A Chameleon Existence



My life has been one of observation and mimicry; where others do, I think and repeat. To my eyes, the world appears as if through fog, slowly resolving into a solid form that I can touch before disappearing again into mystery. Okay, so to say that life is odd is an understatement! 😊 Living on the periphery of others’ experiences can be fantastic learning experience… and incredibly lonely.

When I was young, all I wanted was to fit in. Don’t we all? It is hard to do that when you shave your head (meaning I shaved off my hair, not my head) in Junior school, just because you hate that heavy, sweaty thing above you that really doesn’t belong there. I developed a tic (which I lovingly refer to as ‘gurning’ when it becomes a painful, full-body experience). I tried all the sports: turns out I was good at running, even though I hated it. I was also good at throwing, but only during a tantrum. I was too tall, too thin/fat, too quiet, had feet that were too big… no part of me fit in. The bullying was quick to start and tough to kill. Around the age of 9, I also acquired a ‘handler’; my term for the person who would control my life utterly for the next 16 years in every way, despite being just a handful of years older than me. Utter domination changes you in profound ways. I don’t truly trust anyone now, and the inability to stop myself from automatically showing deference to others is absolutely infuriating!

Fast forward past the terror that is senior school and there I am, looking at the future through someone else’s eyes; ‘you are suited to work in a bank’ (I have number-specific dyslexia), ‘try hospitality’ (I avoid other people) and, finally, ‘you should enrol on a business and finance course (the perfect hell). Enter my uncontrollable deference: college for business and finance! Needless to say, it ended disastrously without a qualification and was followed by a fabulous meltdown, resulting in a homebound existence.

I will skip over the next twenty years – a combination of unsuccessful encounters with the mental health team, with a handful of different diagnoses around depression and a CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) who tried to convince me I have voices talking to me instead of my head being noisy! I also, somehow, managed to progress from housebound living to teaching English, maths, IT and ESOL, thanks to my weird ability to mimic. Trust me, it was painful but I learned quickly out of a need to not implode! I digress, but the point is that I found myself working with people like me; leftof-centre, out-of-phase and amazing actors.

Deference played a part in my journey to university; colleagues told me I should be doing something more and using my skills (I couldn’t see any skills). So I deferred to their wisdom and enrolled on my own organisation’s Access course. Again, it was hell; presenting, talking, collaborating – all those things my body perceives as some kind of constant invasion. But I did it, with a fist full of distinctions to boot, and got my place at uni. During this time, something occurred that has profoundly changed my life and how I see myself in Higher Education.

In March, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety (again); hello medication! Then, Borderline Personality Disorder; don’t leave me medication! Then, too much anxiety to decide on a diagnosis; I love you, medication, welcome back! And then the shocker: Autism.

Have you ever had a moment where the clarity of your mind is absolute? This was my first and it was a gradual process of thinking, reading, more thinking and joining of dots. How does a person who specialises in working with learning disabilities not notice her own traits? Easy: you only work with those who are either presenting male traits or females with complex, overlapping conditions. The tic, the ‘picking’ to correct it (which I attributed solely to self-harm), the routines, the noise (oh my god, the noise)… the inability to match my clothes at all and the time required to choose clothing
I can touch! I am finally going through the process of what I hope will be my final diagnosis; I can ditch all the others and embrace the fact that mimicry is how I exist in a world that doesn’t facilitate difference; I have stopped tearing strips off myself for not being in style like others, not feeling like I’m ‘wrong’ for wanting to be alone in a quiet, dim space. And it has opened up a myriad of other ways to function at uni, changing my study methods and interactions with my cohort. And finally, for the first time in my life, I have this strange feeling that I might be happy…


Louise Crichton


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