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Leila's Story 
For Neurodiversity Celebration Week Leila (one of our community members) wanted to share her experience of neurodiversity, the challenges she faced in an education system that failed to meet her needs and then labelled her as 'the problem'. Leila talks about the mental health problems that developed in environments that didn't understand enough about her needs and never provided the support that she wanted. Leila described Cambridgeshire Recovery Service as the 'highlight' of her week and shares how our recovery community has helped her maintain her mental health. 

This is Leila and this is her story:

I was diagnosed with autism, dyspraxia, SPD (sensory processing disorder) and various other things when I was a baby. My brother and sister haven’t got anything “wrong” with them, just me.

I went to a nice primary school where I had a special teacher assistant who was lovely. She was like a mum to me, and her one-to-one support was amazing, but she died of cancer, and I felt isolated and very lonely without her. The other children teased me, and I was picked last for everything. They were horrible to me.

I hated secondary school and went downhill very quickly, mentally and physically. I never felt comfortable, I never felt welcome, and for most of the time I felt very unhappy. I had some one-to-one support from several teaching assistants who were nice, but they never seemed to have enough time and I was always made to feel different. I love education and I was desperate to learn, but I was always anxious and hated the school environment. I don’t think they understood enough, or anything about autism and mental health issues, and I never got the help I wanted or needed. I never caught up with the other kids in anything.

I couldn’t eat in the main canteen with the rest of the students because it was too busy, too noisy and all a bit chaotic. I think this is when my eating disorder started. My sister was the first to notice I wasn’t eating properly, and she told my mum which I was furious about. My mum took me to the hospital, and being very skinny I was told I was anorexic and if I didn’t put on some weight I’d be admitted and put on a drip. This terrified me because I don’t do needles.

When I went back to school, I started having my lunch in a special hub with just a few others. Being in a more relaxed environment I found that I could eat if I sat on my own, and I put on weight. After several more visits to the hospital to check on my progress I was discharged. I’d avoided the needles and drips and was so happy that people were pleased with me for doing something well.

After leaving secondary school I tried going to college, but it was too big, and I was very shy and didn’t know anybody. The teachers had no idea about my learning difficulties or how to help me and my health started to suffer again. Out of frustration I began to self-harm and so I left.

A few years later my dad, who I was living with at the time, paid for me to go to a special needs college which got me out of a very dark place. I loved it from the first day. I was surrounded by people I could identify with and who could accept me and who I could connect with. I started to make friends, began to eat in the company of other students and I started to learn from some amazing teachers. At last, I felt like I belonged.

I was sad when my time at the college was over, and I didn’t find another place which felt so right for me until I found CGL (Change Grow Live) and CRS (Cambridgeshire Recovery Service).

Someone I was chatting to showed me where Free Flow Friday was being held and I loved it straight away. The people there were so welcoming and so nice to me from the moment I walked through the door. I felt just like I did during my time at the special needs college.

I quickly began to join in with all the activities available and I’m now a regular and it’s a highlight of my week. I eat breakfast and snack all day with people who give me time, understanding and who show a genuine interest in my wellbeing.

I’ve made lots of friends, and thanks to their help, I can now travel on a bus on my own to Cambridge to exercise with the people who brought a mobile gym to Free Flow Friday for several weeks. I’ve also discovered I’m a natural at ten pin bowling.

It’s such a relief for me to be able to share my mental health issues with people who understand me, who’ve also struggled, who’ve lived it and who can perhaps help me. And it’s amazing to think that maybe I can even help them.

You absolutely do Leila! Thank you for sharing your story with us. 

We are here to support you

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