Sometimes, in a deep corner of my mind, I wish was an Avenger, living happily in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). My name would Lady Erin, I would be a super soldier in the style of Captain America and I would represent Ireland in a similar manner. The MCU is not the only media franchise I imagine myself being part of. Over the years, I’ve imagined myself in Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Glee and a variety of other beloved TV shows. “Why ?”, you might ask, immediately questioning my sanity. Well let me give you a bit of background information.
When I look back on my childhood, which like every childhood had its quirks, one of the most obvious signs that I was Autistic was the presence of my pretend friends. Instead of playing with my classmates in the playgrounds of the primary schools I attended, I played with my pretend friends. I talked to them openly, I never felt embarrassed unless I knew someone was listening in or wanted to join me. As an only child, who struggled with socialising, my pretend friends were of great comfort to me. I must have originally created them out of loneliness, yet when I started school, I quickly discovered that I could interact with these pretend friends on my own terms, I could have a sense of control.
Most neurotypical people, are born with the knowlege of how to socialise with people, this being so intrinsic that they don’t even realise the basic rules they follow. Autistic people are born without such an ability. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it means that Autistic children must learn and practise social rules. However, this of course requires an early diagnosis. I was diagnosed at the age of twelve, meaning that for most of my childhood I had very little understanding or help when it came to learning these social rules. So instead of spending my break time with children I didn’t understand, I played with my pretend friends. The possibility of me being Autistic was raised for the first time in Fifth Class, when I started in a new school. They immediately noticed me talking to myself and spoke to my mum about it. I had learnt that instead of interacting with pretend friends, I could simply walk around the playground, thinking of my own stories to tell.
At the same time as I started in this new school, puberty came kicking and screaming. I lost a lot of childhood innocence, I was developing crushes on boys, the world was becoming more painful for me. A series of struggles led to my diagnosis, this then definitely made things clearer, yet the world was still difficult. It was at this time, I began to imagine myself as characters in TV shows, just like my pretend friends, it was a comfort and an escape. This habit has carried me through my teenage years. I have also continued my love of singing. I have never been a very good singer, as I was devastated to learn at about the age of 11, but singing has continued to be a massive comfort to me. Sometimes, in the depths of my room, I pretend I am some famous singer or a Broadway star and I lip-sync to my favourite pop songs.
During difficult times, like this lockdown, escapism is wonderful. Yet I have used escapism for years, especially during the at-times painful madness of secondary school. Sometimes I feel like I was always born to stand out, with everything, from my glasses, my accent, my weight, the top of these are all the struggles that come with being Autistic in a world made for Neurotypicals. Throughout my life, I was always told how important it was to be myself yet I feel like we live in a world where everyone wants to be the exact opposite, especially in school. The pressure people put on themselves and others to be ‘normal’ is impossibly heavy. I accepted from very early on in school that I would just have to get over the fact I was different and try not to care. This attitude can be very hard to keep up at times however and there are times when I feel awful, worthless and I think the world would be better off without me. This is when escapism is important, I take myself to a world, where those worries are irrelevant, where I feel confident and beautiful.
I am sure, that some of my peers who read this will feel embarrassed for me and might even be shocked at my confessions. “What kind of a person writes something like this?” My response is that I don’t care. I am who I am. I will never be able to change that fact. What I can be is brave. I am not embarrassed of what I have written, I see it as me being honest. As humans, we are all different in many ways, much as we hate to admit it. Instead of judging others, we should celebrate our differences. Think of how happy we all would be if the version of ourselves that we presented to the world was more honest.