I'm a teenage girl, fifteen years old to be precise, and I am on the autism spectrum.
When it was first suggested I had autism I, ironically, had a meltdown. I screamed and cried for hours. I was thirteen years old. I saw my diagnosis as a death sentence. That I’d never equate to anything because of it. This thought stuck with me for two solid years. Every time the words ‘autism’ were uttered in front of me I felt a deep, internal shame.
I couldn’t tell you the reason why.
I knew so many wonderful people with autism. I had protested disability rights the year before. So why was I so uncomfortable with my own diagnosis?
In those two years, I did whatever I could to ‘hide’ my condition. I masked. I applied layer upon layer of heavy makeup, I tried (and failed) to wear what ‘everybody else’ wore. I had been an active member of the social media world since I was nine years old. After I found out about my diagnosis, I started to compare myself more to the ‘instagram models’ I saw plastered all over my feed. I developed an unhealthy obsession with being like them, looking like them and living like them.
Anything to hide the fact that I was different. So I tried. And tried. But no amount of selfies, no amount of tactfully photographed cups of coffee made me feel any better about myself. I was consumed by insecurity. Totally and utterly consumed by it. It’s easy to get caught up in the worlds of instagram models, and youtube celebrities, and I was so caught up that it took me 2 years to find a healthy, accepting and non-judgmental community online which I’d one day be happy to say I was a part of.
It started with a youtube search. Then a look round tumblr. Then reddit. Then twitter. I started to find blogs, pages, profiles of empowered autistic women and men. I unfollowed the beauty queens and followed them instead. I became inspired, and I started to think ‘what would life be like if I opened up about my diagnosis’.
Then one day, I did. The response I got was phenomenal. I felt so comfortable. I finally realised that I shouldn’t have to hide who I am to please others, and that I should be me. And after a while of watching autistic you-tubers and reading through the #actuallyautistic hashtags on twitter, I started to find myself comparing myself to others less often. I felt something I hadn’t felt in two years - comfortable with myself - and most importantly, comfortable with my diagnosis.
I now know my autism was never a death sentence. It was a part of me, and one that I should always be proud of.
I'm not going to tell you to stay away from social media entirely, especially if you're my age, as that can isolate you ever more from your peers if you're already feeling isolated. What I would say though, is don't follow people who make you feel bad about yourself, and instead follow people who inspire you.
For example, I follow so many autistic bloggers now, who inspire me to keep creating my own content, and this has had a much more positive impact than following people who make me feel like I'm less than them. It's hard to stop comparing yourself to others once you have started, very hard, so don't put yourself down if you find yourself still reaching for the 'follow' button of the latest popular celebrity with the so called 'perfect life'.
It'll take time for you to tell yourself that you are better off without those influencers in your life. When you eventually do tell yourself that however, it's an unbeatable feeling and one that can't be done justice with simply words. Social media, instead of being my enemy like it once was, is now my friend. I have found so many opportunities, and made so many healthy connections because of it.
Simply reaching for the 'unfollow' button was one of the best things I have ever done.