I am a girl living with autism
Imagine living in a world where you feel as though everyone knows what is going on but you. Imagine living in a world where you constantly feel crippling anxiety because of unexpected change. Imagine living in a world where you’re terrified to go out because of the overwhelming lights, sounds, smells and touches.
Imagine pretending you’re absolutely fine when in reality you are falling apart.
For 15 years of my life I did just that. I kept my head down, copied the behaviour of others and put all my energy into being ‘normal’. The problem is we are all human and there is only so long someone can keep an act up for. When I was 13 I began paying the price for my acting skills and my mental health started to deteriorate.
At 15, life as I had always knew it disappeared. My mental health hit rock bottom and I found myself stuck in a very dark place. The depression had taken over so much that I believed that to carry on living was an impossible task. A month after starting year 11 I tried to end my life.
I felt as though I lived in a world where everyone knew how to succeed apart from me. I was the girl who always got things wrong and cried about the smallest of things.
I was aware society didn’t appreciate difference but I couldn’t hide it anymore. I had no energy left in me to pretend I was okay. I gave up trying to fit in and I just crumbled apart.
I was admitted to a specialist mental health unit for young people but I struggled there even more. It was horrible and confusing and I felt like a fraud. Everyone else had a reason to be depressed but I felt like I didn’t, or at least I thought I didn’t. The answer only came after I had been stuck in hospital for six months. I can still remember it to this day when they told me those words that lifted a lifetime of unanswered questions.
“You’re on the autism spectrum.”
My reaction? Anger. Anger because I didn’t believe them. Anger because I didn’t understand how they could just say it as though it was that simple. Anger because all these years I had lived with no support. Anger because it had taken me the need to end my life to be recognised.
The sad thing is, it is not just me that this has happened to. So many girls are going undiagnosed because we are experts at ‘flying under the radar’.
Once the initial anger subsided, a wave of relief hit me.
I finally had an answer. I finally had a reason to have ended up so depressed. I finally had access to help and support in school. I finally had parents that knew how to deal with me better. I finally saw a way out of all the darkness and struggle.
It has been five years since I was diagnosed but it has also been five years since I began living life as the real Bella. The Bella that finds change horrendously difficult. The Bella that finds loud noises painful and overwhelming. The Bella that needs time on her own to recharge her social batteries.
But it is not all bad, I can meticulously organise things to a tee. I can make people cry with laughter because of my honesty and literal way of thinking. I am also determined to use my negative experiences as an undiagnosed girl to help others, because there is value in things going wrong.
I am Bella and I am a girl living with autism.