wish me to address these in more detail later.

Peace out 🙂

Les Mills AIM2 – An Aspie’s Virtual Mindf**k

DISCLAIMER: Before I begin this piece, it is important to note and stress that these are only my personal opinions and observations from having done a number of AIM2s now, and do not necessarily represent the views of Les Mills as an organisation. Also, I would strongly recommend that if you have not done AIM2 yet, please keep an open mind as you read this as this will go somewhat in-depth into how AIM2 works. Or better yet, experience AIM2 yourself first and you will see the below with a better appreciation and understanding of what I am about to write…

The very first time I did AIM2 in Australia was in May 2014 for BODYPUMP. At that one, I was given the feedback that I wasn’t making enough eye contact with people and not forming individual connection during my track. Furthermore, I was told that because I wasn’t making eye contact with people, they would not believe anything I would say. Essentially I was fake – and it drove a dagger right through my heart.

That AIM2 was the catalyst that drove me to ask my mother later that night about why I had so much trouble with eye contact and connecting with people. It was through that conversation with my mother that I first learnt about Aspergers. The rest of the journey you can read about in my other posts.

I realised sometime later (after I confirmed for myself that I was on the spectrum) that my adverse reaction to the feedback was because that fake is a word that I as an Aspie totally despise. We are probably the people most incapable of being fake. To use a Superman reference, the word is like our Kryptonite. It provokes the strongest of emotions inside of us when used by others to describe us. And to be essentially described as such at an AIM2 was heart-breaking, as I give BODYPUMP my total all everytime I teach.

Fast forward to July this year. I had been pretty much confirmed by that point by my psychologist as being on the Autism Spectrum, and now had the unique opportunity to do AIM2 again for both BODYSTEP and BODYPUMP with a much better understanding of myself and my limitations. The observations I took away from the experience left many more questions in my mind than they did answers (the Aspie in me likes to look at the inner workings of things like this). This post represents my attempts to outline those thoughts.

As most Les Mills instructors would appreciate, Les Mills love applying methodology to everything that they do, whether it be the Initial Module Training process for new instructors or the Filming Week process for presenters who are about to represent their country on an upcoming DVD. This standardised approach to everything is an Aspie’s dream – our brains love, no, CRAVE structure and discrete building-block processes.

Except for one thing. The Les Mills methodologies have been developed around the model of the general population, ie. those who are considered neurotypical. The brains of neurotypical people are much more versatile and malleable, and can adapt rather quickly to change around them. Not so much for the neurodiverse population out there – and there are a large number of us in the world. And this is where things start to get murky…

But first, a bit of background for the non-instructors reading this. Back in 2010, Les Mills formalised a process for instructors wishing to progress to the next level of their teaching, via the following:

  • Firstly, experienced instructors would expand and solidify their program technique and coaching skills and learn more about the “essence” of their chosen program, and
  • Secondly, they would then learn more general techniques to bring in the other teaching elements of connection and performance.

These were then separated into two training modules: Advanced Instructor Module 1 and 2, respectively (or AIM1 and AIM2 for short). AIM1 is program-specific and covers off advanced technique, coaching and essence of that program. AIM2 is the generic (ie. non program specific) module that builds upon what is learnt and applied in AIM1, and adds in that final layer of advanced connection and performance.

AIM1 in its purest form does not have an outcome at the end of it, but rather lays the expectation on instructors to take on board feedback and apply it to their future teaching. The exception to this, however, is in the Les Mills Asia Pacific (LMAP) region, where AIM1 is now considered the primary way to gain certification in their program, and thus you would receive an outcome of Certified or Not Certified (other Les Mills agencies require that you are already certified in your program via video certification before you can do AIM1).

AIM2, on the other hand, has THREE outcomes:

  • Certified (competence in the first 3 Key Elements – Choreography, Technique, Coaching)
  • Advanced (Certified competence plus also competent in the final 2 Key Elements of Connection and Performance)
  • Elite (excellence in all 5 Key Elements)

Each of Advanced and Elite has its own specific criteria that have to be met, with the added condition that to gain an Elite outcome, you must meet ALL criteria in both Advanced and Elite. The irony of this is that they teach us in AIM2 not to think about ticking boxes and saying all the right things, however you still do need to tick boxes to conform to the top standard that Les Mills has outlined.

