This is an article by Maya Berry
I am autistic – very few people know that about me. I tend to keep it to myself for fear of what people will think. I’ve never necessarily felt different to those around me, however before my diagnosis, a small part of me knew I didn’t function the same way as others. I’ve grown up around people with autism which made it difficult to tell if my ‘quirks’ were learnt behaviours or not. When I was eight my dad was diagnosed with autism, when I was twelve my brother was diagnosed with autism, and when I was fifteen I was diagnosed with autism. I find certain textures very uncomfortable to deal with, I have an eye for detail in everything I do and am often not satisfied with the work I create, and I also love having a routine. These differences, to list a few, have followed me throughout my life, fluctuating through different challenges I’ve faced.
One of my biggest challenges is how my autism impacts my mental health. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from anxiety and depression, and this has recently been diagnosed as ‘chronic’ and will be with me for the rest of my life. I was once told by a psychiatrist that unfortunately ‘that comes with the territory’- apparently autism and depression are a package deal. Although this is sad and naturally difficult to face, I deal with these issues with medication and therapy. However, the other difficulties that stem from my autism can’t be dealt with in a simple way and have taken years of learning and understanding of myself to overcome.
However, before I could even begin the journey of managing my autism, I had to receive my diagnosis. Commonly, women are diagnosed with autism later in life, and this was the same for me. Due to something called ‘masking,’ when an individual changes the way they act as a form of camouflage and a way to fit in, women are able to cover up their real selves and fly under the diagnostic radar. It is often the case that left untreated, this mask slowly slips and only then are women noticed for their autism. This was my experience exactly. By the time I entered year eight of secondary school I was exhausted from hiding my real self. Day after day, my true identity was being revealed. However, my symptoms didn’t match those of my dad and brother and so no one thought that I could also be autistic. It wasn’t until my mum did some research and a psychologist suggested that I could be autistic did I start the process of getting a diagnosis.
School, especially high school, was one of the worst times for me. If I was to list all the things I hated about school it would be the length of this page. In Year eight my anxiety surrounding my studies got so bad that my attendance was down to just 30%, which led my mother to make the hard to decision to take me out of school. I then finished the school year and Year nine enrolled in an internet school. For me this was the best decision, I was able to focus on myself while also going to school and getting an education. Due to my schooling being online I was given the freedom to attend however I wanted, whether that be in my pyjamas, in bed or even at my grandma’s house, when my anxiety was extremely high this was very important for me and my future. I believe that mainstream school doesn’t work for everyone and that the child knows what is best for them. For me, I loved internet school but definitely missed the aspect of being around my friends. When I did go back to school in Year ten and eleven, I would often end up having a major meltdown towards the end of the year due to me having held it together, meaning my mum would end up taking me out of school again for the last month or so of the school year. These meltdowns were usually triggered by teachers not understanding my autism and the best ways to help me.
I rarely tell people I’m autistic as I don’t know how they’re going to react. A select few of my friends know and before telling them I’d work out if they were to be trusted or not. I’ve had some bad experiences of telling people I’m autistic, for example, in year ten I told my friendship group that I was having problems with school. They were understanding for less than a week and after that they started leaving me out completely, causing my self-esteem to fall. These experiences are some examples of many that have demonstrated the taboo that surrounds autism and has made me cautious of who to trust. Despite having built up these walls, I know now that I have people around me who love and support me.
Fortunately, I lived in a very understanding household. Growing up there was three of us diagnosed with autism, even though we all had different routines we manage to seamlessly blend and move around each other with only a few arguments here and there. Separately we all had our challenges, which we would find difficult to understand however it let us all grow as individuals and become more understanding.
I am autistic – very few people knew that about me. It’s taken time for me to accept my diagnosis but I’m ready to tell the world.
If there is anything you’ve read and related to or need a friend who has had similar experiences then don’t hesitate to contact me: @mayalouisaberry on Instagram and firstname.lastname@example.org