Wessex Scene Neurodiversity and Disability collaboration magazine

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EDIT OR Emily Dennis editor@wessexscene.co.uk DEPUTY EDITO R Sam Pearson deputy-editor@wessexscene.co.uk H EAD O F DESI GN Ren Neoh design@wessexscene.co.uk H EAD O F I MAGERY Sayli Jadhav image@wessexscene.co.uk MARKETING AND EVENTS James Huford, Katie Evans publicity/events@ wessexscene.co.uk SUB- EDI TO RS

Sam Pegg

Rachel Manthorpe

Chloe Wade

FE AT URES EDITO R Elizabeth Sorrell features@wessexscene.co.uk OPINI O N EDI TO R Ellie Griffiths opinion@wessexscene.co.uk POLITICS EDITO R Hector Hemingway-McGhee politics@wessexscene.co.uk SCIENCE & TECH EDITOR Jack Davies science@wessexscene.co.uk LIFE S TYL E EDI TO R Daisy Gazzard lifestyle@wessex scene . c o . uk T RAVEL EDI TO R Hannah Griffiths travel@wessexscene.co.uk

widening the c onversation The presence of disabled and neurodiverse people in our society, and on our campus, often goes unremarked or unnoticed. Each of them could tell you a story of being left out, their needs forgotten, or expected to suppress themselves to avoid inconveniencing the mainstream. This is an injustice that needs to be combatted. There are stark differences in the way we treat those who are considered ‘normal’ and those who are not. At Wessex Scene we are determined to platform the voices of this community, so that they can share their stories. Partnering with the Neurodiversity and Disability Society, we have assembled in this magazine a series of articles that centre neurodiverse and disabled people’s stories. Alyssa CarolineBurnette, as one of many powerful and important articles, covers the Do Not Resuscitate orders given to children with autism and Down Syndrome, on page 12. Writing on how the experience of disability can shape storytelling, turn to page 4, for an article by Conway. Returning to a topical issue, Martha Luke discusses the sunflower lanyard, its uses, and problems, on page 10. Throughout, on any given page, you can see the work of our fantastic team of illustrators. There is, as always, a lot of work that goes into these magazines, and I have to thank our imagery and design team, Emily, and the whole committee for their patience and effort over the past months. Moreover, I have to thank the Neurodiversity and Disability society for their openness to our proposal, and in particular Corin Holloway for their help organising this. To you, the reader, all I have to say is “Thank you for reading!”. Your Deputy Editor,

SAM PEARSON Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this magazine belong to each author alone - Wessex Scene is a neutral publication which aims to publish views from across the student body. To respond with an opposing opinion, please contact opinion@ wessexscene.co.uk or join our Opinion Writers’ Group.

SPOR TS EDITO R Mitul Mistry sport@wessexscene.co.uk PAUS E EDITO R Alyssa-Caroline Burnette pause@wessexscene.co.uk NEW S & INVESTIGA TIO N S

news/investigations@wessexscene.co.uk

FRONT COVER IMAGE BY REN NEOH Becky Davies

Daniela Gonzales

Megan Laing

Byron Lewis


FEATURES 04

WHEN YOUR WRITING BECOMES YOUR REALITY

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MY RELATIONSHIP WITH ADHD, AUTISM, AND ALCOHOL

OPINION "BUT YOU DON’T LOOK AUTISTIC!"

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MYTH-BUSTING EPILEPSY

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THE FALL OF THE SUNFLOWER LANYARD - HOW A GREAT INITIATIVE FELL VICTIM TO THE PANDEMIC

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POLITICS 12

ALL AUTISTIC LIVES HAVE VALUE

LIFESTYLE OCD IS NOT OBSESSIVE CHRISTMAS DISORDER

TRAVEL 16

FLYING HIGH WHEN FLYING LOW: MY EXPERIENCES WITH MENTAL HEALTH LIVING ABROAD

W ESSEX SCE NE . CO . UK @ WE S S E XS CE NE

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PAUSE You Might Have ADHD If…

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HOW TO OFFEND EVERY NEURODIVERGENT PERSON YOU MEET

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F B . C OM / W S C E N E @OF F IC IAL W E S S E X S C E N E


FEATURES

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hen I was fifteen, I got really into queer feminist fairy tale re-tellings. In my fifteen-year-old hubris, I began a novel imaginatively titled The Princess Story, about a school for princesses who learned to rescue other princesses. I didn’t get too far and the project was soon abandoned. I only recently remembered it ever existed. All the files are long lost (probably for the best) but the characters stick with me. Serena was my favourite, my version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. There’s one detail of her curse the film ignored but I was always fascinated by: every step felt like knives through her feet. Despite that, The Little Mermaid kept dancing with her prince. My Serena escaped her prince and did the sensible thing. She got a wheelchair. When I was fifteen, my legs still worked. I knew I was born with a bad hip, and they’d cut me open and cracked my bones and screwed me back together again. When I was eight I’d almost died of MRSA because they’d had to operate again. But I wasn’t disabled by any means. I skied, I hiked, I ran, I cycled, I climbed, I did karate, and it was all easy. I was going to be fit and strong forever. So why did I keep writing about wheelchairs? My first ever character used a wheelchair. She’d been hit by a truck, which put her in a coma, which sent her to a magic dream world where she was The Chosen One. She later got hit by a second truck saving her bully in the real world. He also had to get a wheelchair. I guess I couldn’t think of any other reason someone would need a wheelchair, but cut me some slack. I was eleven, and how many disabled characters had I ever seen? How many disabled characters have you ever seen? How many had names, important parts, speaking roles? How many were women? How many were queer? How many were POC? How many were in a genre story, sci-fi or fantasy? Are you a writer? How many disabled characters have you written? Do you think that’s enough?

