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Amplify Blog - I felt like a ghost

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Amplify Blog - I felt like a ghost

Amplify Blog

The below is a guest blog by Gefion, a QFCC Youth Advocate. Adapted from a presentation on mental health


If I were to say what my biggest achievement in life was, it would be being incredibly weird. I’m here to describe my experience with poor mental health, which is unfortunately quite a vast experience, but I will also give some suggestions on how I think some issues could be amended. While I do have a lot I could discuss, I’m mainly here to talk about my lived experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder and gender identity struggles, though I’ll also touch on my experiences with anxiety and depression.

I lived with undiagnosed autism for a long time before I was diagnosed last year. The delay in my diagnosis was mainly because of ‘masking’ a lot of my neurodivergent behaviours and mimicking the behaviours of other more neurotypical people around me. For a long time, I was very isolated for the reason that I was just kind of weird, though my masking has also been so severe that most times I feel a big rift between who I really am and who I pretend to be. Sometimes I didn’t understand things as easily as others, like how to make conversation naturally or how to make eye contact. I struggle to express emotions well and sometimes my train of thought is horrendously disconnected. The issue is those of us on the spectrum are expected to behave in a neurotypical way, to redefine ourselves and our behaviours to fit in and function in a society that does not want to redefine itself to support us. I suggest that more needs to be done to meet the needs of those who demonstrate neurodivergent behaviours. While I do not represent the entire range of the neurodivergent spectrum, I can say what would have helped me, such as: basic social skills education throughout school; quiet community spaces that were free from excessive noise; neurodivergent youth support groups. The list could go on. The main suggestion I have with this is to include more neurodivergent youth in decision-making processes. There needs to be more done to treat neurodivergent people and behaviours as normal, rather than abnormal.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis as well last year, which was a diagnosis that took many years of going on and off different medications, of specialists thinking there was nothing wrong with me when I was in severe pain. Living with chronic pain from an ‘invisible’ condition is a big struggle because it felt like no-one took me seriously, or they thought it was ‘too much information’ to bring it up when it affected every part of my life. I was still expected by my school’s guidance officer to attend school every day when I was struggling to even make it to half of them each week because of how much pain I was in. There is not enough support for young people like me who are struggling with gynaecological conditions, not from service providers, or the public health system, or from school. It is a gruelling process and recovery that has led me through many ruts of depression, pain and poor stamina. It does get better, but getting proper support is tough.

I identify as non-binary, but while that isn’t in of itself a mental disorder (not that I like the term ‘mental disorder’ anyways), the anxiety, resulting from years of not having my gender affirmed by my peers, is a mental disorder. I have only recently started identifying as non-binary. There was a lot of struggle with wanting to identify as non-binary, like that I still felt too connected to my gender assigned at birth, or that identifying as non-binary was just attention seeking or was ‘just a phase’. In my earlier school years, I was surrounded by people who thought they knew my gender identity better than me. I was bullied for not having a very feminine appearance, called by male pronouns at least half of the time and told that I should just shave my body hair to fit in with the other girls. It may not seem like the bullying was ‘that bad’, but it made me feel like it was my fault I was being misgendered when really, I was just following what felt comfortable to me. It was a big factor that contributed to my social anxiety and it make me feel very unseen for who I really was. I felt like a ghost.

I understand there has been a big push for removing gendered language from schools and public spaces where youth spend time, but I think there needs to be more done about it. Let’s take public toilets for example. I think it’s frankly insulting to non-binary people, youth in particular, that in some situations the only unisex toilets are also the disabled toilets. I still use the female toilets because while I am technically disabled, I don’t think not conforming to the gender binary is a disability. Besides, I believe the disability supports in those toilets should be made as available as possible for those with a physical disability and not for those who do not have any other alternative. It may not necessarily be the biggest issue in the minds of most non-binary youth but I am personally haunted by experiences where people have told me that I am using the wrong toilets when I am not.

Uniforms in schools are also still a big problem, even though I understand that now a lot of official names for uniform items are not supposed to be gendered. I always wore what made me comfortable at school and that was usually pants. The problem was that everyone else liked to make me uncomfortable about it, not enough to make me forsake comfy pants but enough to give me anxiety about having to constantly prove I was not in fact male. I’m sure since then, a lot of my peers have learned better, but I wish that the teachers and people who knew better at the time would have given us a run-down saying ‘hey, people can wear what makes them comfortable, and that’s okay’. It would have saved me and possibly many others years of anxiety and low self-esteem to have the most basic gender education given to us to prevent bullying.

Finally, I want to address my experience with anxiety and depression and let me tell you - there isn’t really anything fun or quirky about having them. A lot of young people also struggle with both anxiety and depression, almost to the point it’s often dismissed as overreacting or just ‘being sad’. Depression is so misunderstood because we seem to have this idea that it’s a result of things not going right in someone’s life. But the truth is, it isn’t really. In my experience, my depression came out of nowhere and is something that makes me feel hollow and empty even if everything is looking up in my life. Anxiety is an old friend of mine and was one of the first mental disorders I was diagnosed with. It’s gotten a lot better because I’ve overcome my anxiety towards certain scenarios, but it does make dealing with unexpected or new scenarios a lot harder and even then, random panic attacks can come out of nowhere. It’s been a lot of trialling different medication and hoping something works while I keep pushing on. I would hope that experiences with anxiety and depression would be better understood and validated in youth-related services, instead of dismissed, and that mental health services are more available to Queensland’s youth across the entire state. I understand there is a big demand for mental health services at the moment, but more needs to be done to meet that demand. Everyone deserves help and support for mental health issues, because mental health is just as important as physical health.

And with that, that has been an insight into part of my mental health experience so far. I hope some of my experiences and suggestions are useful or inspiring, and I hope some of the issues I have outlined become less commonplace for people like me in the future.