The “A” Word

I’ve been wanting to write a blog like this for a while now. The reason why it took so long was that I didn’t want to rush into it, like it sound like an idiotic ramble or a pathetic excuse of complaining. I wanted to get it right.

If you happen to stumble across this randomly then it makes sense to introduce myself. Hi. I’m Charlotte, a 21-year-old university student about to enter the third year of their journalism course who hopes to one day be a music reporter. Like think of those APTV correspondents or writing for a publications like Kerrang! and Rock Sound. Well, one can dream. Realistically I’ll end up at a local publication or company but hey I’m happy as long as I can still go to and talk about live music events.

There’s something else about me though, something that pretty much controls my life and has made me who I am today, for better or for worse. Not a lot of people know about this. Not even those who I see everyday. It’s always the shock when they find out that sums it up;

“I never would have guessed it.”

“But you act ‘normal’.”

“Are you sure?”

“You don’t act/look/sound autistic.”

Guess there’s no point in any dramatic build up. Yes, I’m autistic. I have a condition called Semantic Pragmatic Disorder (SPD) which in simple terms is like having a really warped version of social anxiety that also comes with a lack of social skills.

The longer version, when I once looked up the professional definition, came up with a list of “traits” which included being shy/anxious, being overly friendly, not understanding jokes/sarcasm, struggling to understand communication, struggling to come up with their own sentences etc. The list went on. It even went into detail on how people with SPD tend to have a lack of creativity which I do call bullshit on as I was raised in an arty family who encouraged me to do art for the majority of my life. I also had deep interest in creative writing for a while, which transpired into journalism, I did Drama, and I’m never without my iPod and headphones.

I can’t speak for everyone with autism as it is such a wide spectrum but there’s so many people out there right now with aspergers who work in such industries like art, film, music and even video games, like did you know that the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, has autism? As a child and teenager he became so fascinated by video games that he wanted his life around to revolve around it and, as he knew what he wanted from industry, created one of the must successful video game and media franchises of all time.

This all comes down to how people with autism tend to become fascinated and obsessed with a certain topic or thing which can later on help them to determine the type of career they would want to go into in the future as, at that point, they would have spent the majority of their time playing/working on/learning about said topic. For me that is how I became so interested in wanting to be a music journalist as I used to enjoy reading when I was younger, I still do now but sadly I don’t have as much time for it as I would like. From that I became interested in creative writing and for a long time I was dead-set on becoming an author but as I got older I realised that I realistically wouldn’t be able to make a full-time living from it unless I was an immediate success along with the fact that I was starting to struggle making up stories.

However I was still interested in writing and found that I enjoyed writing articles  so from there I became determined to work in journalism/media. The music side of it simply came from how I listen to music everyday and I like to talk things I’ve listened to and things I’d been to so decided to bring the two together.

That’s the amazing side of being autistic. But unfortunately most people only know of autism for the negative side. The side where people tend to be socially inept, are difficult to work with and don’t make relationships easily. I’m not denying that side being fake. When I was younger I used to struggle in understanding communication and had a bad speech impediment due to being a mute up until I was three-years-old. I still struggle to talk now but I am trying to work on it day by day. As result of this I stood out like a sore thumb at the small, private all-girls school I went to and I became a target of bullying when I was in Year 7.

Not a lot of people understand autism and tend to believe the stereotypes that the media portrays; either you are a Sheldon Cooper type or you’re a “nightmare” to live with. There’s no inbetween. So it shouldn’t be surprising in Year 7 that due to this, and to how I acted up to this point, that the people who I thought of as my friends were in reality laughing at me behind my back and were saying certain things about me.

I still hear negative things being said now as 21-year-old about me or autism in general. I still hear people making autism jokes. I still see people calling themselves autistic as a way to say that they’re awkward or weird. My other favourite things heard from Year 7 up to now include names such as; “Freak”, “Retard”, and “Weirdo”.

“You’re an embarrassment to your family.”

“You’re an embarrassing to be friends with.”

“She should’ve been aborted.”

“You should wear your autism like a badge.” – a bit of strange one but it’s basically saying that I should define myself by autism. No. My autism doesn’t define me.

