Have you ever lived through 27 years of your life not fully realising who you really are?
Most people at first glance see me as someone outgoing, friendly, quirky, funny and maybe even a little odd at times. They see someone successful, someone finding their way in the world and making their stamp on it. Most people see me as an illustrator, Graphic Designer, Author and Comedian amongst other things, but most people don’t see me, most people will never see me.
I’ve been wearing a mask my whole life, and never knew.
As a young child I immersed myself deeply in drawing and music. Most days i’d spend hours on end in my room writing stories or learning to play music, no one understood me but this is how I expressed myself. I was always asked by adults ‘why don’t you smile?’ ‘there must be something wrong with you’ ‘you have nothing to be feeling down about’. I was invited to birthday parties where I would be ridiculed, teased and left out. I couldn’t go out on my own road to play without bullies literally jumping up and down on my face and my hair being pulled out in clumps in my own front garden. One day I was even lined up for people to slap me across the face like a punching bag. In school, well, that wasn’t any better, it was worse. I fell behind so much that I had to do maths in the principles office. People in my class treated me so badly that I still remember each and every second of it to this day. I was robbed from and taken advantage of and then there’s the time when my primary school kicked me out for a month to attend Saint Johns for ‘troubled children’ because they didn’t know what to do with me. The principle of my school actually said ‘Bullying does no harm, sure, it toughens you up’ she said. I went through years of counselling when I was in primary school and one of the councillors said to my mam ‘She’s just looking for attention’.
All throughout my life I was corrected on how to speak, how to act, how to behave like other children/people my age until I eventually just started doing that to make life easier for everyone else around me. I was frustrated, angry and alone and things only seemed to get worse and worse by the time I got to secondary school. Teachers said ‘I’d do nothing with my life’ that I was a ‘waste of space’. I mimicked people, dressed like the coolest person in which ever group I was hanging out in (which was a new one every couple of months). I tried so desperately to fit in and to make friends. I was a completely lost. People who I thought were my friends would call me on private number saying horrible shit but what bothered me was that one minute we were all friends and the next I was being treated like this and to be honest, I never really knew why.
Still to this day, having and maintaining friends is a mystery to me, it’s like reading a can of foreign fanta on holidays, haven’t a clue what the thing says. I don’t understand how friendship works. I mean, I should, I’m an adult now right? but making friends as an adult is so much harder. I mean, you cant just run up to someone and ask ‘can we be friends’ like you would have at a playground when you where 6. Most days I spend with my boyfriend or at home alone when he’s in work. I like spending time doing the things I love because they don’t let me down and i’ve become so immersed in my work that I’ve forgotten about human interaction in general.
Over the last couple of years I’ve had some extreme highs and lows. I lost my best friend, The one person in my life I could share everything with, the one person who ‘got me’. When my mam died in 2013 everything changed. I was at the lowest point in my life and no one really truly understood so I just got stuck into my work and focused on that because I felt like I had lost everything else. Everything was fucked. People in my class in college (not all, but the ‘cool’ gang) completely ignored me and ganged up on me at different points throughout my time in DIT. I never felt so much like an outsider as I did in that class with people my own age with similar interests. I may as well have been a fucking alien.
I decided in 2015 I wanted to meet my biological dad the first time. I knew nothing about him other than what others told me about him and they weren’t the kind of things that made me go ‘ok cool, he seems great’ but I wanted to make my own mind up about him. When we met in the stairwell of his flat in Mansfield up north of the UK our eyes met and we just knew we were related. We didn’t talk for a while but once we both started, we couldn’t shut the other up. My dad was a genius at maths and funnily enough at pool too, even though he would wobble all over the place because he drank so much. When I came home we would talk on the phone for hours on end asking each other questions about our lives until one of us trailed off and started to talk about ourselves again. He had the best stories, one of my favourites was him knowing that some actor in Eastenders back in the 80’s was gay and that he knew before everyone else because he delivered a washing machine to his house. He was almost as random as me and loved a good story. I thought my dad was weird though, he said things that you just shouldn’t say to your daughter, ever. After a while we had a falling out because he had said some nasty stuff to me but he couldn’t understand why we had fallen out. He was a kind person, he told me that I don’t need to hold in my tears like his dad told him, he said I could cry when ever I wanted to, he said he robbed a doll from Tesco because there was a defect on it and they were going to trow her away and he didn’t want her to thrown out just because she was different, so he saved her he said, like he would save me long after he had passed away. We were more similar than I ever imagined. And i’m sorry he didn’t get to figure out who he was too and instead turned to drink and closed himself off to the world.
On the 30th of April, 2018, my life changed forever, It all finally made sense to me. Like a darkness or brick being lifted from my heart. People doubted me, but I knew, deep down I knew. I could lift the mask i’ve been wearing everyday for the last 27 years and breathe for the first time ever without any anxiety and say. I am Autistic.
You can’t see it, You might not even be able to tell, but that’s because I’m a master of disguise and it’s also the reason why I’m highly intelligent despite what i’ve been told by neurotypical people throughout my life.
So here’s to those people in my life who failed me, who misjudged me, trolled me, made my life hell, who said I was stupid, who told me I was wrong, for the people who fooled and took advantage of me. For the people kicked, punched and spit at me on a daily basis because I was different. For a health system that failed me amongst other girls and women on the spectrum, and most of all, for the teachers who said i’d be nothing and didn’t even give me a chance because you couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’m a hell of a lot stronger than I ever realised and even with everything else going on in my life, the losses i’ve had along with all the exciting things that have happened so far, the highs and the lows, there is one thing that has never changed, and that is that I never gave up on myself. I never stopped searching for answers despite everyone telling me ‘i’m grand’. I never stopped. Never give up on yourself.
This is the first day of living the rest of my life without hiding behind a mask.