At six years old I knew I was different. It wasn’t that I was different in an obvious way. But it was still the kind of different were I felt unbearably exposed and vulnerable, like when you have one of those dreams where you are sat in work or school and you realise you aren’t wearing any clothes. I realised that other children saw the world in a different way to me. I noticed that other children could talk without using words, and instead they could tell what their peers were thinking and feeling just by looking at their bodies, hands and faces. This baffled me. I felt so susceptible to the cruel judgements and words of other children I decided I wouldn’t let myself be discovered. So before other children got the scent of my differences I began to learn how to be ‘normal’.
I would watch and analyse other children’s behaviour, verbal language and body language and I would copy them. Over time, I built diagrams and flow charts in my head to help me navigate socialising. As I grew up, my methods and my knowledge became more and more advanced and complicated. My efforts weren’t in vain. I grew up with no one realising just how different I was. But then I turned 14, and things took a bit of a U turn.
The heavy darkness crept into my life so slowly that it was already entirely wrapped and weaved into all aspects of my life that I noticed anything. It made everything darker somehow, it made everything so boring, and it made everything so barren. It numbed all of my senses and emotions, it gave me sickening guilt and a copious serving of self-hatred. But all of that would be interrupted by an overwhelming sense of fear. My thoughts would race around my head like greyhounds on speed. My body would flash hot and cold, I would tremble and fight to catch my breath. I could stay in the ‘red alert’ state for days on end before returning to the monotonous and numbing darkness.
My school noticed that there was something wrong, and they swiftly sought specialist help for me. Without noticing, me and the people around me were dragged into a world I wish for no one to ever have to experience. I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety. I was also diagnosed with Autism, which came as shock to most. But finally I had a reason as to why I had always felt so different. Naively, I thought that once I had a diagnosis it was uphill from there. I was given medication and CBT, but no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t grab hold of anything to stop me from falling.
I started to control how much I ate to compensate from the utter helplessness and chaos I felt for the whole situation. As time carried on, that then also snowballed and I lost control of the food restriction. I self-harmed to try and get some relief, but, as everything else, it was dragged into the entropic mass that had become my life. I spent many days and nights sat in shame and guilt in A+E waiting to get stitches and dressings for self-inflicted wounds. I was so engulfed in the world created by my illnesses that I couldn’t see the point in living. I had become so ill that I had begun to develop the early stages of psychosis, I could hear voices that would shout derogative and hurtful things at me, and I could also see people who weren’t real.
I hit rock bottom when I was 16. It was decided that I needed inpatient treatment because I was too much of a danger to myself, and community support couldn’t control the situation well enough. I was put in a psychiatric unit in London (5 hours from my home), where I spent 3 months. I was then transferred back to the closest unit to my home (still 1 and three quarter hours away), where I spent a further couple of weeks. I had improved a lot whilst I was in hospital, but the shock of being discharged was overwhelming and community support didn’t intervene straight away. I slowly got dragged back into the abyss, but this time the eating problems took control and I developed an eating disorder.
I became completely infatuated with counting calories and exercising. I would make myself sick after eating anything, and would do hours of exercise every day. As the illness consumed me, I started taking diet pills in the hope I could lose more weight. I was tricked by my illness into thinking that doing all of those things would give me control, but the more entrenched I became the less control I had.
I collapsed on the bathroom floor one day. When I woke, I realised what I was doing to myself. I was slowly killing myself – my illness had turned me into a zombie. It was at that point that I vowed to dedicate all of my effort and energy to recovery.
I was offered a place on a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) course. DBT helped me to learn how to regulate my emotions, it taught me Mindfulness, it showed me how to tolerate and cope with distress in a healthy way, and it gave me skills in dealing with relationships in a healthy way. DBT really changed everything for me. DBT helped me to realise that the reason I had fallen ill was because growing up knowing I was different made me feel like a failure, and my attempts to mask my differences had exhausted me to the point that my brain was unable to continue working properly. I had no idea how to look after myself or how to cope with difficult things, but through DBT I learned skills to live and look after my mental health.
I worked really hard to recover, and I continue to work really hard at staying healthy. I am now able to do thing which I never thought were possible. I can now do the things I enjoy and feel proud of myself. I can be with my family and friends and be happy. I don’t believe that I will ever be illness free, I will probably always still get the thoughts and occasionally I may slip back. I will always be Autistic, but I have come to accept and cherish my differences. I have something now that I never had before, I have the control. I can appreciate the simple things like having a laugh with friends, doing a good job at work, or simply relaxing on the sofa in front of the TV. Recovery was hard work, it was exhausting and it was scary, but it was all worth it because now I can live my life with a smile on my face.