Hi, I’m Dan and I help with the social media for Tees Valley Buddies. Since it’s Autism Awareness Week, I wanted to talk about my journey with being neurodivergent (autistic).
I didn’t have many friends growing up, and I was ok with that. I saw school as an opportunity to learn but not to socialise, so I kind of isolated myself, only letting a few people in. Even though I loved to learn, school wasn’t pleasant for me with the constant bullying and with the teachers not believing me, but my parents always stuck by my side. Still, I couldn’t help but feel alien to everyone else, I didn’t understand social constructs but I powered on with the thirst to learn as much as I could.
I left secondary school with good grades and went to college to study Sport and IT, and I still had the same feeling of being different to everybody; I didn’t understand why I wasn't 'normal' like everyone else. That’s when my mental health issues started to present, and the anxiety and depression became too much, but I thought I couldn’t express myself so I powered on. At the age of 19, I started my apprenticeship, and it was a learning experience in regards to how anti-social I was. I didn’t like team building or interacting with others. I just wanted to get my job done. Problems started to arise when I couldn’t balance my personal life and work life which worsened my mental health.
After my apprenticeship was complete, I didn’t know who I was. Since I'd been born, I'd had a routine, with timetables and schedules, but now I had nothing. My mental health took its toll and I sought help with talking therapies and medication. During one of the sessions, I was told they could no longer help me and that I might be autistic. I was pretty adamant that I wasn’t, but after weeks of my parents and support worker trying to persuade me to seek a referral, eventually I caved and went to the doctors.
A few months later I was diagnosed at the age of 24, and whilst it answered a lot of questions I had about myself, I still didn’t know who I was. I asked for help but there wasn’t any support or funding for autistic adults like myself. So I carried on with just my diagnosis, and with my tanking mental health I found things got worse; I couldn’t cope so I tried to end it. Afterwards, with a lot of support from family and support workers, I found a group which for a while helped me but I outgrew it and found Tees Valley Buddies. TVB has helped me so much to understand myself and socialise with like minded people.
I felt it was important to speak out about my struggles because through it all I’ve come out a better version of myself and hopefully it can help others feel that they aren’t alone.