top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureStamp it Our County Durham

My Autism and Mental Health

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Laura is one of our Anti-Stigma Ambassadors, and for Autism Acceptance Week she has has shared her experiences with her autism and mental health.


As it’s Autism Acceptance Week, I would like to take a little time to talk about my personal experiences with autism and related mental health issues. Having received my diagnosis late in life (a topic that I would like to discuss at greater depth in future entries), my mental health suffered as a young adult, and I have taken many years to process and understand my issues and begin the journey towards more positive mental health. After receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder* (ASD) at the age of 25, I began to evaluate my mental health through the lens of autism; my anxiety, my depression, the frequent feeling of becoming completely overwhelmed by things that those around me could seemingly deal with so easily… all, I realised, could be related back to ASD.


How does ASD impact my mental health?


Sensory overload is a particular struggle of mine, especially in relation to sound and a high sensitivity to light. In periods of anxiety, sensory experiences become magnified and I become massively overwhelmed. This resulted in many years of isolation as a young person, which in turn lead to years of depression and disordered eating. I struggled massively to deal with change (and still do), which has taken a toll on my physical health as well. For many years I avoided taking opportunities that would involve change, especially when they would also involve the potential of sensory overload. As we all know, avoiding our stressors only feeds our anxiety, and despite seeking professional help, nothing seemed to work. In my early twenties, I began to put these pieces together and suspect that I may be autistic. After a three-year waiting list and a lengthy diagnostic process, my suspicions were confirmed. This was a huge relief for me! It finally all made sense! From this, I dove deep into autism and related anxiety and how others like me coped. I found ways to ease my issues and improve my mental health.


How do I cope?


The biggest coping mechanism that I have developed has been allowing myself to stim (stimming is a behaviour that often includes repetitive movements or actions that autistic people use to regulate themselves, you can learn more about it here). In times of stress, allowing my stims to come out without regulation has massively reduced my anxiety. It might sound simple, that something as little as flexing my fingers or clicking my tongue would help to regulate my anxiety, but it really does! Masking these behaviours for so long is what caused my anxiety to become so unbearable for so long, and it has been very freeing to not hold it back! I have also found my own ways to reduce the risk of sensory overload. Some of these are:

· Using ear plugs when out in public or in loud environments;

· Downloading playlists of brown and white noise to drown out base sounds;

· Leaning about the textures that cause me stress and finding alternatives;

· Wearing sunglasses to reduce light-based eye strain;

· Wearing blue-light glasses to reduce strain from screens;

· Carrying around small stress toys when out and about;

· Stimming!


Using these, along with understanding my difficulties, accepting them, and allowing myself to use coping mechanisms without shame or holding back, has been life changing. It is a process, however, and I am still on that journey. I have lapses, as we all do, and I still have much to learn. I would encourage anyone who suspects that they may also be autistic (or, indeed, neurodivergent in general) to research for

themselves the signs and symptoms, and how they may relate to their own struggles. Finding a community and learning about how others cope can really help!

It is hugely important that we reduce the stigma surrounding neurodivergence, as well as the stereotypes. Autism is a spectrum, and no two people’s experiences are exactly alike. Taking the time to learn about ourselves and others who share similar experiences can be the first step in this process!


*ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is the current medical term used for an autism diagnosis in the UK. I have used this here, as it was how I was diagnosed and how I wish to refer to myself. However, there are many who prefer the term ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition), while others may prefer simply ‘autistic persons.’ It is important to recognise the nuisance surrounding the language used to refer to autism and respect how individuals prefer to refer to it for themselves.


It is hugely important that we reduce the stigma surrounding neurodivergence, as well as the stereotypes. Autism is a spectrum, and no two people’s experiences are exactly alike. Taking the time to learn about ourselves and others who share similar experiences can be the first step in this process!


If you are interested in more details or would like to join us as an Anti-Stigma Ambassador, please get in touch, visit our Anti-Stigma Ambassador page.

43 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page