We are repeatedly told over the course of the two days that the outcome is not something to focus on, but rather the journey taken to get there. And that would be fine in itself if it weren’t for the fact that Les Mills agencies around the world (including Asia Pacific) are using the outcomes of AIM2 as part of the overall instructor career progression pathway through Les Mills.

To be more specific, you now have to achieve Elite in a program to be invited onto the LMAP Assessor Team for that program, and must have Elite in at least 2 programs to be considered for selection in the LMAP National Presenter Team. In other words, LMAP are setting the bar really high.

In AIM2, they talk about 4 key principles that advanced instructors supposedly use to pack out their classes and ensure that they communicate to the most number of people in the room:

  • Teaching With Purpose
  • Creating The Change Faster
  • Living The Les Mills Values
  • Teaching With Authenticity & Contrast

AIM2 is a two-day module, and we cover the first two topics on Day 1 and the other 2 on Day 2. You also get to present a track a total of 4 times over the course of the weekend, twice on Day 1 and twice on Day 2. And you receive feedback from the trainer after each presentation. I consider Day 1 to be the Tangible Day, and Day 2 to be the Intangible Day, for reasons that I will outline shortly. 

Day 1 for an Aspie like me is awesome, because we actually go through step-by-step processes on how to space out our coaching and develop cues specific to different personality types in the room (and as you know, Aspies LOVE well-defined processes that are relatively easy to follow). It is the day that one gets to apply the biggest tangible changes to their teaching. The coaching topics were the biggest takeout that I got from doing AIM2, and have helped me vastly in my instructor journey.

Day 2 (Intangible Day) is where the Aspie mindf**k begins. The start of the day is nice enough as we get taken through the 3 values of Les Mills (One Tribe, Be Brave, and Change The World) and dissect what these all mean for us individually. Very strong emotional stuff that forces us to think about why we do what we do and ensure that we are not being pulled too much in one direction. 

However, it is the principle of Authenticity & Contrast that screws around with your mind, particularly if you are neurodiverse. Remember at the beginning of this post I spoke about the brains of neurotypical vs neurodiverse people? Neurotypical brains are very versatile, and can generally handle a multiple of cognitive processes at once (regularly known as multi-tasking). Neurodiverse brains on the other hand, particularly those who reside on the Autism Spectrum (including Aspergers), are not wired the same way. These brains operate in much a way similar to a computer’s CPU – one instruction at a time. They see black and white – not shades of grey. They are very linear in the way they approach problems and process information, hence why we find more comfort in those step-by-step instructions.

The last topic in Authenticity & Contrast talks about linking music and emotion together, and using that to take your participants on a musical journey of highs and lows as you teach your class. This, for me, is my downfall as an Aspie instructor.

You see, my brain is trying to focus on the following things when I teach (I’ll use BODYPUMP as an example):

  • Ensuring that my members are moving to the right tempo
  • Ensuring that my members have safe technique
  • My new people are being accommodated
  • Knowing what the next move is going to be
  • Knowing what weights I’m going to put on my bar for the next track
  • Keeping track of the time to ensure that I don’t waffle on between tracks but still not sacrifice important track info…

And that is not an exhaustive list by any means. When you teach to a class of between 20-40 people and have to see everything that is happening in the room with everybody and respond to it, on top of knowing your choreography back-to-front, maintaining your perfect role-model technique, as well as being conscious of modulating your voice with the music as you teach a track, you can start to imagine the pressure that an Aspie’s brain goes through as it tries to linearly process all that information. It’s almost like an outdated CPU trying to throttle information at today’s speeds – you get the picture.

Going back to music and emotional connection for a moment though, we are also taught to convey feeling through our movements – as they say in AIM2, the DO comes from the FEEL. You may recall in one of my previous posts that people on the Autism Spectrum feel emotions rather strongly (and I dare say even stronger than neurotypical people). However, people on the spectrum do not have much capability of naturally and intuitively conveying those emotions, as their brains are not naturally wired that way to process them. As such, we have had to learn over the years to build neural pathways in our brains that allow us to mimic behaviour to “simulate” the outward emotional response.

