Growing up atypical and learning to accept myself

My mother used to encourage me to be myself, to be proud of myself. In many ways I was privileged for having that, and yet I still grew up uncomfortable in my own skin.

I was the weird kid. I had narrow and intense interests, I would sit in class barking like a dog, I didn’t enjoy typical sports that other boys of my age enjoyed.

The toxic standard for masculinity had never sat well with me. I laughed, I cried. I wrote poetry and enjoyed literature. Unbeknown to many people now, I was a dancer.

Since the age of 7 I had been taking five dance classes a week. Ballroom and Latin American, Tap Dance, Ballet, Jazz, and Modern Stage. I lived and breathed dancing, and was horribly bullied for it.

I also played trumpet for many years, often performing on my own or in a brass band.

As a teenager I went through goth and emo phases, wearing make-up and somewhat gender-neutral clothing. I had no need for bravado and mugging old ladies, like many of the young men on my street.

For a time I was happy being myself, being atypical; but as I got older, the attacks on me for being atypical became increasingly violent. I was put into the back of an ambulance six times in one year by the local youths. Police did nothing, apparently I brought these things on myself.

I heard that a lot. Teachers at school would often tell my mother that I was bullied because I was different, wording it in such a way that it became my responsibility to conform rather than the bullies’ responsibility to make amends for their actions.

I think eventually I became completely jaded with the world, I was disillusioned. Perhaps that (in part) is what made it so easy to fall into addiction.

I wanted to replace myself with a version of me that was more acceptable to the world. For a time it seemed to work, but with drugs and alcohol it always catches up with you.

I was diagnosed autistic in November of 2016. It was a life changing moment for me. Finally I had proof that I wasn’t broken. Sadly I admit that it still took some time to accept that, and I was desperate to be “cured” for a time.

My life turned around when I found the autistic community. I still remember the moment it happened. I had published an article about MMS abuse, and Emma Dalmayne (a rockstar amongst those campaigning against quack treatments) added me on Facebook and invited me to her group “autism inclusivity“.

Around this time I also discovered the work of Chris Bonello at “Autistic Not Weird“.

From there the pieces fell into place. I learned to love who I am again, something that I thought I had lost. I will forever be grateful to Emma, Chris, and the autistic community for helping me find myself again.

Self-acceptance has been vital in my recovery from addiction and psychosis. The autistic community gifted me that, and that’s why I advocate now. I want to give back to a community that has given so much to me.

If you’re new to this community, you’re probably scared right now. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts in this community and it’s a huge learning curve, but it is so worth it. Stick around and learn about yourself and your fellow Autistics. I promise you that you won’t regret it.

The first step to a happy autistic person is self-acceptance.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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