Hello my name is Hazel and I was diagnosed with autism when I was 15. My story doesn’t have the best start from being deemed a ‘dumb’ child and found it difficult to make friends my own age. When I transitioned to secondary school it was tough. I couldn’t settle in and got bulled because I was different. I became so unhappy with school that I would fake stomach aches to stay at home. It got to the point where my attendance was down to 85%.
I was determined to fit in and decided to change my physical appearance to do this. I started dieting which turned into me starving myself. My parents sent me to CAMHS, the child adolescent mental health service. I was diagnosed with anorexia and spent 10 days in hospital.
After leaving hospital, the months that followed got worse. I couldn’t attend school and got angry at myself. Spending time at home got too much for me and I was sent to a psychiatric ward where I spent 10 weeks building myself back up again. When I left I started preparing myself to go back to school. I still found eating a challenge but I was finally on the road to recovery.
In 2013 I started back at school part time. Doctors were investigating my eating disorder and toyed with the idea that I might be autistic. By late 2013 I was diagnosed with ASD. I wasn’t surprised at all as it explained why I did certain things. My school were informed and I was moved to a SEN department. I received one to one help with my GCSE’s and concentrated getting 5 ‘C’ GCSE’s to get to college. At college I was able to make it to the higher course for art and design and really enjoyed it there.
When I left college I got my first job as a seasonal sales assistant at a retail store. My first day was on the busiest retail day of the year, black Friday. I’d had no training apart from a 10 second demonstration on how to use the tills. It was so busy so I was unable to ask for help from anyone, including managers and colleagues. I had to figure out how to use the till and do the role on my own. As well as this, the queues were building up, which meant customers were often rude and impatient. I felt invisible and that everyone viewed me as a ‘lower human’. I quit after just 4 days.
My second job was with a fabric sample business. The hours were long and the job was very repetitive. It got to the point where I asked management for a different task and they said no. It felt like the walls were closing in around me, as the building had little light, no windows and I was completing the same tasks day in day out. This led to a breakdown at work and I asked the manager if I could have a 5 minute breather outside which is when my manager became angry telling me I didn’t want to do my job and I was ‘slacking off’. It was almost like I was a young child being told off by their Mother. I was able to speak to another manager where I was able to explain why I was in such a state. He was empathetic as no one had told him about this, and let me go home. He said he would keep the job open if I wanted to go back, to which I didn’t.
My third job a seasonal job at a resort. I went along to an audition and felt very out of place. Despite this, I got the job and was given a chance. The long hours and requirements of the role took its toll on me. I had breakdowns every day and found it really tough. However, the staff tried their best to support me as much as possible which was really refreshing, as no other employer had given me a chance before. I was then moved to a customer service role which put much less pressure on me. I was able to work with customers with ease and it felt more natural. I had no breakdowns and really enjoyed it. Everyone I worked with was really nice and empathetic. I left there with a more positive view on my abilities and motivated to do a more creative job.
Despite my experiences, I now feel like I understand myself better. I have a passion for theatrical makeup and have been doing makeup for 5 years. It started because I hated my appearance, but turned into a love for treating my face like a colouring book and expressing myself. I’m able to create makeup looks that represent certain things, and recently completed a look to channel my emotions that helped me gain confidence to be myself. Id love to make this my career.