Tag Archives: Mair Elliott

Mair Elliott – So I Did It!

Mair on her travels

Mair on her travels

We share Mair Elliott’s latest blog on living with mental illness and autism. In this post Mair shares her experiences while travelling abroad this Summer.

“So I did it! I managed to not only survive, but to experience and enjoy travelling to its full extent (low points included).

To many travelling around Canada for roughly 6 weeks might seem like no big deal, just an extended summer holiday. But for someone like me it is a momentous achievement. If you’d have asked me even a year ago of it was possible for me to do something like this I would have said no.

When I say ‘someone like me’ I am referring to someone who on a daily basis faces barriers, someone who consistently has to fight to keep their head above water. Someone that finds the external world confusing and sometimes terrifying. Someone with Autism and Mental health problems.

In the weeks leading up to departure I could feel the anxiety whipping up a storm. Already the idea of a lack of routine for 6 weeks was affecting me both mentally and physically. As we were making final plans a deep feeling of dread and uncertainty was rushing through my veins. Excitement and the need for adventure were also thrown into the emotional cocktail, leading to an overall confusing and overwhelming mixture.

Having made it to Gatwick and flown to Toronto airport I suddenly found myself with my head in a toilet bowl watching my stomach contents spill out of me like a fountain. I was told I wasn’t allowed to fly to our final destination, Vancouver, and so myself and my friend spent the night trying to sleep on the airport floor. It makes a good story, but at the time I was trying to figure out why I had fallen so ill, was it food poisoning? Had I eaten something I was allergic to? Was it a stomach bug? It is only now, nearly a month later, that I’m realising it was probably anxiety.

Staying in hostels was interesting to say the least. I am not someone who can handle close proximity to other people. People I know well, like family and friends, then it’s fine – strangers are another matter. Having said that, I felt I dealt with the hostels in Vancouver, Jasper and Quebec city with some grace and patience. The hostel in Montreal may have been weak point. Being a light sleeper would be an understatement for me, so when we were in a dorm with a lady that snored louder than a horse with a cold I may have lost my temper. I removed myself from the situation before I blew my top, but staying in the hostel was no longer an option. Luckily, I had stored some emergency money away and I used it to book a hotel room for myself and my friend for the remainder of our time in Montreal.

There were sleepless nights (thank the pharmaceutical industry for Zopiclone!), lack of an eating routine, stress, anxiety, generally feeling unwell a lot of the time and a few times I just wanted to fly home. You may ask why I would put myself through all of that, or was it even worth it. And in truth, it was difficult, but my god it was worth it. All of the negative things I experienced were nothing to the places I saw, the beautiful scenery, the great stories and adventures, the interesting people I met, the magnificent creatures I witnessed and the sheer achievement of knocking down those barriers and proving my doubts and anxiety wrong.

I am so proud of myself, especially looking back on where I started. Almost exactly three years before we flew out I was discharged from the Psychiatric unit. In those three years I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, from creating the S4C and ITV programme with the team down in Cardiff, speaking at events of all shapes and sizes, becoming a trustee of an amazing charity, to learning how to look after myself and manage my mental health problems.

I am not prepared to allow the challenges I face to stop me from doing the things I want to do. I am willing to put the work and effort into overcoming the barriers which potentially could disable me. I also have the patience and endurance to survive the more difficult times. After being so unwell, having been incapable of looking after myself, having not been able to see how truly beautiful this world is and having contemplated mortality from the darkest of corners, I am more aware than ever that I only get one life – I am not going to let those demons which once controlled me to ruin or take my life away from me. And I hope that I can prove to anyone who faces difficulties, whether it be Autism related, mental health problems, or even just day to day issues, that firstly with hard work, perseverance, bravery and some grit you can overcome any barrier you face. And secondly, things can and do get better.

It’s onwards and upwards for myself, the next challenge is completing a year long college course. And of course, I will be doing a few campaigning bits and bobs in between, including speaking at a reception in the House of Lords in October”.

