the user-led self-injury organisation.

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A person in a cap seemingly behind a purple glass wall with their hand up.

Autism, emotions, and self-injury

I didn’t get my Autism diagnosis until I was 30. But when I was a lot younger there were already some major signs something was a bit off.

Everyone could tell, including my parents, but the things they saw were only part of it. What they didn’t see and I hid very well for the first few years was how badly I was doing emotionally. Nothing ever really made sense to me.

It wasn’t about other people’s emotions and how they felt interestingly enough, I could see that, their faces changed, they cried when they were upset, smiled if they were happy, you know all the basics that you learn by the time you’re like 4. But what I actually never understood was what I was feeling. There was no easy way to work it out, I couldn’t look at myself and see my reaction, even if I could it wasn’t always the ‘correct’ one for what I was feeling. My face was likely the same blank that my brain was pulling trying to figure it out.

By the time I was about 12 I’d accidentally discovered self-harm. I was also getting angrier at people for things they’d do I didn’t understand, for not being listened to, or expected to understand things that no one had ever explained to me. But I also knew it was bad to hurt other people because I was angry. I never wanted to hurt other people anyway. What I could do though was hurt myself, and make how I felt go away.

It started because I was frustrated and upset and had so many emotions that I had no idea how to even identify, never mind deal with. So I made the emotions stop. It was in a lot of ways a very simple and logical thing to do. It meant that a major problem I had just wasn’t a problem anymore. No more of what I now realise were meltdowns, where finally I’d bottled enough up and just broke down crying but never knew why.

I would never say I’m ‘recovered’ but when the gaps between hurting myself now can be 2 years I can say for sure I’m doing a lot better. A very big part of moving away from self-injury was starting to understand who I actually am. Becoming myself in a way I never was before has really been the key for me to not needing to rely on self-harm in the way I did back then. I didn’t really have an identity for a long time, I was just the quiet kid, who behaved well and occasionally said something weird or had a quiet melt down in a corner a couple of times a year.

Now, knowing why things other people found so easy were hard for me, and that it wasn’t my fault for not understanding everything can be annoying looking back ­– I might not have needed such an extreme way of coping with everything if people had just been more understanding. If I’d had my diagnosis sooner then I might have had other options to help me deal with the emotions I couldn’t handle. But I didn’t, so as just a 12-year-old I did what I could to simply carry on. It never felt like a choice I made. I didn’t have other options, I didn’t know any better; self-harm was the only thing I had to help me so it’s what I used.

I’ve had to be taught a lot about emotions that come naturally to a lot of people. It takes a lot of effort to even know what I’m feeling, never mind why and what to do about it. I’m getting better at it, practice helps, but so does having people actively trying to teach you. Without that I might still be stuck having the same issues and never have improved at all.


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