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When Your Writing Becomes Your Reality Age twenty, in the mire of the first lock-down, I started writing a sci-fi comedy audio drama. I’ve never been more depressed. By then I’d quit martial arts after every session left me limping, so I knew something was wrong with my legs, but the pandemic delayed any chance of treatment. I went from walking six miles a day to struggling to leave the house in a matter of weeks as my legs deteriorated, no truck required. It would be another two months before I was advised to quit studying Medicine because of my developing disability, three months before I accepted I needed a cane to walk, nine months before I would actually quit Medicine, and a year before I would begin using a wheelchair. Working on Attention: The Captain is Fine, I avoided thinking about any of that, or the apparently ongoing apocalypse, or how much I was struggling with Medicine. I had fun, interesting problems: How do we tell this story only through an AI making announcements on a spaceship? How do we make scene changes obvious? How do we make this funny?

normal. Little kids stare and smile at all the stickers on my wheels and ask their parents when they can get one (kids, eh?) That’s normal. It’s weird and rude to ignore all that. So I said it outright in the script. I had the menacing sentient AI in control of the ship talk about wheelchair access onboard, include safety announcements for wheelchair users, lets Becca know where there’s space for her wheelchair. The AI is menacing and tyrannical, not ableist. And when the pilot was released and I listened to it all, complete with rattling wheelchair sounds, for the first time, I realised how rarely I find familiarity in any media. What if I had seen characters like this before? Maybe I would have been better prepared for my wheelchair. Maybe others would be better prepared to deal with seeing me now. I’m certain I would have written more and better disabled characters. And maybe that would have helped others, the way creating my own disabled characters has helped me.

How do we include disability? Both human main characters are disabled. Dr Viera is Deaf, and her hands are severely damaged from an accident, while her wife Becca uses a wheelchair. I don’t remember when or why I decided these things. They just developed naturally alongside the characters. Sometimes people are disabled. I worried about how to make clear that a character who we can’t see and never directly hear speak uses a wheelchair. Surely it would be weird and rude to just say it outright? When I invented Becca, I rejected the need for a wheelchair for myself. But as the script progressed, so did my disability, and eventually, it was that or not leave the house at all. And once I had it, I realised it’s not weird or rude to acknowledge it. It’s normal. I use a wheelchair and it rattles loudly and bumps into things and sometimes people trip over the footplates. That’s normal. My friends hold the door and offer to push me up particularly steep hills and suggest routes with flatter pavements. That’s

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WORDS BY CONWAY SUTTON IMAGE BY FLOSSY WATERS

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My Relationship With ADHD, Autism, and Alcohol

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once drank 6 2-litre bottles of sparkling water in the course of an afternoon. …I say ‘once.’ This was by no means the first time and it certainly wasn’t the last. In fact, it’s something I’ve done without thinking on multiple occasions. So, why did it happen, you ask? Have there been multiple occasions on which I thought I might die of thirst? And, more importantly, what fatal flaw in my personality has made me like sparkling water? The answer is simpler than you might think: I have ADHD, autism, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Hyper-fixations are an intrinsic part of two of those disorders, and— spoiler alert— it’s not OCD, as you might think.

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Instead, my hyper-fixations stem from my comorbid ADHD and autism. The easiest way to describe these conditions is to say that, at the core, both ADHD and autism are sensory processing disorders. People with autism can easily get overwhelmed or irritated by sensory stimuli and the same is true for people with ADHD. And when you have both… well… it’s literally double trouble. Because I live with both of these conditions, literally every aspect of existing is more intense for me. Overwhelming sensory stimuli is doubly upsetting. But when something produces a positive sensation for me, it’s twice as wonderful. And that means I need it twice as much. In fact, that’s exactly why I develop extreme fixations for certain things.