This blog post was originally published at Mair Elliot: Living with Mental Illness and Autism

You can read more of Mair’s articles here.

Give me the support I need and watch me thrive

Mair Elliott

Mair Elliott

Nineteen year old Mair Elliott gave a passionate speech at our recent conference on ‘Improving Mental Health in Children with Autism, ADHD and Learning Disabilities‘.

Mair was diagnosed with autism aged 15 after experiencing severe mental health problems. At the conference she shared her experiences:

“Truth be told when I was asked to speak to you today, I was a bit intimidated. I don’t have a fancy doctorate, I don’t even have a degree and I haven’t been doing any experiments in my lab. I am not in charge of any services, I don’t represent any particular organisation standing in front of you here today.

But what I do have is an Autism diagnosis, and I have diagnoses of Depression, Anxiety, Anorexia Nervosa, and Psychosis. We could argue that maybe I am the most qualified to talk at a conference about neuro-disability and mental health.

I started to feel different at 6 years old. I realised I could see the world in a different way to my peers, I noticed that my fellow classmates could communicate in a way that I couldn’t understand. This left me with an uncomfortable exposed feeling, and even at six years old I knew that being different made me vulnerable, which led to me deciding to learn to be ‘normal’, whatever that is. I suppose in true Autism form I decided to do this without including or informing anyone how I felt or what I was doing.

I learned by watching other children, observing their body language, facial expression, hand gestures, tone of voice. And then I copied, as I grew up I become more able to be intelligent in the way I did this, I could test hypotheses, I could notice patterns, I could create flow charts and diagrams in my mind to navigate socialising. It worked well and I went along in life with no one catching on and realising I was different.  Even though that was what I was aiming for at the time, it also had some side effects. I grew up thinking I was a failure, I grew up thinking that my true self was a disgrace, something which should be hidden away.

It was when I reached 14 years old that the cracks began to appear. I started to feel quite low, and got unusually anxious over certain things. I actually brushed it off thinking it was just teenage angst, I ignored what was going on in the hope it would just go away. But when I went into year 10, the beginning of GCSEs, things went downhill rather quickly.

It reached a point where I was in the depths of depression, I felt as though I was sinking beneath an ocean desperately trying to breathe and the weight of water pushing me down. The anxiety I had was never-ending, constantly in a state of red alert. Having anxiety is a bit like when you’re home alone and suddenly you hear noise coming from somewhere else in the house, your thoughts start racing, you can hear your heart pumping faster and faster, a lump of fear and dread weighs down our ribcage and freezes your airways. For someone with Anxiety, that feeling never stops.

My appetite diminished and my ability to complete even simple tasks faded away.  I couldn’t sleep because my brain wouldn’t switch of. The only relief I could find came from self-harm. Self-harm acted as a conversion from emotional pain into manageable physical pain. All of this added upon the utter confusion and disorientation I had over how I was feeling and what was going on in my head.

The school noticed very quickly that I needed specialist help and referred me to a primary mental health nurse. I think I saw the primary nurse twice before he then decided I needed more specialist help again.

I started seeing a psychiatrist every couple of weeks in specialist CAMHS. I was very very lucky that I wasn’t put on a waiting list, to this day I am unsure why or how I managed to bypass the waiting lists. I wish I could share that secret with you, but I have no idea what it is. I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety to begin with. But my psychiatrist noticed that there was something underlying and pursued an Autism assessment. I was very lucky to be able to jump the waiting list for that as well, because in my local area the waiting list was something like 7 years long. I was diagnosed with Autism when I was 15 years old.

Getting a diagnosis explained to me why I had felt so different. It helped me to realise that I was not a failure, and it helped to explain why I found this world so overwhelming. Getting a diagnosis was the very first step in my journey to self-awareness. But by then mental illness had a firm grasp on my life.

