Medusa (Lucy Alexandra Hall) is an 18-year-old from Scotland diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Medusa blogs at The Medusa Diaries on a variety of topics, including the fears and struggles of being newly-diagnosed and her journey coming to terms with her diagnoses. This week she shared her experience as a recent high school graduate, just beginning work and education transitions.
How did you become aware of your Autistic identity?
I have been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD since primary school. I was told when I was working with CAMHS in my early teens that I “couldn’t be autistic because you (I) can tell jokes.” Due to my psychiatrist at CAMHS saying this, the issue was ignored. A few years later and after some atrocious service surrounding my mental health, my family decided to fork out their own money to get me private mental health treatment. Within getting to know my wonderful new therapist and psychiatrists, they soon recommended me to be assessed. The person who assessed me told me and my Mum that I was autistic after the assessment stating that it was fairly obvious to her based on my results. I got the official diagnosis a short while later. The whole process was fantastic, and I couldn’t have asked for better people. Sadly of course it was necessary to pay for therapy appointments to get to the stage as CAHMS were useless and told me misinformation, but it was worth it for answers.
Compare life as an Autistic high school student vs. a recent graduate. Is either experience particularly easier, more comfortable, or more enjoyable?
Over the course of the summer I worked as a full-time waitress ten minutes away from where I live. I had just left high school (graduated) and within days I was full-time employed. In all honesty, the job distracted me with the whole ‘leaving school’ concept, but at times, I felt like I was trading one high school for another. It was strange having coworkers and dealing with workplace politics. Overall I think I did well, although my job took up so much of my emotional energy.
What preparations are you making to transition to university and what are you most excited about? What, if anything, causes you some anxiety about this transition?
The concept of going to university is terrifying as change always is. The problem with being my age is that things change all the time. One minute I’m in high school struggling to concentrate on exams as my OCD gets worse and the next I’ve left school and am working as a waitress dealing with new and complicated situations. Things are not the same anymore after leaving high school and I fear that if I put too much pressure on myself, I’ll crack, and if I don’t push myself enough, I’ll crumble.
In what ways have you had to self advocate in school or the workplace?
I had some incredible people who supported me in high school. The support staff and the deputy head were beyond incredible, and I’m so grateful for them. My boss in my waitressing job was wonderful too. He told me he had worked with a lot of autistic people before, and if I needed to listen to my headphones to block out the noise when cleaning tables, like he knew other autistic people did (this made me smile though it was not necessary and told me that whilst he may not know everything about autism, I could comfortably explain if there was ever an issue I needed help with surrounding my autism and my job). I have, as of yet, been incredibly lucky that I seldom feel anything other than totally supported.
In what environments (or around which people) do you feel the most comfortable or engaged?
I’m still trying to figure out where I feel most relaxed and like myself. I have very low self-esteem and self-identity, something I am told many autistic people (especially girls) feel.
What do people misunderstand about you?
People don’t understand how hard it is for me to be a normal person. If I get too tired or hungry, my social skills take a big dip. When my OCD and anxiety get bad, so too does my ability to deal with all the things that non-autistic people find easy, like understanding the right thing to do or say. What I’m trying to say is that if I get too tired, too worried, too hungry, or too ill – that I can’t deal with that in the same way others can, instead I have more sensory problems (feeling like my back is itching in spots), get overemotional about silly things to the extent that my baby brother who doesn’t really understand autism laughs, or not being good socially. It’s very tiring.
What advice do you have for parents of Autistic teens or Autistic teens themselves who want to adopt an autism–positive identity?
I think it’s a long and hard process, one that I’m still on. I spent the majority of my albeit only 18 years thinking I was neuro-typical, and finding out I wasn’t a few years ago invoked a sense of grief in me. I kind of went through the five stages of grief. I think what helps you get to acceptance is by meeting other autistic and neurodiverse people through charities and groups. That way you learn that although you are different than what you thought you were, you are indeed the same person, diagnosis or not, I have always been autistic and this way I have the ability to get support.