Joely (24) and Macrae (24) met at a diversity festival seven years ago while volunteering for YMCA Bournemouth.
Joely, who has Asperger syndrome, a lifelong developmental disability that affects how she sees the world and interacts with others, was struggling to deal with her disability and was in need of help.
“I was in a dark, lonely place struggling with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and my disability. My advisor suggested volunteering with YMCA Chatterboxes, a disability youth project, to help me understand myself and give me a hobby. I never thought that this would change my life forever,” says Joely.
“My first impression of Mac was that he was really tall and posh. I was impressed by his knowledge and passion about cars. His laugh is quite cute and he immediately made me feel at ease.”
Talking about their first encounter, Mac added: “I was quite nervous. We worked at the festival for a few hours and she told me about her disability. I had never heard of Asperger’s syndrome before and all I could think was that she was so kind, cheerful, caring, honest and clever. I wanted to learn more about her and her mysterious disability. Every time she spoke, all I could think of was how much I liked her laugh and her smile.”
Volunteering with YMCA Bournemouth was just the start for the couple and their relationship progressed from strength to strength, despite Joely’s challenges living with Asperger’s.
“I realised that Mac understands my disability and that he understands all parts of me. He cares enough to do everything in his power to help me. It was a great feeling to finally be able to be a 100% my -crazy -self with him and that he adores me regardless,” says Joely.
Mac added: “I think I have always known deep down that Joely is the one for me. I realised very early in our relationship that I was willing to sacrifice everything to see her smile and make her happy. Knowing that we had been through so much together, that could have torn us apart, and it had actually made us so much stronger and in love. That’s when I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to this incredibly beautiful and strong woman for the rest of my life.”
Through Mac’s encouragement and support, Joely became more confident and decided to become an Autism and Asperger’s advocate, launching her website, Asperger’s World, where she blogs about the highs and lows of living with the disability.
In 2016, Joely was nominated for an ANCA World Award for her autism advocacy and Mac was keen to be by her side at the ceremony, in Canada. Little did Joely know that he had a huge surprise planned.
“She had no idea I was planning to propose,” says Mac. “It took four months to organise. I was so nervous because I wanted it to be perfect. It was very difficult to organise and to keep it secret.
“It was perfect, even though I was quite ill on the day. We were up on a mountain and Joely was so excited to be there. I had to hold her hands to keep her still so I could propose, because she kept running off to admire the beautiful view. She was like an excited and extremely cute puppy. I felt overwhelmingly relieved, elated, and pretty much walking on sunshine when she said yes. Honestly speaking, I shed a few tears.”
“I had no idea he was going to propose”, says Joely. “I was so shocked and overwhelmingly happy that I could hardly stop crying, we hugged for about 10 minutes before I could answer him because I was so stunned.”
Now back in the UK, Joely and Mac are excited to plan their big day.
“We are hoping for a spring 2018 wedding,” says Joely. “We are thinking a small, rustic intimate wedding that represents us, so nothing fancy. We are a very busy couple though, so nothing has been organised just yet. I’m due to release my first book ‘AspergerWorld: My Fairy Jam Jar’ and Mac is happy to wait with the wedding planning until after it’s been published. He’s been my rock throughout the publication process and I feel very lucky to have him.”
Thinking back to the first time they met at YMCA, Joely says: “Volunteering with YMCA has enabled us both to discover aspects of each other that would usually be hidden. It has given us many shared hobbies and has enabled us to empower each other. I still volunteer with the Chatterbox project at YMCA as often as possible.”
Mac added: “Volunteering with YMCA has been life-changing. Not only have I met the love of my life but it also made me realise that passion has no limits and it inspires me to help Joely every day.”