Now I know the cliche thing to do in this scenario is to ignore the negative comments and prove you’re bigger person, cue motivational speech, but at the time (when I first started hearing these comments in Year 7) you need to understand that I had never dealt with this type of scenario before. I could barely wrap my head around regular communication and now I was being forcibly thrown into the nasty world of liars, fake friends and, in all honesty, emotional bullying. My mind couldn’t cope. It didn’t make sense. What does my aspergers tell me to do? Shut people out. Don’t trust them. You’ll just get hurt again.

Nothing changes I guess but you do learn to cope with it better.

My confidence for the next two years was non-existent. The majority of Year 7 was spent in the library hidden in a good book. While I felt I couldn’t trust people I could always rely on old favourite characters like Hermione and Georgia to keep me company. I would probably still be hidden there now if it weren’t for a good friend of mine who noticed what happened and thought “this isn’t OK” and helped me to come out of my shell. Gradually through Year 8 I got confidence back whilst at the same time was still cautious of my year group in case it all happened again. Then from Year 9 to Year 11 things were good again asides from the occasional arguments and fall-outs that most friendships have but hey we’ve all been there.

However Sixth Form happened. AKA, two of the worst years of my life for my anxiety.

I was already stressed due to coursework and exams but it didn’t help that I was also dealing with a teacher who seemed to view my learning difficulties as nothing more than a stupid disruption and with people who became more aware of my style and interests were ‘different’. As I mentioned, I was at a small school so if you were “different” you stood out.

Quick side note. This isn’t me trying to sound like some pretentious, special snowflake. I’m not saying that I’m different and no one understands me, none of that bullshit. I’m just stating what I dealt with.

The majority of my year were loud and outgoing and I was the opposite. In general I was the quiet kid in the corner with their headphones in who enjoyed writing about literature and life and going to gigs.

Loads of comments were made about that. Comments were made about what I wore on “home clothes” day, what I listened to and the fact that I went to “a lot of” gigs (not really, I only went to 9 during my two years of A-Levels. That’s fucking nothing in comparison to now.)

I was paranoid 24/7 as I felt like nothing I did was right. I was essentially being told that what I enjoyed, what my life centered around, was wrong. The anxiety attacks started. I don’t want to go into any further detail as I think you’ve got the picture. All I will say is that the day that I left my school was one of the happiest days of my life and that I’m doing a lot better now.

I still struggle with anxiety now. It’ll hit me when I’m meeting people for the first time, when I’m doing something new, when I’m really uncomfortable/stressed and overwhelmed. It’s then that I’m more evidently autistic. But I’m getting better at coping with it; about 3/4 years ago I was too scared to get the bus into town. Now I’m travelling on trains and coaches to cities hours away from home to see my favourite artists. I was too scared to go to university, I’m now about to enter my third year with the likelihood of getting a 2:1, (get back to me on that one in about a month).

This is now turning more into a blog about anxiety but I do assure you that this is still focused on my autism. Anxiety is simply a part of it and I’ve learnt how to deal with it much like with how I learnt how to cope in social situations. I picked up what to do socially like I was learning a part for a play in terms of being given directions in how to portray a certain character. The same goes with anxiety but more in terms of advice. The best advice I’ve heard came from YouTuber/singer, Dodie. She’s talked about dealing with anxiety in the past and she once said that if you ever get a negative thought, don’t shut it out or let it consume you, stop it in it’s tracks and question it and look at the evidence as to whether it is true or not. Since being given that life tip I have become much more happier and calmer.

Despite all of this I wouldn’t change who I was. I remember once being asked, “Would you cure it it if you could?” A tricky question. While it would be nice not to be worried constantly about social gatherings and not having negative comments being made about my condition, no I wouldn’t. It’s part of who I am. Not in terms of me wanting to wearing it “like a badge” (like seriously, what the fuck?!) but it helped me to figure out who I was. My obsession in reading and writing helped me to become interested in journalism. My obsession of music helped to figure out who I was, meet my friends and to figure out the branch of journalism I would love to go into. I found my style. Who I am.

Even though it can get annoying when people say that I don’t look autistic, I’m happy to break people’s perceptions. I’m glad I surprise people. It shows how far I’ve come.

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