I was put on a variety of medications, none of which had the desired effect, I had a course of CBT which although helped somewhat it wasn’t nearly as impactful as was required. Over a year I continued the descent, it got the point that I was having panic attacks daily in school and full on out of control meltdowns in the middle of the school corridors. I spent many evenings sat in A+E because I had self-harmed or was very suicidal. I started getting hallucinations, I heard voices which shouted derogatory comments at me, and I saw people who I believed were going to hurt me or my family. I had no control, and was detaching from reality.

It was decided that community CAMHS couldn’t support me, and I was hospitalised. I was actually in a psychiatric unit across the river from here in the Maudsley, which is actually about 5 hours from my house. I spent 3 and half months there before being transferred to a unit slightly closer to home, where I spent about 3 weeks.

Community CAMHS didn’t react in the best way to my discharge and I didn’t actually see anyone for at least 6-8 weeks after being discharged.  I relapsed over the next 6 to 8 months and became engulfed in the bitter and cold world of Anorexia Nervosa. I was almost to the point of being put back in hospital, until one day I had an epiphany style moment when I collapsed on my bathroom floor. I realised that I didn’t want to live my life jumping from hospital to hospital, I didn’t need to surrender myself to illnesses which made my life hell, I didn’t need to be in pain.

From that point onwards I pushed and fought for the things that I knew would help me, like Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Family therapy, no medication.  I worked hard to break free from the illnesses which ruled my life. Two years on and I can stand in front of you to tell you my tale.

We all are probably aware of the downfalls associated with CAMHS. Long waiting times, lack of access to the right treatments, overuse of medications, lack of family involvement, lack of local inpatient facilities, changing staff, lack of communication between different services, poor resources and funding, etc. I have experienced pretty much all of those things, and felt the impact these issues can have on someone already suffering. Effects like distrust and inability to build therapeutic relationships with practitioners, not being able to feel safe or comfortable in the environment, disjointed support and having to repeat my story over and over, having to go hundreds of miles from my home for appropriate care, my family being treated like a problem rather than part of the solution.

Living with a disability is hard, living with mental Illness is hard, getting help should be easy.

I want to bring up at least one positive point about CAMHS and that is how hard the staff work despite not having the resources necessary to do everything that is asked of them. It’s easy to place blame on individuals when nothing seems to be going right. I know how hard community and hospital CAMHS staff have worked to look after me over the years.

The truth is some things in this world are going to be more difficult for me, I will probably always walk the tightrope above the chasm of mental illness. I do need extra help with some things in life compared to other people. My autism brain is not fully compatible with a neuro-typical world. To deny all of this would be foolish, and I would be setting myself up to be disappointed. But give me the right conditions, teach me the right things, give me the right kind of help, watch me thrive.

I am 19 years old and so far I have contributed to Welsh Government’s enquiry into children’s mental health services in Wales, which lead to an extra 7.6 million being ring fenced for the service each year, I have done 2 current affairs programmes which aired on Welsh national television, one of which won a BAFTA Award and is shortlisted for the Celtic film festival.  I have spoken at conferences, seminars and events of all shapes and sizes, I have spoken about young people’s mental health in the Welsh press on many occasions. I have co-written a report on the wellbeing of children and young people in Wales which has been widely endorsed, including by Welsh Government. I am a trustee of a Wales wide charity which supports over a 1000 people with serious mental illness and their families. Cardiff University’s National Centre for Mental health and I was commissioned to undertake a research project in my county looking into the experience of young people with Autism in secondary schools.

I recently visited my old school, where I went through a lot of the dark times over the past years. Seeing that place again, walking the corridors and speaking to the people made me realise how far I have come. I could be modest and say that it was nothing, any one could have done what I have done, but actually, I worked hard to be where I am today. I kept taking steps forward when all I wanted to do was give up. I fought for myself and for all of the other young people in Wales in similar situations, I have opened up to thousands of people about my diagnoses, I have faced stigma, misconceptions, stereotypes and ignorance. I have faced things most of my peers couldn’t even imagine, yet I have achieved more before the age 20 than some people do in a lifetime.

