Autism and me – an acceptance journey

Autism

That’s the thing. I never anticipated being a 19-year-old sitting face to face with my Therapist discussing the possibilities of an Autism diagnosis.

It seems, my wonderful Therapist had picked up on possible Autistic traits in me during our sessions together (for my Anorexia Nervosa) which had mutually been a struggle for a while. My inability to express my feelings, thoughts and emotions without great difficulty and high intensities of distress and agitation. I could willingly speak endlessly about animals, but every other subject seemed to be a chore. I also struggled to maintain eye contact and would often stare at the floor or at the wall during our chats together, when I could actually form a sentence instead of nervously giggling. Alongside an inability to cope with changes in appointments (I adored sticking rigidly to Thursdays at 12!) and my inability to understand sarcasm.

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with Autism. (ASD). My condition unknowingly present from birth, but not picked up on until later in my teenage years after a lengthy assessment process where I became increasingly distressed and impatient. I always remained aware that something about me was different, but I could never quite pinpoint what that was. The wait was gruelling and torturous and each day I would hurry home excitedly hoping to be met with an appointment letter, with my disappointment only growing as I waited longer and longer.

An Autism diagnosis is life-changing, but not defining.

With increasing numbers of adults diagnosed with the condition, mostly due to the ability to mask and imitate those around us as a means of fitting in and seeming less “odd”. Though, the thing is, I never purposely intended to be the same as those around me. So, personally, Autism has been a real journey of self discovery, finding out who I really am beyond the copying and uncomfortable habits I forced myself into.

And no. Autism isn’t solely a “Children’s condition” and it most certainly doesn’t disappear magically whilst growing up. Autistic children become Autistic adults – it’s a lifelong, developmental condition.

Unfortunately, I was prone to the stigma attached to Autism and (alongside my lack of knowledge) due to minimal awareness I thought I knew what Autism “looked like” in an individual, a huge part in the reason I like to raise awareness of my condition. So people understand, and accept, people for their uniqueness and their quirks. And so people stop putting a “face” to Autism, the condition affecting one in a hundred of us.

Autism isn’t a label that fits all.

To begin with, I viewed my diagnosis as a bad thing and became upset for a short period of time, until I grew to learn more about my new diagnosis and what it meant for myself and others.

Over two years along the line and I have finally found, not only comfort, but also acceptance in myself which may not have met without my diagnosis. Something I never imagined myself to need until it became present in my life. Fitting in the “missing puzzle” that had previously been vacant from my life and filling it with knowledge, happiness and self-worth. The acceptance of learning to love myself for the crazy goat lady I am. Animals being my interest, whilst others on the spectrum may have other areas of passion and happiness!

I grew determined to ensure my Autism didn’t restrict, or define, me in any way possible. Meaning I have overcome anxiety-ridden fears and have tackled many obstacles over the years. Including, my ability to use public transport alone (giving Ive planned the journey strictly!) my transition to university life in Wales, a completely new setting, being introduced to people I hadn’t previously met. And my recently new found ability to vocalise when I am finding a situation stressful – particularly busy places or loud noises.

Whilst challenging myself is exhilarating, it is also exhausting and I usually require days to rest after fighting my anxiety.

Autism doesn’t have a cure, though I wouldn’t choose to cure mine for The World. It remains as a lifelong condition with each day being a learning curve and a milestone in each individuals journey!

Veganism and recovery – cruelty free healing

Animals

In April 2016, I made the incredible decision of transitioning to Veganism. Something other than an Instagram fad, but a lifestyle always rising in popularity, involving love, peace and contentment. And, of course, joy for all beings.

Standing out from my family, I had never been a keen meat eater. I would never opt for meat during meal times and would always feel more comfortable choosing alternative options. I believe that consciously, I always knew it was wrong for me to consume animals who simply wanted to fulfil the entirety of their lives. Thankfully, my family have always remained supportive of my choices and have never forced any kind of lifestyle upon me.

As I also struggle with Anorexia Nervosa, Veganism may be viewed as another way of restricting certain food groups or making excuses for not eating things containing animal products. Though this may be the case for other sufferers, it isn’t for me. Not every choice make is Anorexia driven. And I wish to flourish into the happy Vegan I’m destined to be, for myself and my beautiful animal companions, with the message that Veganism can be helpful for those suffering from all kinds of Eating Disorders. But as Veganism grows, so does the demand for products suitable for myself and others.

Choosing Veganism has enabled me to feel as though I have a purpose. My purpose that remained unawakened for a lengthy duration of my life. Being a voice for the voiceless and caring for animals in the same way they care for me and turn the darkest days into brighter ones. I made the decision to switch on my own, which gave me independence and a sense of free will. Veganism for me hasn’t just been about transforming my dietary choices, but about strengthening my love of animals and kindness overall and about making a positive impact in our world.