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I never know when my next hyper-fixation will hit— or what it will be. I never know when I will one day wake up and decide I hate the food, song, or drink I’ve been obsessed with for the past 6 months. As someone who lives with ADHD, everything about my life, my interests, and my sense of self feels transient. Liking something becomes my only personality trait… until the day I have to admit to everyone that, actually, I don’t even like it anymore. My feelings for my friends, family, and my cats are the only things that stay the same. ADHD and autism don’t affect my feelings for my loved ones-- but when it comes to my tastes and hobbies, everything is up in the air. By contrast, my autism dictates exactly the opposite. My ADHD often makes me hedonistic; I crave the things that will set off the happy hormones in my brain. But where my ADHD craves pleasure and adventure, my autism dictates security. If I like chicken tenders right now, my autism wants to know that I can count on chicken tenders all the time, at all costs. That no matter how horrible life becomes, no matter what I have to deal with, I can always count on chicken tenders. For the autistic side of me, hyperfixations aren’t just pleasurable— they’re a form of security. They’re reassurance in a fast-paced, neurotypical world that was not designed for people like me. They’re the food/show/ song equivalent of a warm hug— a reminder that I can always count on SOMETHING in a world that leaves me inherently unsettled.

as drinking in some random grotty student pub— I choose places that carefully curate their vibe and then I all but move in. However, I’ve discovered that I can go off a taste just as quickly as I fixate on it— and that’s how I know I’m not an alcoholic. In fact, I’m so afraid of getting addicted that I’ve often given myself a week or two of random alcoholfree days just to see if I can do it. (Spoiler alert: I can, with literally zero ill effects). Although I’ve noticed that I do continue to crave alcoholic drinks on my off-days, I’ve discovered that I crave it in the same way as chicken tenders or sparkling water: the way I want a certain TASTE rather than a certain SUBSTANCE. So, while I feel lucky to have dodged a bullet with addiction in my own personal experience, I’m still acutely aware of the fact that my mind and body are primed to develop unhealthy fixations on anything… whether it’s chicken tenders or cider. And that’s why I’ve chosen to write about this: so that everyone who reads this can have a reminder of this underrepresented symptom and the necessity of supporting your friends who live with ADHD and/or autism.

As you’ve probably guessed, that’s true for my relationship with every interest in my life—food, songs, TV shows, and alcohol— and that’s where things get scary. Studies show that people with ADHD and autism are at an elevated risk for alcohol abuse and addiction. Impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to tolerate frustration are all common hallmarks of ADHD, which lays a perfect foundation for substance abuse and alcoholism. The funny thing is, for me, it’s never quite worked like that. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a drink, that I prefer to study in the pub with a pint. The difference is that I never drink with the aim of getting wasted. Although I’ve sometimes gotten more messed up than I intended, the difference is that, for me, getting wasted is an unwelcome side-effect rather than the end goal. So, why do I drink? I drink, first and foremost, for the taste. But I also love the experience. The bars and pubs I frequent are fantastic in their ambience. It’s not the same

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WORDS BY ALYSSA-CAROLINE BURNETTE IMAGE BY FLOSSY WATERS

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W OPINION

everything I need to know about your view of neurodivergent people.

hen I initially opened up about my autism diagnosis, the overwhelming response focused on my appearance. At the time, thinking of myself as an autistic person was very new to me. The only autistic representation I had ever seen was Rain Man or nonverbal kids, who appeared to be locked in a world of their own. In contrast, upon meeting me, you see someone who is outgoing; chatty, and friendly. I’m unfailingly the most confident in my friendship group; the one who’s never afraid to ask strangers for directions, or order in a restaurant. So, I can appreciate that at a first glance I do not appear to be any different.

When I’m struggling to speak; visibly shaking, or having a meltdown over a seemingly small thing, and that is met with upset, I can gage that there is a lack of understanding. When people become annoyed that I cancel plans, or when I freak out while encountering differences in sounds; tastes, and textures, I can gage a lack of empathy.

WORDS BY ALYSSA-CAROLINE BURNETTE IMAGE VIA SAYLI JADHAV

Even though I present as neurotypical, that is entirely down to masking. The only reason I don’t “look like” the traits associated with autism, is because I am often using every fibre of my being, every ounce of my mental energy, to force myself to appear “normal.” Not all autistic people will do this, but I do, for my own self-preservation, as I know how people treat those who present as different. I know that revulsion is the default response, far more often than empathy. So, I regularly suppress my autistic qualities.

I smile when I want to bang my head against the wall and scream. I say, “Oh, that’s fine!” when a restaurant is out of my current food fixation, and the loss makes me feel like my skin is on fire. I force myself to make eye contact; laugh, and focus on a conversation, when all I can hear is the rush of my own blood, and the electrical buzzing of the nearby refrigerator. But sometimes I can’t maintain it. Sometimes, overwhelmed by unexpected stimuli, my mask slips. How somebody responds to me in those moments tells me

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It is in these moments, that I can see any acceptance of autistic people from these kinds of people is all for show. It is easy to say that you support neurodivergent people; that you care because you have an autistic friend, but if you are only supportive when that person presents as neurotypical, it isn’t real support. Therefore, telling me that I “don’t look autistic,” is more invalidating than complimentary - the clear implication is that I am not “as autistic” as other people, whose differences are more visible.

