When No One Listened to Me, I Found My Own Voice
Age 18 can bring so many different opportunities and new avenues to go down because you are officially an adult. To me that meant university. I had been told that university would be so many things, but what no one told me was that university is lonely. You are suddenly an adult. You are in charge of everything about yourself. I had been told by doctors for seven years now that I had a mental illness of some form or another, so I believed them. I believed I needed medication and took it but wondered why it made no difference to my mood (good or bad). But who was I to question the experts?
I began self-harming at 18. I have some clear memories of the time at university of me wondering what was going on. Wondering why I didn’t seem to be getting fixed in the way that the doctors said each round of medication would. I agreed to try a counselor again at 18. Each time I would go to see someone, I talked through my history, tried to make them see that “no, nothing happened to me as a child” and that “no I don’t have a traumatic memory I am bottling up and need to tell you” and then they would say they disagreed with me but that they would need to pass me to someone else who was more specialized in people like me. Eighteen is so magical for me because from GP to final psychiatrist, in these five years I saw 18 people (and no I am not making that number up for effect or exaggeration. It happened).
Eighteen is so magical for me because at 18 I got an adult voice. I could say when I wanted something or when I wanted to go somewhere, and I could make it happen. So when I felt suicidal and was scared, I went to A&E. I knew I had to be responsible for myself, so I went. I went there and was asked, “Well what do you want us to do?” to which I didn’t know. I was just doing what I had been told to do in this situation. At 18 I suddenly realized when it came to my medical care, I didn’t know very much but knew I had to find some answers soon because I was now in a place where it was down to me as an 18-year-old to figure it out.
I left that city and began a passion for the career that to this day I am still doing. A long-term relationship broke down because he couldn’t deal with my illness anymore despite the fact that I had been honest from the very beginning (you can’t hide issues with food, body image, no eyebrows or eyelashes or scars on your arm and legs for very long). I was still seeing someone for my mental health every so often, still taking medication, still doing everything they told me to. Then came a crisis. I saw a lead consultant psychiatrist with my mum (who throughout this has only ever been loving, supportive and helped in every way she possible could be and can be) and we sat there while I was told I had BPD (borderline personality disorder) and that there was no hope. There was no cure. There was nothing she could do for me. There was no medication I could take.
I put her on the spot. I was the person over 18 taking the medication and going through this and I wanted answers to why they didn’t seem to do anything. Her response was, “Well, just stop then.” I was so angry I burst into tears, every ounce of frustration and upset came out in that moment. She had given up on me. My mum got angry. She demanded to know what options there were then. I didn’t know what to say and I shut down. Mum took over the talking and basically got the psychiatrist to discharge me. She was not interested in it anymore. We would work on this as a family. So we did. I went back to my GP who suggested a new medication that was in the family of another that had looked like it had worked so it would be worth trying. Again I agreed. I kept taking the medication even though I didn’t see any benefit.
Fast forward a little and its 2014. I took an overdose. I don’t know why because I don’t remember it. I remember two days later having a hospital bracelet on but was in my own bed. A frantic phone call to Mum and she filled me in. Eighteen months later I did the same thing again. This time I agreed to a stay on a psychiatric ward for a few days. I didn’t know it would be more than a couple of days. Yet again they were fixated on “fixing” me. To be honest that attitude had never gone away completely. I always felt that anyone within the medical world wanted to put a label on me, fix it, and then with a happy smile say the label had gone away.
Eighteen months ago I decided that I had had enough of this. I had spent my entire life it seemed being “fixed” by the NHS and nothing had ever really changed. I felt that I had done a lot but missed out on so much, too. I didn’t feel I had what my friends had. I wanted so much and felt that by listening to others I had not done what had been important to me.
So I decided to find my voice. I looked up all the things I felt made me different. Odd. Weird. Whatever word you want to put on it. Those quirks must be linked to something. They had to. I couldn’t possibly be the only one like me in the world. I found this one thing that seemed to fit. It was me. Right there on paper. The quirks and uniqueness that made me “me” was right there and someone else was saying it was them. Then another person. Then another. And another. And another. Suddenly it appeared there was a whole heap of us. Then it dawned on me.
So I went back to my psychiatrist. I still had to see someone once a month for my mental health to check in with them. I said, “I’m not ill. I’m autistic and I want to see someone to prove it.”
Friday, December 2, 2016 was they day it happened. The phone call to say “Aimee. You’re autistic.”
The thing I want to say is this. You have a voice. Being 18 is daunting, an adult in the wide world and for some that is scary. If you, like me, feel different in the world then I implore you to read. Use the internet. Search a word or a phrase to see if there is someone like you. There will be someone, somewhere in the world. Being Autistic is brilliant. I am still learning to accept it and be OK with the way I have to do things because of how my brain is wired. The truth though is that I am happier now than I have ever been. I am me. I am only me. I am who I always was and always will be. Being Autistic is in me, it defines who I am and how I am. I cannot get rid of it nor do I want to. It is brilliant being me.
Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
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