Autism and Mental Health: Talking to Keely about her experiences
My name is Keely, I’m 15 nearly 16 (in June!). I live at home with my mum, dad and my sister, I also have another sister who has moved out. I also live with my two dogs (Lily and Grace) and my Hamster (Chewie). I was diagnosed as autistic when I was 12 years old, it was a very confusing time for me and family. I have been home schooled for about three years now and I am just about to take my maths GCSE.
I am a big Star Wars, Doctor Who and Marvel fan. I am also an animal lover and a very good baker! I also run a blog where I talk about autism and mental health and my experiences autistickeely.co.uk
2) How does being autistic affected your mental health?
I have trouble making friends and have trouble in social environments and communicating with people. This makes me feel isolated and it feeds into my depression and anxiety. My sensory issues also really affect my mental health, for example, I sometimes find it difficult to tolerate showers or put up my hair, this can make me feel even worse about myself and my self-image and it interferes with my confidence issues.
I often struggle with my emotions and recognising and understanding them (this is often called Alexithymia). This can make my mood changes or ‘episodes’ even more regular and extreme. The ‘black and white’ thinking that often comes with autism and my difficulty to accept change can really affect my mental health. This is because I might want to do something fun but my brain will be put a block up and I find it hard to be flexible which again will leave me feeling isolated, alone and depressed.
After years of learning about Autism and its link to mental health, I have come to accept this as who I am and I am proud! It has taken me a year but I am now really trying to improve my mental health and put the strategies that I have learnt along the way into practice. Now I share what I have learnt and my own experiences with other people on my blog.
3) What support have you received?
I have received support from Aspens who have helped me on my journey to accepting myself and my autism. They have helped me to find ways to cope with my struggles.
CAMHS have supported me with medication. I remember I had a great psychiatrist called Peter who really understood me and my autism. He was very understanding that the way medication was given to me (i.e. all the changes/side effects) all had to be autism friendly or done in a way that I could cope with. I now receive support from Zoe at CAMHS who helps me with my mental health, especially my emotional regulation issues and eating issues.
I receive loads of support from the Scott Centre, they have been absolutely amazing in helping me when I have struggled to access the unit. The teachers, especially Miss Timms has been so understanding (the way she teaches me is in a way I understand as she totally gets autism and my struggles with anxiety).
I received support at home from an Occupational Therapist which was helpful and also helped my parents to understand how they can support me with specific needs at home.
My family! They have always been there for me.
4) The three main things that have helped me?
My blog– this has given me a place I can be open and honest about my struggles. It has really helped me to open up and I now have become more confident with speaking my mind and opening up to professionals.
My learning– this has been massive as it has really helped and given me a distraction from my mental health issues. Focusing on work and especially maths. It distracts me and helps me to focus on other things.
Talking to professionals (Lucy from Aspens and Zoe from CAMHS)– it has helped me to learn coping strategies, help me to accept myself more and has helped me to grow as a person.
5) Top tips for other people experiencing mental health issues and Autism
Don’t keep it to yourself- that was a mistake I made as I thought I could deal with everything on my own. Having help has made a huge positive impact on my life which is something I couldn’t have achieved on my own.
Accepting your autism is hard, instead of viewing yourself as ‘wrong’ or ‘needs to be changed’, accept yourself as you are. When I didn’t talk to anyone about my autism because I felt embarrassed and ashamed it really impacted my mental health. Accepting my autism and learning how it impacts my mental health has changed the way I view myself and how I cope with things. Not all coping mechanisms work for autistic people because our brains process information differently. Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work for you, because there are so many other options out there for you. Therapies can be changed or adapted for autistic people, so its easier for you to understand and process and benefit from it.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone as much as you can. Comfort zone is called a ‘comfort zone’ for a reason but I have found that pushing myself out of it, even a little bit, has been very beneficial. It has allowed me to do things I never really thought I could do, like independently going to the gym.
Exercising has been great for my mental health. I could never have achieved this without pushing myself a little bit.
Just remember- you are not broken and you do not need to be changed. Be the best version of yourself that you can be, mental health recovery is a long and hard process so don’t be discouraged if it seems like it’s taking a long time. You will get there. Autism is who I am and it is something to be proud of. Embrace it! It makes me the wonderful person I am.