Here is my journey

I’m Claudia, a 22-year-old, non-binary Theatre Artist and Coffee Enthusiast. I also have Autism and Mental Health issues.

From as early as I can remember I’ve always been adventurous, loving the outdoors and sparking up a really close connection with nature; but I’ve always felt different.

Going through school was difficult at the best of times. I didn’t really play with other kids as I loved to draw, explore my surroundings and do puzzles. I tried my best to join in; but I was content with just doing my own thing. I began to realise, I was not the same as other kids.

I was being bullied both verbally and physically. I was getting angry all the time because I didn’t understand why these things were happening to me. To combat this, I’d built up a defence mechanism and learnt to push things down. I’d spend my breaks and lunchtimes sat in the toilets in an outbuilding on school grounds because it was easier to be by myself. I thought that by self-harming, I would be taking control of my situation and it would feel better to let my self-hatred out on myself physically rather than emotionally.

I rode out High School by covering up both the physical and emotional scars, binging on junk food and taking a pack of headache pills a day- all to numb me so I didn’t have to deal with the situations I was in.

I then moved up to college, and I tried to adapt to a new environment- but was still hiding behind a ‘positive’ mask. I felt so overwhelmed and afraid of the world, myself and everything around me, I went into a meltdown mode. I had a breakdown. It was the middle of May 2014.

I remember standing on the edge of a car park roof, holding onto the railing behind me. I could feel a sense of freedom just a step-in front of me. I was ready to jump off the edge.

But then I heard sirens and a voice behind me; “come back over the rail”. Things after that were a bit of a blur. The next thing I can vividly remember was being given the option of admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital, or be force sectioned. So I decided to admit myself to the psychiatric hospital.

The psychiatric hospital was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had to go through; but I don’t regret it. I was faced with nothing but my thoughts, but in the safety of a secure environment to explore- where I was monitored every 15 minutes for 4 months. I was put on medication to help with the voices in my head that I heard and the anxiety I felt about social interactions. I coped well in the on-site education centre and was able to complete my college course- I felt really proud of this. “Look what I can achieve after what I’ve been through. I won’t let this, or anything stop me from living, living for me.”. After about 5 months in the hospital after medication adjustments and countless therapy sessions ranging from Cognitive behavioural Therapy to Dialectal behavioural therapy, to Shock Exposure therapy I was discharged and released from the ward.

When I got out; I didn’t really have any direction for my future, and this was something that I desperately needed so I wouldn’t fall back into a ‘meltdown mode’. I found my purpose after one session with the visiting music therapist at the hospital, towards the end of my admission. They recognised that I had an eye for performance and production and could inspire others through creating artworks. I followed their advice and took another college course studying Theatre Production.

Towards the end of this college course, at the age of 19, I was finally diagnosed at the age of 19 with Autism Spectrum Disorder. For me, it felt like a weight off of me because I finally had a name to a face, and I wasn’t that crazy kid. Armed with this diagnosis I set out on a mission to prove everybody who used to bully me wrong and smash the stigmas associated with what it means to have Autism.

I decided to take my education one step further and after finishing college in Theatre Production I moved to London to University to study for a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Technologies.

My first year was a massive leap for me and I had trouble adapting to life on my own and had a bit of a relapse towards the end of my first year. I was referred to adult services back home and I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and OCD as part of my Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Again, receiving this as part of my Autism diagnosis was important for me because I knew I wasn’t just crazy or a psycho, and from this I could learn to condition my thinking to support myself and be self-sufficient.

In my second year I felt a lot more confident in my identity, as I threw myself back into my studying with a new lease on life. I felt confident and able-enough to express myself and be authentic to who I was.

I managed to complete my third year and pass my university course with First Class Honours. I’m now starting a postgraduate course where I’ll be studying, working and teaching art design and media in the further and higher education sector.

I’m more passionate than ever about helping other people with mental health issues and learning disabilities through creative education and sharing my story.

I’m only one person, but if I can inspire just one person to speak up, speak out and seek support before breakdowns happen; then what I’ve been through has all been worth it.

Your worth isn’t defined by who others think or say you are; it’s defined by what you say you are.

Claudia Van-Nimwegen

Click here to see Claudia’s website/blog for more information

***I have copied this from Claudia’s story and I have permission from Claudia to use this content***