The feedback that I received from the trainers on both my BODYSTEP and BODYPUMP AIM2s was that I was not being authentic enough on stage when trying to project the emotion of the song. And this is where my logical Aspie brain comes across a conundrum…

If you were to ask me to convey an emotion of a song naturally through action, you would get nothing from me. Nothing whatsoever. None. Nada. Zilch. Remember, I can feel the emotion of a song rather strongly, but I cannot naturally translate that into an action. My brain can try to think of something that might resemble it, but it is never neurotypically natural.

So if I were to teach authentically as myself on the stage, you would just get me being my logical self going through the step-by-step processes that make my coaching spaced out and land with the right people on the floor. The conundrum here is that projection of a song’s emotion in a natural way is actually one of the criteria required to achieve an Elite outcome

“Uh oh”, my Aspie brain says, “does that mean that Les Mills has inadvertently excluded someone from ever getting Elite (and thus blocking any chance they have of career progression) due to a pre-existing neurological condition?”. I will let you ponder that for a few moments.

To get someone like myself to a point where they can even begin to attempt projecting emotion in even a semi-natural way would require years and years of cognitive behaviour therapy. And the danger with that is actually losing the qualities that make you a person in the first place, which is counter-intuitive to the idea of being authentic.

Now I could choose to be angry about the fact that I will never be an Elite instructor in the eyes of Les Mills (after all, I have worked damn hard to get where I am today), but that would be submitting and feeding into negativity, which is not who I am as a person. And just as importantly, it goes against the Les Mills Values. I would rather focus that energy on educating my peers (instructors and trainers alike) and the broader audience about Aspergers (and the Autism Spectrum in general), in the hope that they will gain a better appreciation for what I and other Aspie instructors go through on a class-by-class basis.

At the end of the day, we as part of the Les Mills family are TR1BE (leet speak for One Tribe). We are here to support each other and enable the potential in ourselves and each other to be unlocked. Just because I can never be Elite does not mean I cannot progress as an instructor in other ways. We all have other strengths that we can draw on, myself included.

I strongly recommend that if you are a Les Mills instructors and have done AIM1 but have not done AIM2 yet, please do so, as it does give you tools to help better your teaching regardless of the outcome. If there are any other Aspie instructors like myself out there, I would love to connect with you and share experiences. I also welcome any feedback, questions and comments about this post.

Lastly, despite the limitations, I cannot stress enough that Les Mills has changed my life for the better. It has made me passionate in so many ways, and it thrills me to share that passion with my members everytime I teach. And that for me is an emotion that I can convey naturally.

Can one reside on the Autism Spectrum AND become a Les Mills instructor?

Ever since I made the discovery about my autism, I have had many chats with people about the inherent difficulties associated with teaching group fitness whilst residing on the Autism Spectrum. However, it is my opinion that the Les Mills system goes some way to help counter those difficulties.

I am trained in 8 Les Mills programs, namely the following (in order of being trained):

  • BODYJAM
  • BODYVIVE
  • BODYSTEP
  • BODYPUMP
  • SH’BAM
  • CXWORX
  • BODYATTACK
  • BODYBALANCE

Each program has its own set of “rules” and nuances for teaching, referred to in Les Mills language as “essence”. They serve the purpose of giving each program a unique identity, and with that, certain qualities that need to be exhibited by instructors teaching that program. For example, the essence of BODYBALANCE is “calm and centred”, while BODYPUMP is “strong and grounded”. You kinda get my drift here…

So what does this mean for someone like myself who most likely has Aspergers? Well, one of the key elements of teaching a Les Mills program is connection. Now connection can take many forms – connection to the music, to the workout, and just as importantly, to the members in front of you.

For someone with any form of autism, just the very idea of having to say hello to someone you don’t know can send waves of fear through the body. Having to connect with virtual strangers is the LAST thing that any autism sufferer wants to go through. They generally lack the social skills needed to naturally connect with people (unless it is someone that they really trust).

