10th August 2020
So, I’ve decided to do a series of blogs about my experiences of uni as a neurodiverse person. Now I don’t want this to put others off going to uni, because despite all the bad stuff I really have had some good times and learnt a lot. Plus, as someone who loves learning (weird, yes, I know), it has been the best route for me. I still think I have made the right decision, so for anyone thinking about it, you definitely can do it, even if you do come across the same challenges as me. But the challenges I have faced, some neurodiverse people won’t have faced, because ultimately its luck of the draw with the people you meet and live with at uni. Unfortunately for me, I have come across some rather horrible people, yet I have found some hidden gems amongst these people, and for that I am glad. So, I’m going to start with the depressing stuff to get it out the way.
I’d first like to talk about my negative experiences with socialising, because for me these were some of the worst experiences I’ve had. Again, I don’t want anyone to be deterred by this, but I also have to be truthful about how I’ve fund uni. Because for those out there struggling, even if you aren’t neurodiverse, and wondering why uni wasn’t as good as it hyped up to be, I want to reassure you that many people don’t like uni. I find uni is definitely hyped up. It’s all about freshers, meeting new people, getting wasted and having the best time of your life. Yes, some people experience this, and they seem to be the lucky ones (and sometimes the ones who drop out), but there are also some of us out there (like me) who didn’t get the same hyped up experience that everyone else got. In fact, most of the people I have spoken to didn’t experience uni like that either. Some people make amazing friendships at uni, and I have made a handful, maybe not even that, of good friendships but they are solid friendships and I treasure them (you guys know who you are). So, I have met some amazing people, but I’ve met people who are the embodiment of evil.
I will start with my first year of uni, where I moved into halls. Living in halls with a bunch of strangers for me was horrendous. The day I moved in, I cried when my parents left, and I was just sat in a little rectangular room that looked so bare and empty. Having to leave my bedroom which is my little safe place, was horrible for me. I did have a few friends who were going to the same uni which I was grateful for, but these friendships became complicated. For the first few weeks I threw myself (some might say I edged myself, but for me it felt like throwing myself off a cliff), into the uni experience. I went out clubbing with my flatmates, I was drinking, socialising and it was all good. I got with my current boyfriend who was a god send at uni. Even though he knew me beforehand, he understood me immediately and really helped me to enjoy uni. It was nice, I was having the uni experience and a new relationship. But after freshers died down, it all hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was completely overwhelmed, and I just needed to get away from all the sensory stuff. I needed sleep and I needed to relax, which are two of the things students don’t do. I’d had enough of turning up to lectures hung over, I just wanted to watch some films for a few days and chill out. But my flatmates liked loud music, at all hours of the night. This began to cause friction. They also were extremely dirty, which is normal I guess but I couldn’t cook because of how messy it was. The room constantly smelt. So, I wasn’t sleeping, I was socialising more than I ever had before, my anxiety was heightened, and I wasn’t eating. This isn’t a good combo for me. To cut a long story short, I got slightly annoyed at the mess and the loud music, and my flatmates thought I was annoying for not coming out and socialising and drinking with them. They ended up hating me because I didn’t join in. I told them about my anxiety, I told them about the suspicions, which were new at the time, of me being autistic. I don’t think they bought into it. I don’t know how I ended up being hated for not joining in, but I did. I ended up coming home quite a lot just to get some rest. So, the year ended badly. Around this time my Dad was also going through treatment for cancer, which didn’t help the situation. But that was my first year.
During first year, we had planned to get a flat with some of my boyfriend’s flatmates as the two of them had no one else to house share with. We all got together and found a house that was lovely, and they both seemed very nice. I was always wary of one of them who kept making comments about me reading all the time and asking if she would have to be quiet for me all the time. Now I don’t do well with loud noise, but through my whole first year I had put up with a lot of it, it took me a while to break because I was scared of upsetting people, so I rarely told them to turn the music down. So, I assured them being loud would be okay, as long as it’s not very night until 5am in the morning like in my previous flat. They were less noisy than my previous flatmates anyway and I wasn’t worried about noise, and they never were noisy when I stayed with them, so I was never bothered. What I instead had to worry about was being ‘weird’ by reading and actually doing my uni work, because that’s also something students tend not to do, but I’m a nerdy kind of person and I quite like researching so for me it was fine. Anyway, things were going well, I had my car at uni with me this year, I would give my flatmates lifts, we would spend evenings together, go out together, go shopping together. My boyfriend joined an American football team, so I spent time with the two girls on my own. We also had a guy we hadn’t met living with us, who me and my boyfriend really liked, but the other two ended up not liking him in the end. Things went downhill again after I had done so much socialising. The girls (who were supposedly best friends) ended up talking about each other behind their backs to both me and my boyfriend. One of the girls always complained about a few of us not being social enough at house parties, and my mental health was on the decline. At this point in time, I was on medication, and my Dad had just gone through a second round of treatment for cancer. So, I was very tired. This lead up to the incident. One day, the two girls went out for a run fairly early in the morning and had forgotten their keys. They decided banging on the door would be a good option early in the morning and I messaged on the chat telling them not to forget their keys again, I realised I had no reason to angrily outburst on them like that, so I apologised, especially since I came across badly over text. I thought the whole thing would go away since it was a silly incident and I apologised, but they were angry and didn’t want to let go. So, they insisted on speaking to me even though at