Shadia Hancock/ October 12, 2019

CW: Mental health issues, and masking discussed.

I am aware that Mental Health Awareness Day was this week. Having struggled with my mental health this week, I funnily enough did not have the energy to write about it until now. Ironic, right?

Whilst Autism is not a mental health issue, it is common for Autistic individuals to have co-occurring mental health conditions. I am one such person. My Anxiety is with me every day. I am learning to accept my Anxiety as an integral part of who I am. Having supports in place such as Benson will help me manage my Anxiety.

Owning a pet as a person with mental health issues is a bit of a paradox; I rely on Benson to function, however sometimes his needs and ‘difficult behaviour’ cause me to struggle as well. I simultaneously thrive and despair having to care for another being.

Benson needs me for food, water, training, and guidance. He is still learning about the world, and relies on me for support. Sometimes, I am too burnt out to provide that for him. I am lucky to have amazing supports that mean it is easier for me to function, and takes the pressure off of him as well. But having a pet is not all rosy. It takes time, effort, patience, and persistence. It requires long hours. It requires compromise. It requires sleepless nights, and rushes to the vet clinic. It requires understanding when things don’t go to plan.

It has challenged me in so many ways but also helped me value myself and realise – I no longer have to mask. It is ok to reach out and ask for help or guidance. We do not have to do this alone.

In a world where having mental health issues is not understood, people who truly see us and get us, who peer beyond the mask, make a huge difference.

Sometimes it is so challenging to discern which are my feelings and my masks. And how to lower my mask. How to accept that I will not always be happy.

It is so difficult trying to do daily tasks when there are not necessarily all the supports and understandings in place. When there are neuronormative expectations. When I tell people I have a job and go to university, people seem surprised. It should not be this hard for Neurodivergent individuals to thrive. And it is not hard to change this. Little things can help; giving us days off, letting us stim, using noise cancelling headphones, understanding triggering topics, and simply listening.

If there is one takeaway message from Mental Health Awareness Day, it is: Mental health struggles are real. There are things you can do to help us. Even just asking us out for a cup of coffee and not expecting any explanations could lift our spirits. Checking in on us. Making us feel included and not alienated. Just simply TRYING. You may not always get it right but we don’t expect you to.

To all the incredible supports in my life, I thank you. The road is long but we do not have to walk it alone.

About Shadia Hancock

Shadia is the proud owner, and founder of Autism Actually, and enjoys presenting and mentoring. Shadia is committed to empowering fellow Autistic and neurodivergent individuals and helping them reach their true potential. Shadia is currently studying Bachelor of Speech Pathology with the hope of providing animal assisted therapy for neurodivergent individuals. Shadia was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder at the age of 14. Shadia came out as non-binary in early 2018 and loves talking about Autism and gender issues. Shadia benefitted from numerous early supports such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. Shadia is very passionate about sharing information about what it is like to be on the spectrum.

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