I am no exception to this. I very rarely open up personally to people whom I don’t know, and it’s not so much because I don’t want to – more so that I don’t know HOW. It is not something I was taught as a child, and it is certainly not something that one can apply logic to. My brain thinks like a machine – linearly and sequentially. It needs to analyse things in a certain way to understand what is going on, and when multiple sources of sensory input start to bombard the brain at once, it goes into meltdown (similar to a CPU overheating in a computer when too much information is being rammed down its throat).

One of the things I love about Les Mills is that they apply a methodology to just about EVERYTHING they produce, including how to teach their programs. And for Aspies like myself, we love order and structure as it fits well with our linear way of thinking.

Personally, the program where I feel the most natural and relaxed teaching is BODYPUMP. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The technique involved is rather fixed and structured, and does not vary a lot between each quarterly release.
  • The tempos we move to are consistent, and for someone like me (and other Aspies) who are musically minded, this is an awesome thing!
  • A lot of Aspies are direct and to the point in what they say (I am no exception). BODYPUMP requires you to be exactly that in the way that you teach (hallelujah!).
  • It is the program that inspires me the most to lead and be noticed and appreciated. In turn, I can inspire other people to work hard and help them get to where they need to go.

So for any Aspie out there who loves moving to music, inspiring and getting to know people, and gaining some new skills, I would strongly recommend trying a BODYPUMP class and maybe, just maybe, take that further step and become an instructor.

There will come a point where you have taught for a while and feel you will want more from your teaching. And when you do want more, there are courses run by Les Mills that can help you get to that new level. However, there are things you should know beforehand…

Remember what I was saying before about Les Mills having a methodology for everything? Well, their advanced courses are no exception, particularly when you get to a higher standard of teaching. Without going into too much detail here (I will be posting separately on this), I have one piece of advice – be yourself.

Sounds easy enough, yeah? Not for an Aspie. Our brains are virtual machines and do not operate the same way that neurotypical brains do. They cannot be fully present in the moment with all the information that their brain is trying to process (due to the linear nature of an Aspie’s thinking process, they can only go through so much at any one time).

If I was to be completely myself and let myself go, my brain would explode from all the information overload.

Now you’ve just read the above and thought “has Patrick just contradicted himelf there?”. The answer to that – yes and no. When I say to be yourself, I mean to be true to yourself. Do not let anybody try to change you or mould you into something that you are not. And that applies in both the Les Mills world or the outside world.

I fully embrace Les Mills and what it stands for. However, as an Aspie, there are also limits to what I can do and am capable of, which has been reassuring but at the same time rather heartbreaking, knowing that deep down, I would never get the recognition as an instructor that someone who was neurotypical might.

As an aside, one thing you should know about Aspies – we are like robots with emotions, and when we feel emotions, we FEEL emotions. We are the typical people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. When we are happy, we just want to burst with happiness. When we’re angry, we just want to literally explode. And when we have our hearts crushed, it is totally unbearable. We learn to build defence mechanisms around our hearts so that they can be protected from any potential source of heartbreak – but even they aren’t foolproof.

I have dedicated the last 6.5 years of my life to being a Les Mills instructor, and I have been through my fair share of emotional rollercoasters as a result. Looking back now, the Aspergers has amplified a lot of those experiences. I see my fellow instructor friends getting well-deserved recognition for their instructing efforts, and I am so truly happy for them. But on the other hand, it also stings me at the same time to know that I cannot be as “natural” as them and would realistically never achieve what they have, despite my love and passion for the programs that I teach. In other words, I feel inferior.

I had intended this post to be somewhat educational and straightforward, but along the way, it became something a lot more personal. Memories and experiences can have a profound effect on people in general, but particularly Aspies. And when you hope on board the ride known as the Les Mills instructor journey, there will be more of these to come.

Teaching Les Mills has had such a life-changing effect on me, not only through my enjoyment of their programs, but also the indirect effect of how I discovered my Aspergers in the first place. And thus, I do believe, YES, absolutely one can be an Aspie and also teach Les Mills.

To anyone reading this, I hope this has helped to inform you somewhat, if only just a little bit. As always, I am happy to answer any questions that you might have, whether about Les Mills or about the Autism Spectrum or both. Together we can educate more people.

The Truth Will Set Me Free, Part 2 – It’s Official!

