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My Answer to the Question, ‘How Does Autism Affect Your Life?’

Bright lights, loud noises, my breath catches in my chest. I force it out, gasp it back in.

People everywhere, every one of them a threat to me. I feel the panic rising, getting stronger. Someone bumps into me and my heart rate jumps a thousand feet.

You can get through. You’ve done this before. It doesn’t have to end in panic. Just get though. Just get through. Just get through.

I can’t see. I see too much. I hear everything, the noises constantly growing louder. I can’t drown then out. My own heartbeat is agony; it’s so loud. My body isn’t responding. I try to walk to somewhere I can sit down; somewhere I can be alone.

Mom, Dad, where are you? I need you. I don’t want to do this. I’m alone and so scared. Help me. I can feel tears coming. I try to scream, but the most I can manage is gasping. The world is spinning. I feel myself falling, but everything is in slow motion. I sense my body hit the floor, but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel anything.

Nothing but panic.

I can’t see. I gasp in, in, in, in, but can’t breathe out. I feel hot tears streaming down my temples. Everything is spinning. I am screaming, but I can’t hear myself. I am aware of only one thought. I feel like I am going to die.

As a 17-year-old with autism and generalized anxiety disorder, every day is difficult, but some more than others. This is something I was born with. My life is hard, but rewarding.

I am an introvert, and what I call “me time” is necessary to my ability to function.

One of the questions I am often asked is, “How does autism affect your life?” 

My answer? 

I have a hard time in any public place, whether it’s a mall or the doctor’s.

Loud noises are extremely painful. I not only hear the noise, I feel the sound waves hitting my eardrums.

Florescent lights are a unique kind of torture. They flicker, not enough for most people to see, but to me, it feels like someone is hammering my eyes from inside my skull.

I hate it when people touch me, especially on my skin. The feel of someone touching my skin almost always feels so cold it burns me.

I have a large “personal bubble.” I don’t like people I don’t know well within five or six feet of me.

I can read people well, and most people are an open book to me. I can’t really explain it. It’s like trying to explain why you’re good at science or physics. It’s just the way your brain is wired.

I love animals, most of all horses and dogs. They are what I connect with best. I believe I can tell what a horse is thinking and if it is feeling pain anywhere in its body. I can open myself up to understand what is going on in their mind. I have been called a horse whisperer several times. I know that’s what it probably seems like to someone watching me with a horse. I wouldn’t know — I just know that when I’m with a horse, or a dog, everything feels right. Everything is in place, and I am completely calm. It’s the only time in my life when I have no anxiety. It’s just perfect.

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