Mair Elliott, now aged 18, shares her experience of being diagnosed with Autism as a teenager.
“Most of us will know the time, the time when we suddenly got really grumpy, our bodies started sprouting hair from random places, we started to spend a lot more time ‘hanging out’ with our friends. The time when everyone suddenly became obsessed with relationships and sex, and when everyone wanted to try the latest ‘must haves’. People started to wear different clothing and tried different styles . Our parents drove us up the wall, and school always set too much homework. You guessed it; the teenage years.
Many of us will remember those precious few years as being full of fun, experimenting, heartbreak, excitement and a little confusion. No one has smooth sailing through puberty, all of us were desperate to ‘find ourselves’. Most will find their paths, and learn to sail the rough seas of growing up. But what happens when your whole world is turned upside down by a few simple words, slap bang in the middle of those unstable years?
I was 14 when something started going wrong, I didn’t have a clue what it was. Low moods, an inability to concentrate, lack of interest in things. I brushed it off as ‘teenage angst’ after all that’s what’s supposed to happen isn’t it? But over a couple of months things got worse and I felt low all of the time, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t anything really, just empty. And then the worrying and stressing kicked in. The fear and nervous energy began to sing its song in my head. I would be reduced to a quivering ball of tears and breathlessness, something which I now know as a panic attack. I had no control over what my head was doing, but it was certainly not doing as it was supposed to. I started hurting myself, not something which came as a decision but more as an instinct when I couldn’t deal with how I felt. I could no longer face eating, and slowly restricted what I put in my mouth, which again was not a conscious decision, it wasn’t something I had control over.
Luckily, a teacher in school had noticed, she referred me to school nurse, who promptly referred me to mental health services. I met with a psychiatrist, something which could be a blog post in itself! I was never good at speaking about how I felt, because I never actually was able to understand how I felt. But after a couple of sessions the psychiatrist said something which would change my life forever.
“I think you might be on the Autism spectrum.”
I was given a diagnosis of Autism at 15 years old, I was also diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety, just to complete the set.
I had always known I was different, but at a young age I took matters into my own hands and decided to learn how to be ‘normal’. I would watch other children and copy what they did, mimic their body language and facial expressions, and I learn what words they used. And this became my obsession, people were my obsession. So no, it probably wasn’t noticeable that I had autism to the untrained eye. All the stereotypical things that people think of when it comes to autism, I just didn’t do. For example, I learned how to make eye contact, I hated it but I did it because that’s what everyone else did, my obsession was people, so I didn’t have any obviously unusual obsessions, I could speak and communicate well because I had taught myself how.
Being given a diagnosis during the years in which I was supposed to be figuring out who I was, blew everything into confusion. I started questioning the everyday things, whether or not they were ‘autistic’ things or just me. Questions like, ‘what does this mean for the future?’ And, ‘Am I going to be able to live a ‘normal’ life?’ started cropping up. My mental illness had declined to the point where I required hospitalisation. All the while I was desperate to work out who I was.
I quickly started to believe that I was destined to be the ‘crazy’ one. The ‘crazy cat lady’ or the ‘mad hatter’. Because all of these things, the mental illness, the autism discovery completely blew my world into pieces. And I was subjecting myself to stigma which the rest of the word was waving in my face. I thought that I would be ill, and unsuccessful because apparently that Is who I’d become during those years. Whilst my friends were out experimenting, trying new things, developing their personalities and becoming people, I was in and out of hospital, meeting with doctors and nurses, taking medication, having meltdowns in the school corridors and needing stitches every couple of days.
I am now 18, I am a lot better, and doing well. I believe that I have managed to reach the other side of the terrible teenage years. My path through was completely different to my peers, who have all recently embarked on their new journeys in University. But I think the most important thing I think that I have recently discovered, is that I don’t have to be the ‘crazy’ one, I can be who I want to be. I have autism, and that’s ok. I have depression, and that’s ok. I have anxiety, and that’s ok. In the past I have thought that those things will define me for the rest of my life, that I would always be known by my autistic traits. But now I know that although those things are part of me, they cannot and will not define who I am as a person. They do not have that kind of power over me, and I won’t ever give them that kind of power ever again. I can search for who I am , and I can become something which does not allow my diagnoses to set any limits on my abilities. And of course Autism comes with its advantages, for example once I find something I like I have the drive and willpower of a police dog on the scent of explosives to pursue that topic of interest. I can see the world in a completely different way to most other people, and I think my view of the world is a beautiful one.”
Mair gave us full permission to publish this article which originally appeared as guest blog on the website aspertypical