Being autistic is like being a cupcake - stay with me here. There’s no such thing as “a little bit of a cupcake” or “a more cupcake-y cupcake.” There may be differences—like chocolate, red velvet, and vanilla— but regardless of the flavour, all cupcakes are still cupcakes. When it comes to non-metaphorical cupcakes, you can say that you like red velvet, but not chocolate, but the same does not apply to those with autism. If you want to be understanding and supportive of autistic people, you have to support all peoples, regardless of their make-up. Someone shouldn’t have to “look autistic” for you to believe they are neurodivergent, nor should anyone receive more support, just because they pass as neurotypical. We are all cupcakes, whether we look like it or not, and are all equally deserving of empathy and support.

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Myth-Busting Epilepsy

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pilepsy is not a rare disability. It is the second most common neurological disorder behind dementia, and five million people are diagnosed with it every year, worldwide. But, for a condition that exists in every walk of life, it is massively understood. I am here to challenge misconceptions, and bust some myths on epilepsy: Epilepsy equals having fits: The media tends to only show tonic-clonic, or convulsive seizures, but there are in fact over forty different types of seizure. Absence seizures look like a person is blankly staring into space; myoclonic seizures are muscle jerks and spasms; focal aware seizures can manifest themselves as déjà vu - the sensation of a wave going over your head - or hallucinations, among many other things. Some are generalised, meaning it involves the entire brain, whilst others are focal, and therefore occur in a smaller section of the brain. All are equally serious and valid, although can often be difficult to diagnose. Due to this false media portrayal, many with epilepsy can be having seizures for years, without even realising that what they’re experiencing is a seizure. It’s ‘just a seizure’: Whilst having seizures is what epilepsy stands for by definition, it is important not to forget the consequent effect they have on the brain. Seizure recovery can take minutes; hours, or even days, depending on the person. It can include memory loss; extreme fatigue, or an inability to concentrate. It also isn’t uncommon for people with epilepsy to injure themselves - sometimes quite severely - during a seizure, which adds to the time needed to recover, and can often be extremely anxiety-inducing. Medication fixes everything: Unfortunately, epilepsy cannot be cured. For many, antiepileptic drugs - or AEDs - are successful in stopping seizures from happening, or at least considerably reducing them. It can take years to find the right drug for an individual, and unfortunately some types of epilepsy are drug resistant. But just because medication might cause the seizures to stop, it doesn’t mean epilepsy is gone. Many AEDs come with a whole host of side effects, which can be just as debilitating as the seizures themselves. Fatigue; nausea, and tremors, are just some of the dozens of things experienced. Finding a treatment plan, which limits both seizures and side effects, is therefore the ultimate goal.

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Flashing lights are triggering: Whilst strobe effects and flashing images can trigger some with epilepsy, it only accounts for approximately three percent of all sufferers. More common triggers include stress; sleep-deprivation, and alcohol, but even laughing can cause some to have seizures. It is a very complex disability, and it often takes many years to nail down what a person’s triggers are; then trying to avoid these triggers, is another matter entirely. They can’t… “Oh you can’t drive then?” “You must not be able to work.” “You won’t ever live alone.” Whilst all of these statements can be true for some, most with epilepsy can lead relatively normal lives. For example, in the UK, you can drive after being seizure-free for over a year with a little consideration regarding safety, there’s really nothing a person with epilepsy can’t do! Epilepsy is a difficult beast to live with. It is massively unpredictable, and it is difficult to not be constantly thinking of when, and where, the next seizure will happen, even if the seizures are under control. But at the end of the day, it is just a technical glitch in the brain, and once understood, it doesn’t have to be something to be frightened of. For more information about the condition, including seizure first aid, please visit https://epilepsysociety.org.uk/

WORDS BY HANNAH GRIFFITHS IMAGE BY EESHAA KARDILE

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The Fall of the Sunflower Lanyard

How a Great Initiative Fell Victim to the Pandemic

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WORDS BY MARTHA LUKE IMAGE BY WIRESTOCK via FREEPIK

he sighting of a sunflower lanyard symbolises invisible illness or disabilities, which are officially recognised throughout the country, and also around the world. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it lacked force except for within some service and travel industries. Wearing the sunflower lanyard was therefore not of much use for me personally, except when occasionally taking a busy train. In this situation, it allowed me to legitimately request a seat before other passengers and provided the security that support would be given by staff, if conflict was to arise between myself and another passenger. However, for other sunflower-lanyard wearers, the validation of authority the lanyard gave them to be able to confidently say “I am someone who needs to use the disabled toilet” or “I do not need to give up my priority seat on the bus for you” was invaluable. It allowed people to go about their day-to-day life with the necessary accommodations in place, and the knowledge that they would be supported in case an all-too-familiar Karen decided to object.

