Feeling old at 22

By the time you read this, I will be twenty-two. A whole year will have passed since the first lockdown. (My twenty-first birthday was two days after the first lockdown. Yep.) A lot has happened in that time – and a lot that I would have never bet on.

Being Autistic and female, there have been some weird ‘extras’ that have needed dealing with – like with the Personal Independence Payment service, the route to diagnosis. We even heard last year, how there is a different expectation for women in the workplace – and Autistic women will be judged far more unfairly for their condition. Some days, I feel ‘old’ – tired by having to deal with these stumbling blocks, having to justify myself to impossible thresholds, all the while just wanting to ‘live’. With that in mind, these are eight lessons I have learnt in the last two and a bit decades.

The story that we tell ourselves matter.

One of the oddest but most brilliant experiences of my life was seeing Derren Brown live in Brighton. The show centered upon the stories we tell ourselves – such as from cultural references, as well as in the day to day.One of the most effective methods of just ‘being’ I came across was in this show – to physically say to yourself the next chapter of the story that you want to ‘write’. At college I went for a voluntary student position requiring a vote – something I never do, it’s based on popularity. For the first time in my life, I won (!)

‘Best’? Don’t save for then.

Be it a pandemic, or something happening suddenly – don’t save for best. Productivity does not define worth. Executive functioning is something I still grapple with – and it took a long time to accept that my productivity levels may sometimes be impaired because of this. Productivity does not define worth, even though we have a culture that tells us this. I have adapted, but will never be ‘perfect’. Productivity does not make us lesser or more of a person, and neither does it say anything about our values.

You can do more than two things at once. You can support the Covid 19 regulations and question the ‘logic’ behind them! You can think about two separate things about the same subject – but so many have not quite grasped this. See also: Boris Johnson and the ‘Captain Hindsight’ insults. And you are perfectly entitled to ask questions!

I work as a freelance journalist – largely because I was born nosy (!) Even if it is just asking for help, or questions about your benefits – we all have a right to this. (And – see point above – you can support something while also questioning it.) Trust your gut.

I am still learning how to do this; physically, my introception is shockingly awful – so this can sometimes be difficult. But that ‘gut’ feeling is invaluable and it is not ‘paranoia’, as I was so often derided as a child. We have our gut for our reason, so trust it. Caution is a good characteristic to have, after all. This, too, shall pass. Quantify it if needed.

At the start of the pandemic, the inane platitudes annoyed me – to ‘check in with yourself’, ‘it’s okay not to be okay’. Instagram is full of them. We saw our government ministers speaking in aphorisms for months – such as describing ‘the fight against Covid 19’ as a ‘battle’, or that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. This is so utterly pointless at times, as it obscures meaning.

‘This, too, shall pass’ was a particular line that kept coming up. My theory of mind means I cannot quantify time very well – and this seemed pointless. But, factually, there will be an end to Covid 19. Quantify it if needed – like by making a list of things to look forward to.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

So put yourself up for the promotion, ask someone to be your mentor, whatever – put yourself out there

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