I am not ashamed to have Autism, I am not ashamed to have mental health problems.

My Autism makes me a driven, hard-working, passionate person. It means I have high standards and will complete any task that is asked of me at the highest quality I can possibly manage. It makes me organised, honest and authentic.

Having been through mental illness has taught me to appreciate the little things, like eating a bowl of cereal in the morning, the sound of the wind through the trees, and the ability to smile and be happy.

I no longer see my differences as a failure on my behalf, I see them as a blessing.

Don’t lose hope when you feel that life is throwing too many obstacles in your face, don’t lose hope for your sons, daughters, siblings, parents, friends, clients – when the right conditions are eventually found it will all have been worth it.

Thank you for listening”.

You can watch the video of Mair’s presentation here.

Mair has written several articles for us – “Being a woman with Autism“, “Autism and Mental Illness” and “Puberty and my Autism Diagnosis“.

Why we’re Sleep Walking for Cerebra

Tracy Elliott

Tracy Elliott

Tracy Elliott, Head of Research at Cerebra, explains why she and her family are taking part in our Sleep Walk on 23rd July.

“Sleep, or lack of, is an issue most new parents face. We were no exception. Only our daughter, unknown to us at the time, had an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. We spent many hours walking up and down our hallway in the middle of the night trying to get our beautiful new daughter to sleep – nothing worked. We sought help, standard sleep management techniques did not work. Sleep deprivation continued.

Now as Head of Research for Cerebra I’m pleased to support research into sleep disorders. We know sleep disorders are common, different in nature and problematic for children and families living with Autism, intellectual disability, Angleman or Smith-Magenis syndromes. Cerebra funded research will help everyone understand why these problems occur and what can be done to help.

Mair Elliott

Mair Elliott

Nineteen years on we are walking up Pen Y Fan at night to replicate our early night walking experience and to raise awareness of, and money for, this important sleep research”.

Tracy, Geoff and Mair Elliott

You can help Tracy Elliott raise money for this great cause by donating directly to her fundraising page.

Research into Sleep Disorders is being carried out by the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Birmingham University.

Being a woman with Autism

Mair Elliott

Mair Elliott

We share Mair Elliott’s latest blog on living with Autism and Mental Illness. In this article Mair talks about what it’s like to be a woman with Autism:

“I don’t fit any stereotypes, I am not the non-verbal low functioning boy that rocks back and forth in the corner of the room. In fact the majority of people with Autism don’t fit that stereotype. I wasn’t ‘naughty’, I reached most of my developmental milestones and I can look at you in the eyes. I am not a genius or prodigy either, I am intelligent, I am academically able, I do have the ability to obsess over things until I am very knowledgeable or able in that particular field, but I am not the next Einstein or Mozart.

Autism is a spectrum condition in which someone can be anywhere along it. Each person will have a different combination of symptoms at differing levels of severity. Each person with Autism is different to the next person with Autism. You may ask why it is important for everyone to understand this fact? It is important because at the moment, despite the fact that many people in society have heard of Autism, people with Autism are affected by these stereotypes and misunderstandings which can be detrimental to a persons well-being and abilities to function. For example, employers may not hire someone who is autistic because they have prejudged this person by their diagnosis.

Another thing that many people do not realise about Autism is that girls can have it as well as boys, not only that, but Autism affects girls differently to boys. I was 15 years old when I got my diagnosis, but it was at the age of 6 that I actually realised I was different. I noticed that my peers could see and interpret a world that I couldn’t comprehend. I noticed that my world was brighter, louder, and over all more overwhelming compared to the world my peers lived in. At 6 years old I felt the intense vulnerability that came along with being different, I felt this uncomfortable feeling of being exposed. I wasn’t one for sitting back and not doing anything about it, so I decided to learn to be ‘normal’. Of course being Autistic meant that I didn’t feel the need to involve any other people in my plan or how I was feeling, not even my family.