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Furthermore, the visibility of the sunflower lanyard - once the general public understood what it meant was important in tackling the stigma of such invisible disabilities, which are more common than you would think! It played an important role in demonstrating that not all disabled people (or otherwise people with chronic or long-term illness and health issues) look a certain way. We are not all in wheelchairs; a lot of us are completely independent, with the degree of disability fluctuating daily: on Monday someone could be capable of walking, but perhaps by Thursday, they need the support of a cane. There is a multitude of unrealised complexities, which the sunflower lanyard successfully brought into view, which was great. Not so great though, has been the use of the lanyard throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it has come to symbolise mask-exemption, at least in Britain. For those whose hidden disabilities genuinely exempted them from mask wearing (and who probably already had the lanyard), great. But those who realised they could order themselves a lanyard online, or get one from a supermarket for free? Not so great. As a result of no establishment;

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organisation, or even individual legally able to ask another to provide evidence of having a genuine mask exemption, the availability of the lanyards was exploited by antimaskers. This has hurt not only people with genuine maskexemptions, but those who wore it for other reasons too. The general public have begun to lump persons who wear the lanyard for all the above reasons together: those with genuine mask-exemptions; hidden disabilities, alongside anti-maskers and lanyard-appropriators.

But the previous damage remains. There is great irony is that the pandemic has created persons who need an initiative, damaged by the pandemic. Many newly chronically ill people, suffering from long-Covid, would actually have benefitted greatly from the original purpose of the lanyard. They too have an invisible disability, seeking support but feeling too scared to ask for it, or facing discrimination at the hands of those who do not understand the true meaning of the sunflower lanyard.

Suddenly people with a lanyard wearing a mask, were questioned in their efforts to keep themselves and others safe: “you know you don’t have to wear that if you have the lanyard, right?”. People wearing a lanyard and no mask were not questioned, and generally, things fell apart for those with hidden disabilities. A majority of the public only learned about the lanyard during the pandemic, with most solely connecting it to mask-exemptions. The force of the symbolic sunflower was lost; people didn’t realise that it was there to support those who needed assistance, and questions were raised yet again. Even members of staff who ought to have been taught the correct use of the lanyard were clueless, having been taken on as support during the pandemic.

My hope for the future, is that the purpose and reasoning behind such a scheme can become more widespread, so that others can be educated. Nobody should be challenged just because another can’t necessarily see what’s wrong. Support should be there safely and securely, for those who need it.

Some smaller initiatives - both online and in-person, like tweets or posters - tried to correct people’s perception of the lanyard. But of course, they could only do this to a certain extent. A lot of people still have an incorrect understanding, which is arguably worse than no understanding. Although, with anti-maskers having given up trying to justify their actions, at least this is one epidemic that has come to an end.

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POLITICS

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t s i i c t L u i A v es l l

h av e va l u e

I

didn’t receive my autism diagnosis as a child. It’s something I blog about often, usually whilst remarking on society’s trend to let autistic girls languish in silence for years. As an undiagnosed autistic child, I lost most of my childhood and adolescence to a silent and impenetrable hell. On the surface, I presented as bright, outgoing, intelligent. I was called “an old soul,” “wise beyond my years,” and I took that praise to heart,” drifting deeper and deeper within myself until I dared not allow myself any feelings at all. I didn’t know how to act like other kids and I was so confused by the differences between myself and my peers that I lapped up any praise which suggested that my differences might be positive.

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Because, without an explanation for how my brain worked, I assumed that I was the problem. Internally, I labelled myself “broken" and "bad” because whenever I read about people who— like me— didn’t fit in, didn’t feel like other people, they were always criminals and serial killers. As a child, I connected those dots and spent years assuming I must have some hidden streak of deviance that I must suppress at all costs. After all, I assumed, why else would I feel so different? As a 25-year-old with 5 graduate degrees, a thriving social life, and— crucially— an autism diagnosis, I have shed many tears for the undiagnosed little girl I used to be. On good days, I want to hug her and whisper that she isn’t the problem, that there’s a name for what’s going on in her head, and that none of this is her fault.

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But on the hardest days, I’m angry. I mourn the unfettered happiness I could have had. I grieve the unfractured sense of self I could have cherished. I imagine how much happier I could have been if I was diagnosed with autism as a child. …that was, until I read an article with this title: “Children With Autism Were Offered ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Orders During The Pandemic.” Not only has this story been the subject of reports from multiple papers, an investigation by the Daily Telegraph revealed that “shocked parents are now worried their child could have agreed to the order because they may have not 'understood the question.’” Further reading shows that this question was frequently raised to teenagers with autism and Down Syndrome— 18-year-olds who, just like me at 18, would be legally capable of making their own medical decisions, but functionally vulnerable. Would I have understood that question at 18? Would I have realised that I was legally signing my life away, agreeing that my life didn’t matter? Almost definitely not.

not okay to say that my (autistic) life matters but another autistic person’s doesn’t. When I've discussed this headline with others, some people have attempted to justify their position to me by saying that because I am a successful student who has won awards and scholarships, my autistic life holds more value. That no one would ever think I should be offered a DNR order. Thus, the message is loud and clear: my life has value because I “contribute to society.” Because I’m capable of doing or producing something that other people value. But that logic is exactly what terrifies me. All autistic lives have value— full stop. Our contributions to society— or lack thereof— does not give anyone the right to play God or to sneakily institute a return to the eugenics movement. And make no mistake: that's exactly what this DNR order is.

