First of all it’s not been long since I accepted that I am autistic. I’ve known I was weird, odd, a freak for a very long time. The first day I walked into primary school at 4 years old the bullying started and it didn’t stop until I walked out at 15. I have always been aware of my oddness but not why. When I walked into the doctor’s surgery at 25 and said I think I was misdiagnosed with bipolar and I am autistic, he shook his head and said no chance. At that point I was coping? Well I was trying to swim at least. I had a new job but I made a very big mistake, I didn’t give myself the time I needed to recover from my old one. You see I have to take the time to recover from jobs because I can hide my autism and I can hide it well. I learnt at 5 years old how to hide my weirdness as it was the only way they’d stop picking on me. You see masking it’s like that part in the superhero movie where the person creates that bubble shield around themselves but mine has a countdown timer. You see the mask but you don’t see the effort and energy it takes to keep it up. By November I couldn’t even walk the 7 minutes from my house to work anymore because I was so exhausted from trying to hold the mask up. Everyone says be yourself but I’ve been doing it for 26 years now and it’s just not that easy. I went back to the doctor because the panic attacks were getting worse now and had started to become tied to my senses. The day I left work I walked in boots and I knew I was in trouble. It was like the noise had been turned up so loud it was painful. I could hear every person in the store coming at me like it was a giant roar. The smell of perfume hit me like a wall and I nearly vomited. It was the lights that were the worst, they were so bright it was like someone had just brought the sun into the store. The worst bit, this is not the first time this has happened. It was my third in 24 hours. The first one had me rocking backwards and forwards slamming my head into a cupboard trying to cope with the little light and noise in the flat. I now call them sensory attacks and there is no cure, my body goes into almost sensory shock. That’s when the bubble has burst. I went back into work and tried to do my job, I nearly fell down the stairs trying to escape the lights. My supervisor sent me home. I never went back. I went back to the doctor and he took one look at me and said I agree, let’s do something about it. I’m now waiting the long stretch for my full diagnosis. This may never happen because I’ve had such a long time to practice at being ‘normal’. The criteria for autism is based on the male representation and girls just don’t fit this. I could read to the level of a 40 year old by the time I was 6 and recite the first half of the periodic table from memory. I was a bright kid but put me in a classroom of kids my own age and I couldn’t cope. I didn’t understand why I was different, I just was. I tried to join in with them but they didn’t want me and I didn’t know why. Secondary school was my undoing I had absolutely no clue how to fit in. The teachers kindly told me I didn’t need to wear my socks up to my knees and I’d have an easier time if I didn’t. I’d spend my whole term trying to fit in with what I needed to be to make me stand out less and then collapse through the school holidays and do nothing but sleep. I lost myself trying to be the person who didn’t get kicked in the corridors or get verbally abused by my classmates. The problem with always masking, is that you don’t have a clue who you actually are underneath it. The teenage years are the pivitol moments to learn about your own identity. I was too busy trying to not get my head kicked in, I missed out on that. It’s got harder as I’ve got older not easier as there isn’t that break from the making between jobs like there was during school terms. I have to give myself time off between jobs in order to be able to recover and do the new job properly. I have to control certain impulses and I can’t do that when I’m exhausted. The more tired I get the more autistic looking I get it’s that simple. If I don’t take that break the job will self combust quicker. But in our society it’s called job hopping and it makes it harder to get new jobs because people don’t trust you to stay. So you are either left with no money and no job or you work for yourself. That’s what I’ve done because I had no choice but to stop masking for my own sake. I still can’t leave the house without my headphones, I have to turn down the lights. I leave at times when it’s not busy outside. I shop very late at night or very early in the morning. I have days where I can’t wear jeans because they burn my skin to the touch. I plan my days around my ability to cope with the outside world. But I’m still here and I’m still me and the fight is on.