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Finding Who I Am as a Tattoo Artist With Autism

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I still don’t know who I truly am. But I’ll tell you “what” I am. I’m a hard working individual with determination and I am driven by my obsessive nature.

I am a successful tattoo artist with my own studio as well as having the fantastic opportunity to work alongside celebrities on a TV show called “Just Tattoo of Us.” I studied hard for years to obtain my Degree in Illustration as well as complete a two-year tattoo apprenticeship. It all looks good on paper, right? But more often than not, that metaphorical piece of paper feels blank. Something has been missing all my life.

An empty feeling. I have pushed myself all these years yet I feel more detached now as an adult than I ever have.

I don’t understand the concept of feeling completely alone in a world that is populated with of over 7 billion people. I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I could not fit in. I couldn’t conform to what society deems acceptable despite all my best efforts. Time after time I faced rejection.

Why am I so different? Why can’t I be like everyone else? What is wrong with me? Why do I long to fit into the crowd as opposed to stand out? I let the pressure of society feed my self-hatred. And no matter where I turned, however many times I tried, I got knocked back.

As an imaginative child, when playing I often pretended I was somebody else. Playing games and acting came naturally. I was lost in my own imagination… I could get so lost that I would forget about the real world. I loved drawing. Drawing was my ultimate distraction from all the tears, the terrible twos, the teenage tantrums, all the way into my adulthood. It was my way of expressing myself. I could create my own world in my drawings. Feeling totally at ease, with the ability to focus so hard that I could lose myself once again in that imaginative state.

I was always in a world of my own. Never paying attention, never looking where I was going when I was walking. Always thinking. Always distracted. Always away with the fairies. I realize now that this was a coping mechanism. Because all those blissful moments in life came with a dark cloud. The inability the cope with the real world. The real world was overwhelming for a young girl like me. The inability to process all the information going on around me. I would cry and scream for my mum; I was sewn to her hip, barely able to leave her side.

The good-byes when dropping me to nursery ended in a tearful protest every time. I needed the comfort; I never socialized much growing up. At age 10 I lost my dad tragically; we all put my behavioral issues down to that. I spent years in solitude, honing my drawing skills and being passionate about what I do, improving my skills as an artist. Obsessively observing all the different processes and technicalities of drawing. It is my obsession and I need it to function.

My obsession lead me to being the successful artist I am today. I love my job, especially working in television. I can be whoever I want on screen. After all, I have pretended to be someone all my life. I have hidden my insecurities, social implications; I became so good at pretending I convinced everyone that I was “normal.” It all came crashing down. At the age of 19 I had a breakdown. I had been in and out of mental health services for years for my erratic and suicidal behavior. I couldn’t understand the world. And the world couldn’t understand me.

I went to the doctor and suggested Asperger’s. I have family on the spectrum and it would make a lot of sense. The doctor looked at me and told me that I couldn’t possibly be autistic, because I was able to look at him when he spoke to me. He dismissed the possibility of a diagnosis, because his stereotypical views and lack of understanding determined I didn’t “qualify” to fit the diagnostic criteria. Looking back, I wish I had told him it is not his place to determine this, but trusting his opinion, I disposed of the the idea. Up until recently, I felt I had exhausted every avenue with my mental health. I thought it was only going to go downhill from there. But I still never gave up hope.

When I started working on the show with MTV, I was having difficulty with the social aspect of things. I had a breakdown in the middle of Nando’s, which was super embarrassing!

Enough was enough.

The TV production company I worked for put me in touch with a psychologist. I called him for advice on social anxiety one evening while I was away working with the show. The next day he wrote a letter to my GP asking to refer me to the adult autism service. Three months into an eight month waiting list, I was able to fill a cancellation and I saw the autism team. They diagnosed me the same day. Now I can begin to understand who I am and why I am like I am.

Since being diagnosed I have learned that only a small fraction of people who are diagnosed are female because girls often hide it better and don’t portray the typical male “symptoms.” I want to raise awareness for the condition as a whole, but especially for women on the spectrum as we often slip through the cracks.

During the dark days where everything feels illogical and pointless, I question why nothing I ever do is fulfilling and I break down. Until somebody puts their arms around me and tells me it’s OK. Then I am reminded why I am here, to help other people.

Tomorrow is a new day. And I have lots of goals and aspirations to achieve and I’m finally starting to enjoy my life.

Thanks to everybody who helped me along the way.

Follow Charl on Instagram @charldaviestattoos.

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Originally published: February 8, 2018
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