Cerys Jones is a writer on the subjects of mental health and neurodivergence. Here, she shares a blog post about how her adult autism diagnosis helped explain her longstanding anxiety, and how this experience of later diagnosis has allowed Cerys to be more accepting of herself and her struggles, especially those she had as a child and a teenager.
EVER since I was a young child – as early as the age of eighteen-months – I’ve had severe anxiety. Anything from going on holiday to a new place to a slight change in dinner plans was enough to completely throw me. Daily stresses brought me to tears and caused me such intense anxiety that have just never seemed to ease. However, my recent diagnosis of autism has started to explain things a little better.
The Very Early Days
When I was a toddler, I wouldn’t sleep in my own room, completely restless for no apparent reason up until the age of five. I had extremely disturbed sleep, waking every few hours and crying myself back to sleep because I was just so exhausted, often waking up my parents to try and get in their bed.
When I started nursery, I used to cry on the way there because I was so anxious – anxious to the point where sometimes my mum couldn’t calm me down. I remember hating the food at nursery, which caused me even more anxiety because I didn’t know what I would eat. When we drove past the nursery on days I wasn’t going, I would cry and scream, simply due to the association I had with the building and feelings of anxiety.
When I started school, I got nervous about buying new uniforms, having my hair done differently, new members of staff or classmates, and other small things that don’t bother a lot of other children – like my sandwich filling smelling a bit different. I felt like one big bundle of anxiety all the time.
As I reached the end of primary school my anxiety was so terrible that I kept getting sent home from school for feeling ‘unwell’, but as soon as I got into the comfort of my home with my mum, I always felt fine. I spent an entire summer holiday in France refusing to wear knickers as they made me feel sick and trapped, something which made me feel different and like there was something wrong with me.
My mum, always very observant and worried about me, took me to the GP and explained about my ‘stomach aches’ and that, whilst it sounds odd for a nine-year-old, she felt I was depressed. I started CAMHS and made some good progress with a community mental health nurse, which meant that on our summer holiday that year, I was much less anxious.
However, as I went into secondary school my anxiety started to come back into full force, often crying in secret before I went to school. I used to get very stressed and anxious about finding school uniforms that ‘felt right’, planning my exact journey to school, and the overstimulation from the busy school environment.
I started to get anxieties around my hobbies, which meant I no longer enjoyed swimming, a sport I had competed in for many years. I quit swimming for six months because I couldn’t even get past the anxiety of putting on my swimsuit and stepping onto poolside. I started to reduce how much I socialised, feeling too anxious and overwhelmed about even choosing what clothes to wear, never mind actually making it to the socialising itself, which felt increasingly harder to navigate.
When I went to university, my anxiety really did step up a gear. After getting into Durham, I really struggled with imposter syndrome and feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially because I found socialising increasingly difficult to navigate. I didn’t join any societies for a few years as I felt too anxious, too incapable, and simply not good enough to be a part of them.
In my second year of university, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Whilst this explained my turbulent moods, hypomanic episodes, and self-harming behaviours, it still felt like my severe anxiety didn’t have an answer. My now fiancée commented, whilst we were at university, that he thought I could be autistic, but I was so busy understanding my new bipolar diagnosis that I didn’t give it a second thought.
After struggling to hold down a job and finding a workplace I felt comfortable in, due to crippling anxiety, I started to read about autism and how it presents in adult females. I started to recognise things in myself that weren’t explained by bipolar, such as very strict routines that I get upset about if disturbed, only going to the same supermarkets, struggling with noise, smell and light overstimulation, difficulties socialising, and textural issues. Suddenly a lot of boxes were being ticked by a potential ASD diagnosis, so I spoke to my therapist about it.
My therapist was a huge driver behind me seeking an autism diagnosis, as, for the first time, someone outside of my close family also agreed that I likely have autism. I decided to take the plunge and seek an autism assessment. After only a short wait, I finally had my face-to-face appointment. Along with my self-report, my fiancée’s report and my mother’s report, my assessor told me that I do in fact have autism.
Relief and Revelation
When my assessor gave me the diagnosis and asked me how I feel about it, I said that I feel sad for my younger self, as I didn’t have anything to call this. However, so many things really have started to slot into place since my recent diagnosis and there is a huge sense of relief. My long-term childhood anxiety had an answer, as well as my recent difficulties as an adult. Suddenly, I feel like I have something that explains so much, from my childhood tantrums about going to a new restaurant, to refusing to go skiing with my family because I got anxious about the plane, the weather, the clothes and the socialising.
What has been really wonderful for me since my diagnosis has been the ability to be more patient with myself. I’ve started to not force myself into situations that are too anxiety inducing. Or, if I do go into these situations, I have measures and boundaries in place to deal with them, such as taking a moment to myself outside if I feel overwhelmed, or packing my headphones just in case I feel I need a moment of solitude.
With this diagnosis, I can now approach my life in a much gentler way, taking the time to be patient and kinder to myself because some of these anxieties won’t be going away. But, if I take the time to understand myself and my autism, these things will feel a whole lot easier. This new journey is about self-love and acceptance, something which I’m still learning and do have some difficulty with, but my diagnosis provides a nice starting line.
You can read more of Cerys’ writing over at her blog: www.lifeascerys.blogspot.com/