It has been a while between posts (a few months in fact), and many events and achievements have happened in the meantime. For starters:

  • I was let go from my old job just before Easter (a shock at the time, but one I came to terms with pretty quickly),
  • I subsequently moved into teaching group fitness as my main profession (something that I’ve aspired to do for a number of years now, so this puts me in a happier place physically, mentally, and most of all emotionally),
  • I have now also commenced study for my Certificate 3 in Fitness, moving on to Certificate 4 in Personal Training once that is completed, and
  • I got certified in BODYBALANCE (my 8th Les MIlls program). I also did my AIM1 for BODYBALANCE as well as my AIM2s for BODYSTEP and BODYPUMP (I’ll actually be writing about these in more detail in a separate post).

Probably the biggest one (and the most life-changing one) is that I have now been officially diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. Obviously from my previous post, this is something that I have been aware of in myself for the past year or so, but had been meaning to do something about it.

Well, I did. After I was let go from my job in April, I immediately went to my GP and told him about my Aspergers concerns. He then put me on what is called a Mental Health Care plan, which allows patients a number of sessions with a psychologist that can then be partially claimed back via Medicare. As an aside, I strongly recommend that if you suspect yourself of having any kind of mental health concerns, speak to your GP first as this might be a cost-effective option for you if you wish to have it investigated further (as psychologists can be rather expensive).

My first phone conversation with the referred psychologist was rather pleasant and she certainly seemed like someone who knew what she was talking about (always a good sign). In one of our later face-face consultations, she remarked that in that first conversation, it didn’t sound like I would be on the spectrum (probably attributed to the years and years of self-learned behaviour). However, once the consultations started, she could see signs right away…

The very first step in the diagnosis process of Aspergers is to do an official IQ test with the psychologist. This takes two hours and involves a number of cognitive and memory tests, as well as processing tests. There are a variety of IQ tests and scales that psychologists use, and in case you wish to read a little further on this, the one that was used for my test is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the current version being WAIS-IV. I had always known that I was smart throughout my life, but had never been tested previously. Which is why I was still surprised when I received an IQ score of… 132.

In case you are unsure of what this number represents, there are several IQ classification groupings. To cut a long story short though, any score of 130+ represents Very Superior intelligence. So yes, it confirmed what my family had always known as I was growing up.

One intriguing thing that came out of the IQ test was my Processing Speed Index (PSI). In all other indices, I had scored extremely high (at least high 120s), but my PSI was around 99, which is considered average. PSI essentially measures how fast your brain processes information compared to other similar people, and I know from growing up, it would take me forever to copy notes in primary school and high school. There were times where I didn’t complete exams as it would take me longer than usual to write out answers. Even taking notes at university lectures would be a struggle.

However, my psychologist did make the observation that a really high full-scale IQ with a low PSI is actually rather common in people who have Aspergers, so that helped to reassure me somewhat that this isn’t a major thing. It just means that I am a lot better typing something out on a computer than I am writing something out manually with a pen and paper.

The second part of the diagnosis process consists of two very lengthy (and sometimes laborious) questionnaires around behaviour and perceptions thereof, both as an adult and as a child. These can take up to 3-4 hours to complete, but at the same time I found that they helped me to understand facets of my behaviour that I hadn’t given much thought to previously. It was also rather therapeutic.

My psychologist had said on a number of occasions as each session went by that it would become clearer to her that I was definitely on the spectrum. And at the most recent one this week, she confirmed it for – for all intents and purposes, I am on the Autism Spectrum with the condition formerly known as Aspergers Syndrome.

So where to from here? Well, I will receive an official report from my psychologist outlining the diagnosis and the subsequent implications for my life moving forward, including any learning difficulties that would need to be addressed and advised to any facilitators of courses that I attend. Other than that, it is life as usual for me.

If you have any questions about any of the above or would like more information on Aspergers or the Autism Spectrum, please do not hesitate to ask me. The Internet also has a wealth of information that I can certainly point you to if you wish. My aim by writing this is to help educate other people on what life is like for Aspies such as myself (as there are a number of us out there), so I hope this serves to shine a light on some things that you may not have known or understood previously.

More than ever, the truth has set me free, and may it do the same for you in some way.