that point I wasn’t capable. This bit gets hard to write. My boyfriend the next day went out to talk to them, and I could hear them shouting and slagging me off in the next room. I was so tired, overwhelmed, the anxiety had been building up, I had been through a tough year beforehand and it all came crashing down on me. I ended up self-harming and taking some extra pills. I just wanted the pain to go away, I didn’t care about life that that point. I hadn’t taken enough to do anything serious, but they did make me quite out of it, which is what I wanted. My boyfriend came in as this happened and decided to ring my dad to take me home. The two girls then said we should go to the hospital, so I went to the hospital with all of them there. I was at my most vulnerable, and them being there intimidated me, I was embarrassed. I went home that night after they did a few checks, and even though they wanted me to stay, the wait was too long, and it was late, I wanted to go home. So, I came home. A few days later it was one of my flatmate’s birthday and I had promised I would be at the party. So, despite how crap I felt, I thought the right thing to do would be to put on a mask and go to the party. I went and drank a lot of alcohol to get me through. I attempted to apologise to my flatmates, and I thought everything was okay. I realise now it was a bad mistake to go to that party. To them, going to that party proved that I had faked everything. I don’t know why I went, I was in a bad state, I got extremely drunk and should have stayed at home, but I thought this is what people did, just carry on. My flatmate, who had family issues to do with mental health, said the beast thing to do is get on with things, so I thought they would hate me less if I put on a mask and pretended everything was okay. Turns out that they messaged us, telling me that I had caused them mental health issues, and that we needed to talk about me going to the hospital. I said that I found it hard to talk about, at the time I wanted to block it out, I said I wasn’t ready to talk about it. They suggested I had faked it and that I needed to take responsibility for the pain I had caused them. I tried moving back into the house after this, but they did stupid things like leave our towels on the floor, break presents I gave them, cut us out of picture and hang the pictures up all over the house with us cut out of them. I had spent all of one night there and they decided to barge into my room. They called me delusional, they laughed whenever my boyfriend mentioned the hospital incident. I sat there silently while they shouted. Sometimes I would shout back but I mostly let my boyfriend talk. They asked me why I wouldn’t argue, and I just sat there silently. We explained that I was in the process of being tested for autism, which one of my housemates laughed at. So that was that, I moved back home. I went back and forth to uni.
Moving back home was the best thing I did. I had spoken to my tutor about what happened, and I could have taken it further, but I decided it was best just to let it all go and move back home. From then on, I was more relaxed. It was only at the end of the year when we all moved our stuff out, that we had a message telling us that we were ‘filthy’ and ‘we won’t be able to handle any level of responsibility in life’. They also mentioned us ‘living in our own filth which is the lowest of the low’ claiming we never cleaned the place. Jokes on them because me and my boyfriend were barely there, it was them living in their filth. When I was there, I cleaned the house all over multiple times, in fact it was them that were dirty. They sent pictures of some clean areas in the house, claiming they were dirty and said, ‘this should give you idiots an idea, you should be embarrassed’. Shame for them, I wasn’t, I hadn’t been living there. We spoke to our other flatmate (who we liked) and he said he had had similar experiences with the two girls as I had. He felt intimidated by them, and this caused him anxiety. He also told us how paranoid they were about if we were living in the house or not. They tried to claim we had smashed a glass (despite not living there) and that they were going to hide the shards in our food bowls. Lovely people. Anyway, they claimed we wouldn’t get our deposits back, but we did and that was the end of that. They have blocked me on everything and I’m glad to be rid of them.
Are you bored yet? sorry for the rambling, but this experience, stupidly, does still bother me. I have nightmares about them sometimes which sounds really stupid and overly sensitive. But I am sensitive, that’s who I am. And I struggle in social situations, and I don’t fit in, and people think I’m weird, but that’s okay. Because the friends I did make at uni, and at home, completely accept me. And I’m glad these experiences happened because otherwise, I might have ended up friends with these people, and who needs friends like that? It was unfortunate, and it wouldn’t happen to everyone. But the stigma is still out there. My flatmate had an attitude towards mental health that was damaging, not everyone can just get on with it, not everyone can cope with conflict and just get the arguments over and done with (which is what they wanted to do), not everyone can be social all the time, not everyone can hold it together. Everyone has to snap. There were a lot of mistakes I made, but I also learnt a lot, and I don’t think the whole thing was all my fault like they made me believe. Being autistic, you do latch onto people who you consider friends, you trust them more than yourself sometimes and its easy for someone to convince me I’m horrible, and weird at times. But this is what I’ve learnt from this experience: keep yourself surrounded with the right people, don’t feel guilty for who you are, and don’t apologise for struggling. I apologised when I made mistakes, and I explained why those mistakes were made, but if people around you can’t accept that, then you don’t need them as a friend. I was so desperate to fit in and have the stereotypical uni experience, that I threw away my own personality, and stopped thinking about my own mental health, I put on my mask and I tried to fit in and look how it ended up. So, for anyone out there struggling with friendships, if you have to act in a certain way to fit in, so much so that it affects your mental health, don’t bother. I’d rather have a handful of friends who accept me, than a million friends who don’t really know me. I know lots of us autistic people mask, and that’s okay, but at some point, the mask has to come off, you can’t keep it up, and the friends that stick by you are the ones you should keep.
Thank you to all my remarkable friends (both at uni and at home) who supported me, thank you to my amazing boyfriend who stood by me through thick and thin, and thank you to my family who always supported, and fought for me, even when the odds were against us.