WORDS BY ALYSSA-CAROLINE BURNETTE IMAGE BY SAYLI JADHAV

And therein lies the problem. I was— if you want to call it that— “lucky” enough to present as neurotypical through my entire childhood. The masking that destroyed my selfworth, my identity, and my inner life enabled me to be labelled “normal.” So, because I was not diagnosed as a child, I would not have been on a list of “people this option should be offered to.” And when I’ve discussed headlines like these with my GP, with my therapist, I’ve received a resounding, “But these headlines are never about YOU!” Although these statements are made to reassure me, they have the opposite effect. Because these phrases reinforce the assumption of a ‘compliment’ I consistently receive— the pseudo-complimentary, “But you don’t LOOK autistic!” While intended as a positive thing, this phrase infuriates me because it tells me one crucial thing: that people mean it as a compliment because they’re saying I don’t look strange or different to them. Behind the seemingly innocent phrase “you don’t look autistic” is the belief that it’s okay to discriminate against people who do. And, from there, it’s not a big leap to assume that it’s okay to suggest DNR orders to children who DO look autistic, because ‘their lives matter less.’ But it’s not okay to pick and choose the lives that matter. It's not okay to 'compliment' me on ‘not looking autistic’ and also feign outrage over this headline. And it's especially

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LIFESTYLE

OCD is NOT

~

Obsessive Christmas Disorder CD = Obsessive Christmas Disorder. The headline hit me like a sucker punch in the checkout line at TK Maxx. I’d just finished up a very pleasant day of Christmas shopping and I was in high spirits with “Santa’s Coming For Us” blasting through my AirPods. Until I saw those greeting cards and it ruined my entire night. If you read that like an exaggeration, I don’t blame you. I did that myself for years before I was diagnosed with an alphabet soup of mental illnesses that my mum collectively calls “XYZ.” (I get it— in all fairness, it really does take ages to say PTSD, OCD, ADHD, anxiety, etc…) So, I get it. I really do. I used to wonder, “Why would anybody get so worked up about a joke on a greeting card?!” But here’s why I don’t find it funny. One night a few weeks ago, my friends and I left a bar. It was neither a late night nor a crazy one. We were a bit tipsy, but only enough to think we were much more funny and interesting than we are. We were certainly not drunk enough to black out, to do or say things we would not later remember. My best friend walked me home that evening and I have clear memories of hugging him goodbye and letting myself into my apartment. I should also add that neither he nor I own a car. We don’t have our driving licenses and we both have zero desire to drive. And yet, the very next day, when I woke up, the first thought in my head was, “I hit and killed somebody with a car. I killed them and I’ve blocked out the memory.” If you’re waiting for the punchline, there isn’t one. There is only the reality of my life with Obsessive Compulsive

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Disorder. Because, as ridiculous and irrational as this thought was, I couldn’t shake the fear that it somehow must be true. My first symptoms appeared when I was 6 years old. I had recently read a swear word in a book. I knew that was a word I was not supposed to say. On a phone call with my grandmother, a woman for whom my love was boundless, I suddenly- out of the blue- became gripped by the horrible fear that I would randomly say that word to her and disappoint her. I didn’t want to say it. I was vaguely aware that I had the choice NOT to say it. But my fear was that it would happen outside of my most fervent wishes and best attempts at self-control. In stark terror, I thrust the phone at my mum without warning and ran. These were the mildest symptoms I would ever experience. And, at 6, I didn’t know that- over the next 20 years- these thoughts would only worsen. They would intensify until I convinced myself that I had murdered someone and repressed the memory or said something nasty to my mum, along with many other acts that I considered even worse.

mum, and dropped not-so-subtle hints that I was looking for proof I hadn’t said or done something to offend them. It’s taken years of time and therapy to break this cycle— but even now, there are days when I relapse and fall into the old trap of, “Hope I wasn’t too weird last night…!” My lifelong struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has ruined years of my life. Intrusive thoughts attach themselves to the values I treasure most— being a good person, being kind to others, doing my best to never hurt anyone— and distorts them until I convince myself that I am everything I hate and fear. So, no, I don’t think it’s cute or funny to use phrases like “Obsessive Christmas Disorder.” When I see phrases like this, all I can see is a mockery of the disorder that made my life a living hell. And, most importantly, I see the misinformation that contributes to a widespread lack of awareness about what OCD really is.

