“Just ignore it, don’t complain, grow up, everybody has that.” things that I have heard to many times. As an Autistic individual with anxiety, I find the stigma around Autism and mental illness to be very frustrating. I sometimes wish I could magically put the other person in my shoes, so that they could at least experience some of my difficulties such as auditory sensitivity, panic attacks, phobias, social difficulties, loneliness, etc.
But, they are not me. They cannot understand what I am thinking and feeling, because they are not me. I am a unique individual, but also a challenged one. I believe that I can improve on things with time, if I work at it, such as social difficulties, but some things are probably going to be challenging for my whole life, such as my sensory issues.
Autism never goes away when you become older, it stays with you. It’s not something that just is in children and slowly fades away as you grow. I hate it when people talk about Autistic people like they are “children”, because I’m sure a lot of Autistic individuals don’t appreciate that, I would not appreciate someone talking about me like I am a “child”.
The stigma also stereotypes Autism, so if you look like a neurotypical person, a neurotypical might not believe you when you say “I am Autistic”. They might say “But, I know a boy named Robby, and he bangs his head, bites himself, and rocks back and forth, you don’t do that”. Well, we are ALL DIFFERENT, each Autistic person has different gifts and challenges. We are not all the same, stereotyping also prevents us from getting treatment that we need to help us improve things such as anxiety, social difficulties, and sensory issues.
Anxiety is a really hard thing to explain. I’ve heard about the stigma “It’s all in your head”, “you are just making it up in your head”, “If you would just try harder”, etc. I would, but some of my anxiety is super difficult to deal with. Imagine having panic attacks once or twice a week, worrying about if the schedule will work out, analyzing your past social interaction to death, obsessively unplugging electric devices to make sure they don’t cause a fire, and having horrible images sometimes pop up into your head out of nowhere, this is what I deal with daily.
So, what would help? First, acknowledging my anxiety, accepting it, and trying to help me if you can. Maybe it would help me if you could text me instead of calling, or ask if you can give me a hug during a panic attack. Saying “just get over it” or “it’s all in your head”, or “why are you doing this??” will only make me feel worse and worse.
Someday I hope that the stigma around anxiety and Autism will change. I wish people would say “Oh, I’m sorry that you have to deal with this, is there any way I can help you?” instead of “Everybody has sensory issues”. I would feel better if somebody did not scold me for not talking on the phone, but rather said “I understand your anxiety about this, let’s try to break it into small steps, and maybe you can call Miss Kellie as a first step.”
Until then, I will just snuggle with my Service dog in training, and listen to some music to get the yucky bad feelings out, or draw too. It may be hard to deal with the stigma surrounding Autism and anxiety, but I will keep fighting it.