After leaving school with only 2 GCSE’s, I didn’t really know what to do because I couldn’t progress to the level I should be able to for my age. Whilst I was in school, I’d wanted to be a graphic designer, but there wasn’t a relevant qualification at GCSE level at my school, so I’d taken Art and IT. I also forced myself to take drama to help me with my confidence, which it did, in time. By far, the subject I excelled in, without any effort, was English – which is why I was so intent on getting the GCSE. After failing to carry on with school, I only ended up getting a GCSE in Math and English.
I did spend a few months in Sixth Form doing A-Level courses, with Chris, but because I didn’t have the relevant GCSE’s, they wouldn’t let me take IT or Art, but I was able to do media – which was nothing like I had hoped, and the basic levels we were working at, coupled with being treated like children, meant that we, very quickly, gave up on the idea.
Shortly after this we decided to try and do some freelance web design; Chris had introduced me to Photoshop and I’d picked it up very quickly, and it made it easy for me to get my ideas down, rather than having to try and draw things and scan them in to my PC, or use things like Microsoft Publisher, or some other useless software which my GCSE IT course had got me using, before I left.
It was really hard, not the design, but having to randomly call into people’s business and ask them if they were interested in a website. We were so useless at it; I would try and do face to face and Chris would attempt phone calls, but neither of us were very good at either. We got the odd client, by luck or through a family member or friend, and we did a few websites for people, but it was by no stretch of the imagination, making enough money to live off. We were living with my Mum and brother, in a tiny bedroom which was overcrowded with PC’s and music equipment and we had no money except my DLA. So, Chris ended up having to look for a job; he’s qualified to drive a fork lift truck, so he was only looking for warehouse jobs, nothing to do with web design or software engineering.
We were toying with the idea of going to University – I would do a foundation degree in photography and Chris a full degree in Software Development, or something similar (he had already got a triple distinction B-Tec in Music); but Chris ended up getting a job offer from one of our freelance clients which we’d been introduced to by a family member. I’d done a flyer and a banner for them, and was half way through a logo design, but they wanted a technical person who could build an online store and run it, so they interviewed Chris and he got the job (his official title being ‘Marketing Manager’).
Gradually we gave up on the university idea, and I went back to trying to do freelance graphic design (not websites anymore because I can’t do the development) because I really didn’t have another option. I knew that I couldn’t have a full time, or even part time job, because I just can’t go out on my own, let alone deal with other people and actually do a job; my anxiety is just too bad. Because I couldn’t use the phone without panicking, and I couldn’t visit local businesses, my only real work came from winning ‘competitions’ on a graphic design forum where people post the job they want, and they choose a design they like; but it doesn’t pay very well.
After a few months of doing that, I started to build some contacts, which meant I was getting better jobs for better pay. After about a year, I was making about £500 per month, but it was a lot of stress – clients can be extremely fussy and push you above and beyond the quoted time because they want edit after edit. I was working on things all day and then Chris was coming home to work on things as well, and it started to feel like it wasn’t worth it, so I stopped doing the competitions, and just focussed on the recurring clients, which, gradually dropped away and now I only hear from them every few months.
I had a lot of free time all of a sudden; Chris was at work, we, by this point, were living with his parents, so I really felt alone. I didn’t need to be making any money, because Chris’ job was enough to support us (he’s gone from just a marketing manager to also doing all of the IT support, graphic design and also is involved in any trade shows the company does), but I wanted to spend my time doing something. I didn’t want to ignore the graphic design, because it’s what I love to do, plus, by that point, we’d formed a proper company for it called ‘Tweasel Limited’, so I wanted to try and keep it going, even if it was just every now and then.
I decided to focus my attention back to my YouTube videos – which I’d barely done since I’d started dating Chris. I’d also meant to write a poetry book for a long time, but never quite known how to go about it, so I kept thinking about that as well. I decided to launch back into YouTube properly, and create a bit more of a ‘brand image’ for myself, which meant I could design a logo etc., which I love doing. I didn’t want to go by my full name anymore because I didn’t want to become known as that only to get married and have a different name, so I went with my first and middle name: WillowHope, and it just sounded right, and it looked right as a logo. I made a Facebook page to accompany the YouTube videos, as well as a Twitter, and I stared making videos regularly again.
I try to do video blogs weekly, but also I do the odd fun video with Chris and some serious videos about a specific aspect of Aspergers Syndrome. I did a video for a documentary which someone is making, and that one did particularly well on YouTube – it was a general Aspergers one, just talking about it as a whole, and how it affects me. I was also asked if some of my videos could be used by a University for training purposes for NHS nurses. I’m very flattered that on the whole, the videos are so well received and are so helpful for people. My YouTube account is monetized, which the odd person has criticized me for in the past – but it’s a lot of time and effort on my part to put a video out, especially the longer, more serious ones. I would still do it, for sure, if there was no monetizing option, but it’s just nice to get a little bit (and it really is a little bit, maybe £10 per month, if that), besides, it’s not my subscribers who are paying, it’s the advertises, who will put their advert on my videos whether I opt in to monetization or not.
