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Reflecting on Isolation at Christmas
My name is Maxwell and I am on the autistic spectrum with Aspergers. I have a huge passion and interest in films which I explore in my own personal blog. These have become an important way for me to manage my anxiety.
Autism can be extremely isolating. With this isolation can come frustration. I have so much to say but it can hard to sometimes to express my feelings in spoken words. This not only happens when I am anxious during job interviews but if I am in a new social situation with a large group of new people. This includes Christmas parties.
This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy my own company and interests. I appreciate that not everyone will enjoy watching grisly Italian horror films such as Zombie Flesh Eaters or the B-Movie classic Plan 9 from Outer Space on Christmas Day as much as I do!
It might not come as surprise that I am not a fan of nightclubs; I only went once during university and that was more than enough for me. Finding myself alone in my student flat when all my course mates went out partying, however, became extremely hard for me to cope with. It was perhaps the first time in my life when I felt truly alone. Not only were my family all the way in Northern Ireland but my feelings left me confused, severely depressed and lonely. Thankfully I was able to overcome my social anxiety a bit more in second and third year with the help of my course-mates.
By speaking to student services about my mental health I was also eventually referred to speech and language therapy. Though this also helped with my confidence, I was not yet diagnosed with autism. Indeed, I was not diagnosed until several years after graduating from university, in July 2016.
Due to my social challenges, I not only find it hard to make new friends but in forming relationships with the opposite sex. I don’t think I will ever be the kind of person who can simply walk up to a girl in a bar and strike up a friendly conversation. In a society in which ‘lad’ culture is still so prevalent and where the image which the media and often wider society, so often sells, teaches men that to be successful you must be arrogant and even aggressive, shy guys like me tend to disappear among the crowd.
Christmas is also a time when family comes together, and this is why it one of my favourite times of the year, yet it also makes me reflect on what a Christmas present can never give me. That is a girlfriend to talk to when things get tough and be by my side.
I know that I can talk to my family about many things but they will never able to provide the intimacy and emotional or sexual wellbeing that comes with a romantic relationship or partner.
Similarly, one of the main reasons why I want to get a job is the opportunity to join an inclusive team. I want to once again feel a sense of belonging, to work together to realise shared goals and feel a sense of collective achievement. This is something I have sorely missed since I left my last job in July 2016.
It is also extra frustrating as I know that, like so many other autistic individuals, I have so much to offer in the right environment. To put it in a nutshell, being socially isolated has a wide range of effects on my feelings and mood; from difficulty managing my self-esteem to confidence and recognising my self-worth. I sometimes get frustrated with myself that I am not able to do certain things which I feel, so many others take for granted.
At the end of the day, I just want to be like everyone else and in doing so, fulfil my potential. I firmly believe that society should be more flexible and inclusive so we all can find our place in the world.
We all have something we can offer. It is time that society welcomes and ultimately, empowers everyone, disabled or not.
For me, a new sense of belonging is the greatest Christmas gift I could ever receive.
Can you relate to Max’s story? Share your thoughts in the comments below!