I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia at the age of 21 and then depression and anxiety at 24. But something still felt off.
In autumn 2019 and at the age of 25, I moved house and changed jobs in the same weekend. Such a huge change in my circumstances triggered my anxiety and depression, both of which became really severe.
I had to reduce my working hours to part-time and couldn’t cope with the stress at all. I felt constantly fatigued and worn out.
My job at the time was as a support worker for people with learning disabilities, many of whom are also autistic. While getting to know them, a lightbulb flashed in my brain. Although I was able to live much more independently than the people I supported, I noticed that I shared a certain way of thinking and feeling.
For example, I heard a scream one day during a shift and when I rushed upstairs, I discovered a man having a meltdown about making his bed. Instantly, I understood his distress. I find making beds difficult and once in frustration, threw my duvet with such force that I managed to smash a lightbulb above my bed, leaving the filament bare.
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I decided to see my GP about the possibility that I might also be autistic and was referred to a psychiatrist who confirmed my suspicions. Rather than being upset about it, my diagnosis felt like a relief. The psychiatrist said I was a complex case, as I had ADHD as well – while ADHD results in seeking change and excitement, autism results in craving familiarity and stability.
Looking back on my life, I can now see clear signs of autism.
I had been withdrawn from playschool as I refused to play with other children. As a teenager, I was on the fringes of social groups. In early adulthood, I struggled hugely in dating, as I didn’t know how to read people or understand the norms.
I always felt strange, and out of place.
Late last year, just before my autism diagnosis, I felt so overwhelmed by everything that I quit my job. By then, I was extremely depressed and spent most of my time in my tiny, rented room. I had moved to London for the excitement, but the crowds and the pace of life felt too much.
I was experiencing sensory overload, which is common for autistic people. When my landlord announced they were selling their property, I knew it was time to leave the city.
I headed north to live with a friend in Yorkshire, and had been living in Doncaster for one week when the panic about coronavirus began.
My anxiety and depression continued to spiral and I found myself crying my eyes out to a compassionate mental health nurse at A&E, after experiencing active suicidal thoughts for the first time.
The nurse increased my antidepressants and I slowly began to feel less despair, but then my friend decided to leave our flat and isolate with her partner, once lockdown began.
It meant that I would be living alone for the first time in my life. It might have been a daunting prospect for some, but not for me – I had long dreamed of this.
Most of my previous house shares had been exhausting – I don’t like the small talk, drama and the noise of having roommates. But I did wonder if I’d be able to cope by myself, when I had been so unwell just a few weeks earlier.
I needn’t have worried. Living alone now, I felt a deep-rooted contentment. I really love the solitude.
As a long-time insomniac, I have started sleeping better. I’m cooking more. My creative energy for writing is returning. When it comes to communication, I’ve always preferred texting or emailing and can go longer than a lot of people without face-to-face contact.
Many of my neurotypical friends are struggling a lot as they need more social connection and communication, while I am enjoying lockdown, in some ways.
I do miss catch-ups with friends and the ability to roam and people-watch in a café. I yearn to get out into the Yorkshire peaks and the dales.
Not all autistic people feel as I do, but this slower-paced, calmer world in which we don’t have the same pressure to be social is a welcome shift for many.
Yet others are really struggling with routines being disrupted and going through such huge change. Those in supported living, like where I used to work, also need high levels of support from key workers.
Personally, however, this time in lockdown feels like one of the happiest periods of my life.
I have some anxiety about life after lockdown. I will have to readjust to a busier way of life, and I’ll be renting my own flat. However, I am finally beginning to heal and stabilise from years of terrible mental health and that’s all that matters to me right now.
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