I released my book ‘The Girl in the Panda Hat’ in November 2012 – only about 2 or 3 months after I’d properly got back into YouTube, and at this stage, I’d not got my website up and running, only the social media websites. I looked back at everything I’d written in the time when I’d had a nervous breakdown and was recovering. I had my breakdown after leaving my second high school, which I’d moved to, to escape being bullied, but left when they moved us into a newly built school (I didn’t like the change and I ended up missing a lot of school which resulted in more bullying). After the breakdown, I went back to my first high school to restart the GCSE course – but by then I was 2 years older than you’re supposed to be, so everyone was younger than me – even the people in the year group above me!
In that time, I’d written a lot of poems and some short stories. It was hard reading through it all again, but I felt like they should be released – to show the darker side of Aspergers. I felt like if I’d been able to read these poems when I was having a breakdown, I would have felt less alone – and it would have shown me that people get better, because I really didn’t think I would get better. It was important for me to release the book, and I decided to include everything I’d written, so it’s like a snapshot of a nervous breakdown, seen from the eyes of a person on the spectrum. I’ve sold about 35 books in almost a year, which to be honest is probably more than I thought, though about 3 of those were given away as a prize to my contests that I hold from time to time! Again though, it by no means provides enough money to live off! Early on, I did a radio interview for the book with someone in America, which was probably the most nerve wracking thing I’ve done! I also got featured in an American magazine called ‘Autism Spectrum Quarterly’, which Liane Holliday-Willey interviewed me for, which I was very excited about!
After my book, the next biggest thing I did was to start a forum for people with Aspergers – called Asperclick. Me and Chris had previously started one before we did the freelance graphic design, but we couldn’t commit the time it needed as it ended up being quite over run with spam or arguments, so we decided to sell it on to a new owner. Asperclick is different though – we didn’t advertise it anywhere, we just let the people who watch my videos wander over to it gradually and it’s a really friendly place, which doesn’t need a lot from us to keep it going – though it did cost a lot to set up, we already got that amount back in donations, for which we are very grateful. I check up on it every day, but whilst I’m writing my second book, I’ve found I have very little time left to post there.
Shortly after Asperclick, I got my WillowHope site up and running, which I pay for monthly – and it doesn’t really pay for itself most months, but I don’t mind. I’ve written some articles on Aspergers Syndrome, and I write a blog which I try to update weekly. The most viewed things on there are always going to be the things directly about Aspergers, just like with my videos, but I still put other things on there as well – like my photography and artwork. I wanted a shop integrated so that I could sell my things in one place, rather than having to have them spread out across the internet, like before when my book was only available through the printers and what not.
I launched the Koby and Friends plushies quite early on, but only recently found the time to release a children’s book. I want to build the Koby and Friends brand into something which people can recognise as a nod to Autism awareness, but without it being obvious for the children, so that other kids won’t automatically know that they are on the spectrum, like I think you kind of get with the ribbon. In the future I will be working a lot more on the children’s books and other things to go with that.
And finally, my most recent venture is my second book, ‘The Other Side’, which has been partially written since before I started going out with Chris – but since then has been almost entirely re-written. It will be about my struggles as a child who was undiagnosed, and then the process I went through of getting diagnosed as a teen, through to how I now cope as an adult on the spectrum. I couldn’t afford to self-publish it with an ISBN number, so decided to try and crowd fund it using the website Kickstarter, and was shocked to see it get overfunded in the first 10 days, which completely overwhelmed me! Currently the book is about ¼ finished, and is due to be released in early 2014. With the ISBN number, as it comes in a block of 10, I will be re-releasing ‘The Girl in the Panda Hat’ and releasing the children’s book ‘Koby’s Toy’ as a physical book, rather than just the PDF which I have out now.
Despite all of this taking up as much time as a full time job, I make little more than £100 per month, which is a huge contrast to the £500 I was making doing freelance graphic design, but it’s what I’m happy doing, and I think one day it could be bigger, but I don’t mind either way. Chris is working on a piece of software, totally unrelated to Aspergers, which is due for release by the end of this year – if it were to make a lot of money one day, we’d have no problem putting some money towards WillowHope and Koby and Friends, to give it a push so we can create better products for children on the spectrum which would hopefully help them with various aspects of their Aspergers or Autism.
If I didn’t do what I do now, and I wasn’t in a position where I didn’t have to work due to Chris’ wage, I would probably have carried on doing freelance graphic design whilst doing that foundation degree I spoke about. Making money from home takes time to build up to a level where you can sustain yourself, but if you can do it whilst you have little overheads, i.e. whilst you still live with parents, like we currently do, then it’s possible to build it up gradually until you do have enough to move out etc. Chris does struggle with his job, but I think the reasons he manages to maintain it are, well obviously, we need the money, but also, he’s the only person in his ‘department’ which means he doesn’t need to deal with working on a team and getting along with people from 9 to 5 and because, mostly, he’s doing something which he’s interested in/obsessed with. If I had to look for a job, I would look for one like that, where you’re on your own and it links with an obsession.
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