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Written by Syed Haque, Societies Officer as part of Disability History Month

tw // in this article, Syed mentions suicidal ideation which may be triggering to some readers

I have a hidden disability. I have a form of ‘high-functioning’ Autism called Asperger’s Syndrome so my way of thinking is wired a little differently to yours. I struggle with social interactions and it’s difficult for me to read tone, facial cues – those little things that come easily to a lot of people but not to me. Sometimes I don’t know how to act in situations and appear ‘odd’. I have learnt though, through the help of some amazing people in my life, my mum, dad, teachers, who’ve shown me how to communicate and adapt to different situations. I’ve also had people who’ve questioned and criticized me when I can’t do certain tasks or when I’ve had ambitions of being society president, having a job, helping others etc. It’s been a struggle, and to add all this, I also suffer from Depression & PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) so you know, my mental battles can be real fights sometimes. I’ve been put down and made fun of, but now, I feel optimistic and want to make the most of my life and situation.

My mental battles can be real fights sometimes

I’m sharing my story of being disabled today to raise awareness. To build understanding during a time when keeping our mental and physical health strong is so challenging. I hope my story inspires you and gives you the motivation and not give up or think your ambitions and dreams simply stop because of the pandemic or because you might not have enough faith in yourself.

I went through a negative mental health spiral during my first year at uni. I didn’t know anyone in the area and no one from my secondary school was going to UCL. My Autism made it challenging to interact with people and the stigma associated with the condition didn’t help matters. It led to some people taking advantage of me or mocking me. I tried going to society events to feel a part of something but felt singled out and thought they would just take advantage of me. I felt so alone that first year. I thought of suicide.

What got me through it was the thought of my parents being upset and haunted by my actions. It was the support I received through Student Support and Wellbeing Services (SSW) along with the National Autistic Society. And it was the volunteering I did with MAA (Maternal Aid Association). SSW helped me express all the thoughts in my head and release some of the negativity in there. Funnily enough, having exams also helped as they served as a form of distraction and gave me something to do.

My biggest saviour was the volunteering I did. MAA opened so many doors for me: I learnt to socialise, make friends and how to network. They also let me give back, be brave, be risky and essentially saved my life and my mental health. Through them I learnt the peace I got from giving back and caring for others and it’s changed my life.

They also let me give back, be brave, be risky and essentially saved my life and my mental health. 

The Disabled Students’ Network are also a good place to turn to if you need help. They look at things on the bigger scale of improving the lives of disabled students at UCL through campaigns and activism but they’re also a community of people to turn to. They run social events and I know it’s a group of people who will understand me.

I feel optimistic as the generation we are living in right now has more increased awareness of disabilities and mental health, approaching an understanding of what it means to be a little different. We’re leaning towards greater acceptance in our communities, especially in South Asian and BAME communities where having something like Asperger’s can be seen as a taboo with negative stigma floating around the individual and the family of a disability.

It’s been a journey, but I’ve figured out the things that help me cope. It’s good to relax sometimes, to not do any work. Also playing Among Us and going to the gym (when we can) helps me. Repetition too – repeating the same game, song and video over & over again, and helping people, helping charities, trying to be positive and really just making the most of my situation is what gets me through.

This life is short, and I believe in getting and giving as much good to the world as possible.

One thing I learnt from all this is that the strongest thing you can do is to seek help when you most need it.  I did and it saved me and hope my story would do the same for others!

I’ve mentioned a lot of places where I got help and here they are: 

Student Support & Wellbeing (SSW) who not only helps those with disabilities but as well as those seeking support for their wellbeing & mental health. The team at SSW can help create a Summary of Reasonable Adjustments (SORA)  to go through your needs and support for your studies eg. pushing your original coursework assignments a week later, extended library loans, extra time & rest breaks during exams. 

National Autistic Society (NAS) can provide advice and guidance.

The Volunteering Service are a great place to start if you want to find an outlet through volunteering.

The Disabled Students’ Network are also here to support and fight for disabled students. They have a weekly social and you can see more information on there on their Facebook page.