WORDS BY ALYSSA-CAROLINE BURNETTE IMAGE BY SAYLI JADHAV

Each time, I would be mystified when my worst thoughts were disproved. And each time, I would check and check and check again. “You’re sure you’ve never seen me hurt anyone? You’re sure I didn’t say anything horrible last night?” My fevered attempts at reassurance were baffling to my friends and family. They did their best to reassure me and brush it off as a weird quirk of mine. But when I turned 21 and alcohol got involved, I discovered a new circle of hell. As an autistic- and very anxious- person, alcohol made me feel great. The pleasant buzz of being tipsy helped me to freely laugh with friends, to turn off the constant fear and anxiety that dogged my every waking moment. But it was kryptonite for my OCD. I became paralysed by the knowledge that I had consumed a substance that can literally alter memory. Could I ever trust my own memories? Could I ever truly be sure I hadn’t somehow blacked out and done something terrible? These fears generated a new round of endless reassurance-seeking. I compulsively apologised to friends, to bartenders, to my

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Flying High When Flying Low:

My Experiences With Mental Health Living Abroad


TRAVEL

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here is a certain romanticised image portrayed when the phrase 'year abroad' enters your periphery, but the reality of partaking in such a thing isn't always glamourous. It can be isolating at times, which can make the experience even more of a challenge as someone who has been recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression. A modern languages degree is less flexible compared to other subject choices, in that the decision to spend a year abroad is solidified; a choice made before knowing what it is like to be a university student. Knowing what I know now, was my eighteen-year-old decision a wise one? For a while, I pushed the idea out of my head. For over two years, the concept of a year abroad became buried amongst the chaos of a global pandemic, intertwined by a diagnosis that confirmed what I thought I always knew about myself. In fact, at no point did it feel real. That is, until the day I buckled myself into the plane that would fly me to a new country, to embark on a new chapter of my life. I never really considered what it would mean to live abroad. Personally, I chose my degree as I loved learning languages; a practical skill that enables me to connect with other people on a deeper level. Despite the allencompassing mental strength that is required for even the most basic of tasks, when required to speak another language abroad, the challenge has bought me out of my shell in ways I could never have before imagined. I have gone from being too anxious to order food in a restaurant, to confidently doing so in another language - this revelation in itself has made me realise my true capabilities. Those at home are constantly encapsulated by the idea of 'starting afresh' in another country. There is this perception that doing a year abroad is to spend a year on holiday, with no attachment to the new country you find yourself in; a place to clear your head and 'find yourself '. However, it is not a gap year and perceiving it as such diminishes the struggle and sacrifice required for a year abroad. The truth is that living abroad makes you question everything you thought you once knew about yourself, and your own country, and consequently puts the world into perspective. It is not a task for the faint-hearted - the growth that takes place mentally to expand and adapt yourself in such a way is tiring and relentless. But equally,

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your values are no longer constrained by the narrowminded view of one nation, and that opens up a scarily large array of endless possibility. In a way, perhaps this does make the whole 'starting afresh' prophecy valid, especially when it comes to mentality. However, amongst the process of enlightenment, you almost forget that you are successfully living in another country. There is no constant partying or going out: I have a job and a research project to contend with, alongside the exacerbated mental burden of being an adult, due to the language element. The stresses and strains of everyday life do not suddenly stop, just because I have decided to move to another country for a short period of time. There have been several weeks of elation and enlightenment, which - alongside ongoing therapy sessions - have helped me to see life in a more positive light, one filled with excitement, and they have allowed me to recognise my flaws and work on them. Equally, there have been weeks of worry, and a craving for the aspects of my life, which I once knew and idolised. Both mentalities I am just as grateful for. Both have shown me that I am more capable than I ever believed I could be. I have learnt to love myself unapologetically, my mental illnesses too. I departed from England in August of this year disassociated; numb; insecure. I was a shell of myself and unable to see life for what it really is. It wasn't until I arrived home for Christmas last week that I was able to sit back and really look at my current life in motion, and feel proud for the internal struggles I am beginning to gain control of, and overcome. To anyone in a similar position, contemplating whether they should let their diagnosis hold them back in doing a year abroad - I say fight back. Without the revelation this experience has given me, I would not be the person I am today, embarking on an experience, which is continually helping me to grow into the woman I have always wanted to become - independent, confident, and strongly fierce. So, force yourself to fly high when you feel like flying low - you are most likely more capable than you are allowing yourself to believe.

WORDS BY ELLIE GRIFFITHS IMAGE BY SHUBHI JAIN

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PAUSE

*Author’s note: this piece is written as a satirical, fauxdiagnostic guide by a writer who has been diagnosed with ADHD. This piece is by no means intended to function as a genuine diagnostic tool and should not be taken as such.

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ave you ever seen a post about ADHD and thought it really sounded like you? If you’ve never been diagnosed, you may be surprised when you see an infographic on Instagram and think, “That hits a little too close to home…” So, this article is for anyone who’s ever found themselves in that position— and especially for anyone who’s ever wondered if they should get diagnosed (but are too afraid to ask). If you think you may have ADHD, sit back, relax, read this article… and prepare to get too bored to finish it. So, without further adieu, you might have ADHD if…

even that you think you’re the most interesting person in the conversation! It’s purely just that you KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if you do not say what you’re thinking RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND, you will forget it forever. And the thing you wanted to say was really funny! Your friends would really want to hear it! So, yes, you totally cut them off in the middle of their story… but you’re sure they won’t mind once they notice how hilarious you are! Imagine if all your witticisms were lost to the world forever! That’s the kind of forgetfulness we’re dealing with here, so you better hurry up and say everything you’re thinking immediately.

