Can you tell us about your most stressful experience and how you overcame it?
I think my most stressful experience was the first day of my first part-time job. I was 15 at the time (that’s a normal age for a part-time job here) and I was very nervous. Because of my autism, I always first need proper instructions when diving into a new situation. When I arrived on the job (a theme park) I was told to go to a certain place in the theme park to meet the manager, who would give me instructions. After at least half an hour of wandering, I still couldn’t find it. I was starting to panic: what if they think I’m late? What if they’re going to fire me right away? Luckily another employee noticed me and told me where to go. Turns out the place I needed to be didn’t have the name I was given on the front, so no wonder I couldn’t find it! Once there, I got told what to do and was then left to my own devices. This scared me because I was thrown into the deep end right away. I had to manage a food court by myself! I was scared and stressed, but luckily I only got 4 customers that day. But those four customers did raise my anxiety a lot. I managed to pull myself together and told myself that I just needed time to get the hang of it. During the entire season I was alone in food courts 80% of the time, so I did get the hang of it. I’m not sure if I overcame this stress right away, but it did teach me a lot of things that would be of use later in life. Every moment in life has lessons.
How does one’s environment affect their mental well-being?
A lot! Until March 2020, I was employed and worked in an office. While my colleagues were cool, I just felt myself being drained by the office. When I left the job and started freelancing, my mental well-being rapidly improved because I got to work from home all the time. I got to be in my own safe environment all the time (also because of corona..). It helped me so much that I managed to quit my antidepressants last September. I had been on them for 5 years at that point. I think if you’re constantly in an environment where you feel like you aren’t completely free to be yourself, or an environment that drains your energy in some way, it can really do a number on you in the long run.
How do you deal with your own mental health?
Because I’m autistic I’ve always been sort of forced to reflect on my actions and thoughts. Being aware that you’re different means you’re constantly hyper-aware of everything you do and say. On one hand that was bad for my mental health, but on the other hand it taught me a lot about myself. My past two psychologists told me that I’m really self-aware and seem to know myself very well. So I think getting to know yourself and your wants and needs is a very important step. I talk to myself a lot, which has been proven to be beneficial for your mental health. By talking to myself during low moments and breakdowns, I get to understand what is actually bothering me and I can think about a rational solution.
What self-care practices would you recommend? Why do you think it is important to make time for yourself during the day?
As mentioned before, I think talking to yourself can be very helpful. Another very important thing is to protect your energy. You don’t owe anyone your time, presence and energy. If you need to recharge, give yourself room to do so. It’s important to look after yourself so you don’t get burnt out. Giving yourself time gives you space to heal and rest. One thing I learned is that when you’re tired, your feelings become distorted. Sometimes I realise that I’m not actually sad or stressed but just tired. That’s why, when my mental health gets bad, I go to bed early. If I sleep on it, I usually feel better in the morning. So getting enough sleep is an important part of self-care.
Do you believe that the stigma around mental health has decreased to a notable extent in your community? What may be the reason for this?
I kind of feel like on one hand there is more awareness now and people recognise how serious mental illness can be, but on the other hand this awareness makes people dismiss it. I’ve heard people say “everyone is depressed nowadays”, implying people are exaggerating. So I think there is still a lot of work to do.
What does mental health mean to YOU?
When I read “mental health” I always associate it with mental illness. I was diagnosed with depression at age 18, but became very depressed around the age of 16. However, according to my mother, I’ve been “down” for my entire life. Even as a five-year-old I expressed my dislike for life in general. So now that I’m actually doing better for once, my focus is starting to shift. I now slowly start to associate “mental health” with self-care. It’s important to look after your brain, because your brain determines how you feel. Now that I have noticed what self-care can do, I think mental health is one of the most important things we as humans should be aware of.
How do you express yourself?
It took me a good 21 or so years to find ways to express myself, and I’m still not sure I fully figured it out. Because of my autism I always found it hard to fit in. I figured that, if I just did what everyone else was doing, they wouldn’t notice I was different. I was ashamed of being autistic and didn’t want to accept it. But being someone you’re not is tiring and at one point I decided I had had enough. I wanted to discover the real me, and so I did. Right now I express myself through my appearance. I like wearing a lot of colour and wearing 80s/90s style clothing. My friends jokingly call me “retro clown” (partly because I sometimes wear face paint or stick felt flowers on my face).
Who inspires you the most?
Good question! I’m honestly not sure. Is it weird to say I inspire myself? Because I’m pretty proud of what I have achieved so far. I didn’t have it easy, but I managed to build a stable life for myself. I do also get inspired by my friends, because they’re all such creative and kind people.
What are some hobbies you have?
My main hobby is creative writing, although I would love for that to be my job. One of my comics got published last year and there are more comics coming out this year. I also want to write more short stories and poems. Besides writing, I love to paint. I have a little Etsy shop where I sell some of my paintings. Writing and painting are ways for me to express myself. I’m a very creative person and I’m the happiest when I get to create new things.
Anything else you would like Revive’s audience to know about you?
Maybe not necessarily about me, but I would like for the audiences to know that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. It’s okay to cancel plans and take time for yourself to recover. It’s okay to put yourself first if you need to heal. Putting myself first was the best thing I’ve ever done and it has really helped me to get better. Even if today seems hopeless, know what you can always try again tomorrow. Never stop trying.