Autism Interview #156: Andy Buchanan on Mental Health and the Pandemic

Andy Buchanan is a 27 year-old from Newton Aycliffe, England diagnosed with Autism and other mental health conditions. He blogs at Andy’s Spectrum on his thoughts and opinions surrounding the subjects of Autism and Mental Health. This week he discussed some of the mental health challenges that are exacerbated by the pandemic as well as his goals to support others through his blog.

In one of your blog posts, you write, “Autism Spectrum Disorder can be scary at first, but then you realise it’s just who you are.” Can you discuss what this realization process was like for you?

In all honesty I first realised that being autistic was “just who I am”  pretty much immediately after being formally diagnosed. It answered so many questions that I’d had about myself for years that the diagnosis came as a huge relief rather than a burden of any kind. I was very happy to be diagnosed with ASD, for if the decision had been the other way around, I would still be left with unanswered questions and plenty of self-confusion, which would only add to the strain on my mental health. To finally be given that realisation of who I am as a person was an incredibly powerful moment in my life. I can now proudly say that being autistic really is just who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What about pandemic life has been the most difficult for you? Any positives come out of this so far for you?

The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for me in various different ways. I would say that the most difficult thing for me to have to deal with is the fact that I have had my social life taken away. As someone who suffers with anxiety and has in the past also experienced agoraphobia, to have the minimal social life I have taken away from me has heavily impacted my mental health in a negative way. I have been the lowest I have felt in years throughout this pandemic and every day is currently a struggle, however I am trying to stay as positive as possible in order to get through these difficult times.

You’ve been critical of the UK government’s failure to properly address issues surrounding people’s mental health during the pandemic. Where do you find it lacking? What more do you wish could have or should still be done?

Unfortunately, the problem with the UK government failing to provide sufficient funding and resources for people who suffer with their mental health has existed long before the Covid 19 pandemic began. Due to financial cuts in various departments, many mental health charities who provide essential care have had their funding reduced or stopped completely, which has meant many of them simply could not carry on and have had to stop their services for good. Many members of the government must start to open their eyes to the bigger picture and see just how many people are suffering with their mental health, even more so since the pandemic came into play.

Personally, I have been affected by these issues due to the valuable mental health support group called ManHealth I regularly attend now no longer having meetings due to the current lockdown we are in here in the UK. The support these kind of groups and services provide is vital in helping people to cope through hard times such as these we are currently faced with, yet the government here continues to act in what I personally see as a careless way when in comes to initiating such lockdowns and other restrictions by not taking into account the impact these measures have on people’s mental wellbeing. Something needs to change or I can’t help but feel a significant rise in suicides is inevitable in the near future.

What kinds of supports do you have that help you through bad days?

I am incredibly lucky when it comes to the support I have to get me through those awful days when you wish you’d never woken up. Firstly, I have my family who I can thankfully open up to whenever I feel the need to express my emotions. I also have a very good therapist who I have been seeing for a few months now and who has really helped me to understand why I feel the way I do sometimes. I attend the aforementioned support group ManHealth who have made me realise that I am truly not alone in my battle with mental health issues. On top of these, there are also various websites who host online communities such as MyDepressionTeam, Clic, and SideBySide where I can engage and socialise with people who also have experience in mental health.

What inspired you to start your blog? Do you enjoy writing about your life?

If you’d have asked me this question 12 months ago, I would never have considered writing about my life as I found the thought of retracing my memories too much of a painful endeavour to take on, but now, since my autism diagnosis, I have been given a new lease of life. All I want to do now is to open up to people about my mental health and to help to erase the stigma surrounding conversations about such things. As a social community I feel we must try to learn to talk about our feelings in earnest in order to learn and grow and improve our mental wellbeing, and so I try my best to start these conversations by writing my blog posts. I have been inspired by the hard work of various charities and support networks who have tried relentlessly to put mental health into the public eye to try to normalise the subject, and so I thought I’d do my part in helping that movement by starting Andy’s Spectrum.

Where/when (if ever) do you experience or see autism acceptance?

I rarely ever do see autism acceptance. I praise the efforts of supermarkets and shopping centres here in the UK for introducing schemes such as the sunflower lanyards and quiet shopping hours which are intended to make the experience of being in public areas much easier for people with autism and other mental health issues or disabilities, but I still find people with autism are wrongfully singled out for being different to neurotypical people. The fact I currently have to wear a lanyard that says “I Have Autism” on it when I go shopping because I can’t wear a face mask due to the distress it causes me makes me feel like I have no privacy whatsoever. I don’t want to have “AUTISTIC” tattooed on my forehead for the world to see, not because I am ashamed of it, but because it should be up to my discretion who I tell and don’t tell regardless of the current pandemic situation. The world still has a long way to go in my opinion when it comes to autism acceptance. We are not here to be stared at or singled out, we are human and simply want equal respect and opportunities as non-autistic people.

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