So over the years I went through the process of watching other people communicate, how they used their hands, facial expressions, the words they used etc, practising what I had observed, and then incorporating it in my bank of diagrams and flow charts in my head to navigate socialising. It wasn’t until I fell ill and my psychiatrist noticed I was on the spectrum at the age of 15 that I was diagnosed.

Apparently, many women and girls with Autism take the same approach and from an early age ‘mask’ their difficulties. You may think ‘what an ingenious way of overcoming the difficulties Autism can cause’, which in some ways it is an incredibly effective way of coping. But it also means that many women don’t get a diagnosis until they become severely affected other problems like mental illness.

I fell ill when I was 14 years old with Depression and Anxiety, and very quickly became so unwell I developed an Eating disorder and psychosis on top of that. I had to live in a psychiatric hospital for 4 months and I have been in mental health services for over 4 years now. The main reason for my illness was that the task of maintaining my ‘mask’, trying to appear ‘normal’ to the outside world was so exhausting and mentally draining that my brain couldn’t function any longer.

Being a woman with Autism means that I am misunderstood frequently, it means that people don’t understand the difficulties I face everyday because I appear ‘normal’ on the outside, it meant that lack of knowledge and understanding of Autism in girls prevented me from getting a diagnosis at an early age and getting the right support from an early age which could have prevented mental illness. Being a woman with Autism means that when things do go wrong and I struggle people can’t comprehend why because to their knowledge I am ‘normal’ and am perfectly capable of functioning in the same way as them. Being a woman with Autism means that I am frequently told by people, both professionals and non professionals, that I couldn’t possibly be Autistic because I’m ‘not weird enough’.

The world to me feels a bit like being dumped in the middle of a vast lake and not knowing how to swim. The majority of my time is spent trying trying to keep my head above water, and avoiding the strong currents of mental illness. I find socialising terrifying, confusing and complicated. My life is spent trying to understand things that neurotypical people don’t even batter an eyelid to.

I am not ashamed to be Autistic, and I am not ashamed to be a woman. If I set my mind to something you can be assured that not only will I get it done, but it will be done at the best quality I can possibly achieve, I have high standards, and I work hard. When I get interested in something I will get so knowledgeable and able in whatever it is that I could probably get mistaken for a professional. I am reliable, I am truthful, and I am organised. Being Autistic in a society built for neurotypical people is not easy and can cause lots of problems, but being Autistic in itself can prove to be a gift.

If people simply understood that just because I appear to be ‘normal’ and able to cope doesn’t actually mean that it is true. If people were aware that autism is different for girls compared to boys then maybe less girls will have to grow up feeling like a failure and a freak. If people knew that each person with Autism is an individual then maybe some of the harmful stereotypes could be vanquished”.

Mair gave us full permission to publish this article which first appeared on her blog

You can also read Mair’s articles “Puberty and My Autism Diagnosis” and “Autism and Mental Illness: A Teenager’s Perspective”.

Autism and Mental Illness: a Teenager’s Perspective

Mair Elliott

Mair Elliott

Mair Elliot shares her experience of living with both a mental illness and Autism.

“Since 14 years old I have had doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses, occupational therapists, dieticians, support workers, counsellors… and various other professionals poking and prodding at the psychological mess in my head. I have tried more medications I than I can count on my hands, and I have taken more pills than I’d care to divulge. I have tried talking therapies upon talking therapies, some of which I know so well I could easily facilitate a course for someone in need (but I won’t).

Some people may find my recent decision to reduce the professional help I receive currently to just a phone call once a month a bit risky or odd. But the truth is I have never been able to develop strategies to help myself by myself. Falling ill during my teenage years resulted in me not only missing a heck of a lot of school, but I also missed out on the opportunity to discover how I would live my life, how I would be me, and even who I was/am. I was told how I was supposed to live my life, or I was told what was ‘healthy’. Which was fine during the time I was incapable of looking after myself.