Widening my eyes and increasing my knowledge into the harsh realities of the dairy industry (Prior to becoming Vegan, I was Veggie so I was already aware of the meat industry…) had implications in my decision. Witnessing animals being forced into a torturous and heartbreakingly cruel industry, where they are constantly used and abused like machines and torn away from their traumatised mothers was something I simply couldn’t contribute to anymore. Educating myself, and realising I don’t need animal products in order to survive, changed my life and my outlook into just how unfairly animals are treated in our world.

Additionally, as I am on a pathway to a career within the animal care industry I felt it was only natural of me to become Vegan. Because caring for animals is my life and something I am highly dedicated to. If anything, it’s given me even more of a reason to fight. Animals aren’t able to speak up for themselves in an understandable way, which is why people like myself do it on their behalf.

My Anorexia has deprived me of countless things. Memories and friends have been lost, but my admiration for animals has always remained strong as a reminder of why I must fight. Being a life-long animal lover, I felt Veganism heightened the compassion I’ve always held in my heart for animals of all kinds. Transitioning to a cruelty-free lifestyle has enabled me to not only choose compassion, but to also feel increasingly compassionate (and happier!) too as I do all I can to minimise animals’ suffering with my food and lifestyle choices. Knowing my lifestyle reduces cruelty and suffering fills me with copious amounts of joy and fulfilment.

With the compassion I hold in my heart for animals, viewing them as my lifelong friends, I’ve been aiming to find the same level for myself as I work hard in my recovery pathway. Veganism isn’t a magical cure for mental illnesses and it’s vital to acknowledge that, though, it can give people a brighter outlook on life. Recently, my lovely teacher reminded me that I must care for myself in the same way I care for animals. Meaning, I mustn’t rush to give myself a hard time when I am faced with mental and physical battles day in and day out.

The life lessons we learn from animals are phenomenal and irreplaceable. From them, we can gain an increased understanding regarding love, happiness, care and compassion – all of which we struggle to apply to ourselves at times. Especially whilst going through a dark patch.

Spending my time volunteering with animals continuously insights me into the loving beings we’re blessed to have with us. And for me, Veganism will only continue to aid me in my recovery pathway from Anorexia and other mental illnesses.

Goat girl, eighteen months on!

Little Owl Farm

I began volunteering at Little Owl Farm back in February 2017. Wholeheartedly, the best decision I’ve ever made! (Yes, I’ll say this until I’m red in the face…)

Its been 18 months consisting of joyful memories, hard (but always super fun!) work, an abundance of bus trips and the most compassionate hugs. And, most importantly, the growth of myself as an individual.

I’ve known my magnificent friends (animal and human!) for 18 WHOLE MONTHS! My friendship with Poppy and Mary-Jane, the best of goat friends, is the most valued and treasurable thing that regularly gets described as “beautiful”. It makes my heart all warm inside, as does the pleasure I have of knowing Cindy, John and Izaak. I love everybody at the farm so much that it feels indescribable.

My diagnosis of Autism means I struggle with certain life aspects which others may find to be less of a challenge. But, challenges are made to be overcome like mountains are designed to be climbed. Communication has always proven to be difficult for me, as I’ve spent my life being dubbed “the shy one” and sticking to my usual habits, such as avoiding change. I haven’t always been able to step on a bus alone and I never imagined myself to be stepping out of my restrictive comfort zone, meeting new people voluntarily (now my favourite people!) and making the most beautiful animal friends.

Taking the first daunting leap of venturing to Little Owl Farm to begin with was hard. Firstly I was worried about getting lost as I anxiously navigated my way through Oldham with Google Maps. Eventually, very much to my delight, stumbling across the farm – a place you could say has become my own sanctuary, a place I’ve found happiness, comfort and safety.

I held so many worries and ran through high intensities of self-doubt, wondering whether I would fit in, whether I would be liked, whether I would be able to form a sentence or even do things in the “right way”. I threw myself in at the deep end and tackled my anxieties head on. No longer wishing to be restricted by my Autism, but wanting to flourish into the brighter Laur I had always been instead.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there”.

Stepping out of my comfort zone, my compact area of safety, turned out to be a wonderful step for me. I believe I’m leaving my small shell and finding comfort in my surroundings (More than likely, the Goat pen…) I managed to find a place where I fit in, where I’m not judged and where I’m more than happy to shine gleamingly as my little crazy goat lady self.

Choosing to surround myself with incredibly kind, caring and dedicated people has really worked wonders for me. I’ve never felt the need to be anybody but myself at the farm, and it’s amazing how accepted I continuously feel there. Even in the simplest ways that my confidence has grown, I’ll willingly speak to people now and I believe in myself and my abilities progressively more. And for that, I’m thankful.

My role at the farm makes me truly happy, fills me with gratitude and appreciation and I’m excited for the future as Little Owl Farm continues to grow, welcoming new visitors and homing new animal friends. Pleasantly watching Cindy, John and Izaak embrace the success and happiness they well and truly deserve!