Viva España!

I’m following on from my article last week about my Autism and my experience with education. This wasn’t really the direction I intended to go with writing. But after some thought, I’ve decided to continue some more.

As I explained, I spent my childhood and early adulthood as undiagnosed. It was a struggle and my mental health suffered a lot in my teens. But now I know what’s ‘wrong’ with me, I feel comfy in my own skin. I no longer do the ‘masking’ I described (acting, to fit in). I’m almost back to the free-spirited person I was as a young child.  If I could say anything to anyone out there who suspects they have Autism, I’d say – don’t mask, it’s exhausting. I think you only make yourself look odder because it’s not natural. Just be you and if others don’t like it it’s their problem, not yours.

I mostly covered my youth last week. So now to post-diagnosis and living as an ex-pat (or immigrant, as I prefer to call myself) in Spain…

My husband, child and I moved here a few years ago, not long after my diagnosis. We have extended family here and had been many times before. The place wasn’t alien to me, so I settled in quite easily. If anything, I find Spain a better place to live. I do miss my friends and family from back home. I miss the security of the same house we lived in for 16 years too. But, I don’t think British culture is an ideal environment for those of us on the spectrum. Autistics tend to be very quiet, or very loud. From a personal perspective, I’d say it depends on if we feel comfortable or not. When I’m at ease with people and a place, I’m very expressive. I get engrossed in certain topics and I can be quite animated! In British restaurants, I’ve often been told by my husband I’m being too loud. Or I notice the person at the next table grinning, sometimes trying to join in the conversation! It makes me self-conscious, so I tend to go back into my cocoon.

In Spain, it’s different. There are none of the table etiquettes that I find odd. People eat their food as they wish. They’re loud and expressive at the table too. You often walk into a Spanish restaurant to a wall of noise. Each table is engrossed in their own conversations, happy and loud. No one from the next table listens in either, they’re too busy at their own table.

There are festivals too. From what I described last week and the claustrophobia I get in busy places, you’d think I wouldn’t like them, but I love them. I’m fine with crowds when there’s music, the tinto-de-verano helps too! The festivals are so inclusive. Old and young up dancing. There’s none of the judgementalism or snobbery that can exist in British culture. So, I feel at ease with not having to conform. That’s just two examples, there’s many more.

Gosh, I do love Spain. It’s making me sad writing about the culture because we’re still on lockdown and I miss it. I think I’ll appreciate these things so much more when we get them back. My silly hang-ups might seem even less prevalent too!

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Julie Frank