You Might Have ADHD If…

Have you eaten chicken tenders three times a day for literally 3 weeks in a row? It honestly doesn’t matter to you because you can’t get enough. Next month, it’ll be something else. Same goes for your current favourite tv show— 7 seasons in one day is nothing to you— your favourite background tv show— have you seen Brooklyn Nine Nine 5,743 times? Absolutely. Is it on in the background again today? Duh— and your current favourite song, which you will listen to on repeat 73 times until you

You have absolutely no concept of time I’m not talking about being late for stuff. Everybody does that. I’m talking about the kind of time blindness that makes you leave your laundry in the washer for 2 weeks without so much as a reminder crossing your mind. Should you switch that laundry? Wash it again, perhaps? FINALLY dry it? Is it insanely annoying that you’ve forgotten it… in the communal washing machine of your apartment building and you’ve pissed off every other resident? These thoughts literally never occur to you. Worst of all, this is not the most annoying example. You might also experience the kind of time blindness that means you haven’t eaten for 8 hours… simply because you forgot. Same goes for peeing. Wasn’t there something you needed to do? Did it maybe involve the bathroom? God only knows. Oh, well— back to the TikTok rabbit hole you’ll later discover you’ve been in for 10 hours. You interrupt everybody constantly You don’t mean to be rude. Honest, you don’t. It’s not

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You hyper-fixate on tastes, shows, and music

utterly despise it. If you do all of these things and think you’re perfectly normal… you might want to think again! And if you’ve come to the end of this list and concluded that you might indeed have ADHD, you have two options: you could speak to a professional and discuss diagnostic options OR you could text a neurodivergent instagrammer and ask her to diagnose you. Because that’s totally the better option of those two.

WORDS BY ALYSSA-CAROLINE BURNETTE IMAGE BY EMILY RALPH

NEURODIVERSITY


How to Offend Every Neurodivergent Person You Meet

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hat liminal space between Christmas and New Year’s is a time for self- reflection. As we approach the start of a new year, our thoughts turn to ourselves and our accomplishments. We begin to wonder if we are doing enough, if there’s something we can improve. We reflect on changes we’d like to make in the coming year. So, if you find yourself in this position and you’re thinking, “I haven’t been offensive enough this year…” fear not! This article is here to help! If you pride yourself on being insensitive towards others, if you work to ensure you are never politically correct, you’ve probably covered the usual bases this year and made jokes that are sexist, racist, or homophobic. But if you think neurodivergent people haven't been annoyed enough-- because that whole pandemic thing wasn't stressful at all-- these tips will ensure that you leave them good and offended! Whether you’re interacting with people who have autism, OCD, anxiety, or many other neurodivergent conditions, this article will make sure you piss off all of them. Just say these ever-helpful things!

or their experience with therapy or medication. Just go straight for this simple DIY tip that they’ve definitely never thought of before! Obsessive Coffee/Christmas/Cat Disorder Do you have a friend who loves cats, coffee, or Christmas? Maybe you’ve never seen them without a latte in their hand. Maybe they have a million cats or their house is always decorated for Christmas by the beginning of November. Either way, it’s pretty clear that their interest in these things defines their personality. Unlike people who live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, your friend “obsesses” about their interest because it genuinely brings them joy. They’re not tortured with thoughts of cats, coffee, or Christmas, and they’re not desperate to make those thoughts stop. So, make sure you use a phrase like “Obsessive Coffee Disorder” around someone who actually has OCD. They’ll totally find it hilarious! I’m so ADHD! Do you occasionally forget stuff? Have you ever walked into a room and instantly forgotten what you came for? If so, congratulations! You’re just like… literally every other human on the planet. And this common human behaviour is totally (NOT) the same as having ADHD! Everybody knows the stereotypes as perpetuated by memes— ADHD = chaotic, unorganised, and hyper. So, if you’re really committed to being offensive, make sure you don’t do your research. Or, if you absolutely insist on doing some homework about this condition, make sure you get all your info from politically incorrect meme pages on Facebook!

Have you tried NOT being anxious? If someone suffers from anxiety, there’s a pretty good chance they don’t enjoy it. It’s even more likely that they’d love to find a way to make the anxiety stop. So, don’t ask them about their mental health, their treatment plan,

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By the time you’ve done your Facebook homework, you’ll come to the conclusion that, at best, ADHD is funny and at worst, it’s annoying. It’s not like it’s a complex condition that also involves sensory processing problems, emotional regulation issues, or intense attacks on your self-esteem! So, go ahead! Say, “Oh my God, I’m SO ADHD!” every time you do something that isn’t 100% perfectly organised. Your ADHD friends will see the humour for sure!

WORDS BY ALYSSA-CAROLINE BURNETTE IMAGE BY SAYLI JADHAV

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