But now I am able to look after myself, at least at the basic level. What I find frustrating is that the generic advice given to me from almost all of the people I have met, is not actually moulded in a way I can live with. Don’t get me wrong, I needed professional help to keep me alive, and I will always be grateful for the tireless efforts of the professionals, and people who had to deal with me during a very dark time in my life. But I have encountered an illusion which I believed was real for a very long time.

Let me create a metaphorical example, I am assuming that all of you have seen circus workers/clowns/or pretty much anyone create balloon animals. Well let’s say that when I was ill I was just an empty balloon. Getting professional help and advice meant that I could fill my balloon with air. It’s better than it was before, because at least now it’s inflated, but it’s just a long thin balloon. In order for it to become a balloon animal I have to twist, turn and mould the balloon until it’s an animal like shape. The only thing is, I don’t have detailed instructions, only very brief outlines.

Over the years I have been given some helpful advice on how to live my life in a healthy and happy way, but I need to take that advice and personalise it. I need to work out how that advice is going to fit into my life, and the way I live it. I need to work out which advice I have been given is going to work for me, and which advice is not going to help me.

When I discovered I was ill, I made the assumption that all I needed was a bit of therapy and possibly a bit of medication, and then I would be back to exactly who I was before I fell ill, or even a better version of who I was. I was naïve enough to believe that I would get better and be completely 100% healthy, and my life would be amazing and sparkly. I also thought that getting better was just a straight line on a graph upwards (anyone who’s been to therapy will understand the graph of recovery comment I just made).

After 10 weeks of therapy and several failed attempts of trying medication, you’d think I would have realised that this wasn’t the case, or at least when a year had gone by and I ended up living on a psychiatric unit. But the truth is I didn’t realise that I wasn’t going to make some miraculous recovery for about 3 years.

When I had this realisation I could finally takes steps towards recovery. I understood for the first time that I was going to have to put myself out there, and pretty much expect to fail continuously until I worked out ways that I could cope with life. As an obsessive perfectionist it was not a comfortable realisation, but I knew that I was going to have to work hard, and that I was going to have to accept that I was not going to do well in every step and decision I had to make. Sometimes I was going to fall down or get sucked back into old ways, and I had to be OK with having a recovery graph that looks more like a squiggle on page than a logical and tidy straight line upwards.

And this is why I don’t believe in full recovery. I can always be getting better, I can always be improving things for myself. Full recovery suggests to me that there is an end to this journey, and I don’t want that to be the case. I will always be Autistic, I might reach a point in which I am symptom free from my mental illnesses. But that won’t mean that I won’t still face challenges, in fact I know I will definitely face challenges because being Autistic sometimes in not easy.

I have gotten to the point now where I have addressed the fundamental problems I faced when I was ill, such as not eating, self-harming and self-destructive behaviour. I had the expertise of professionals to help me get to this point. But now I have to address the issues I face with life outside of my illnesses. Issues like how do I deal with Autism and maintaining professional and personal relationships, what is it that I really enjoy and how can I make it a career, what is it that helps me be happy and healthy, and most importantly what are the things which I cannot change and how can I come to accept them.

In order to work out answers to my questions, in order for me to live a long and happy life, I believe I need space now to explore. So that is why I have decided to reduce the professional help I receive down to a phone call once a month. I know when I need to ask for help, and I understand that my journey is far from easy, but for now I know this is the right decision for me.

If I have learned anything from the past few years is to never take the simple things for granted, like the love and support from family and friends, or the ability to smile and be happy”.

Mair gave us full permission to publish this article which first appeared on her blog.

You can also read Mair’s article “Puberty and My Autism Diagnosis”.

Puberty and My Autism Diagnosis

Mair Elliott

Mair Elliott

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