I try to show the feeling of utter loneliness that persists even when constantly surrounded by people because I was muted by an invisible difference.
By Alice Farion
It began with me drawing trees every time I felt unwell. Trees fascinated me. They are calm and constant, and they have an aura of serenity I have always been searching for. I was sketching trees in my notebooks, covering my bedroom walls with a forest of black and white trees. I drew to release all the tensions and to avoid stimming, and every line I drew on the paper helped me cope with the suffering, emotions and anxiety.
Slowly a small character took shape, at first walking around the trees, sitting down and resting. It soon became the central feature of my drawings.
Using a simple and minimalist aesthetic, I drew to represent daily life during my middle and high school years. The monochrome characters, straight forward scenes and absence of details frame particular moments of my life and focus on the emotions and feelings. The main character took shape slowly, without a month, and with two great eyes to observe the world.
The lack of a mouth represented my inability to express feelings, and the deep frustration of not having a voice. I try to show the feeling of utter loneliness that persists even when constantly surrounded by people because I was muted by an invisible difference. I always tried to communicate with my peers and socialize, but there was something different, always something wrong. A compliment would upset people; a joke would create awkward silences;, a fun fact, boredom; a genuine answer to a question, anger; and so on.
I draw things I never thought about telling anyone because I didn’t know I had to tell them. Through drawing, I show the terror I felt every morning when I had to go to school, knowing I would be bullied for hours, and aware of the distance I felt when I was trying to make friends, the pain of masking my emotions, the panic caused by sensory overload and the power of social media as a tool for bullies.
The happier drawings usually represent the deep sense of relief felt when I managed to convince my mum not to take me to school, and to instead let me spend the day with my dog, my best friend.
I try to explain how bullying slowly destroyed my self-esteem and any sense of pride I could feel, and my ongoing struggle with self-loathing. The impact of bullying does not stop when you leave school. With autistic children and adults, the impact of bullying stays, everyday, and is a weight you have to carry through life. It is a fear that stays with me every time I meet new people, in particular children. Perhaps it sounds silly — a 20 year old scared of children and teenagers but it is the reality of bullying. Bullies are only the beginning of a long struggle.
Drawing helps me find a voice and channel all my feelings and suffering into a calming and meditative activity. It helps me understand how I felt and why I felt like that, and I start working on my bizarre sense of guilt of not being “normal” and the haunting feeling of being more a problem than a person. Most of all, it helps my friends and family understand that although I “seem normal” and don’t seem “unwell”, I am autistic and I struggle with what seems natural and easy for others. Autism is not a question of looks, it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that changes the way your brain works and how you understand and interact with the world.
I am very good at hiding how I truly feel, at “masking”. So good that it was only at the age of 20 — after 15 years of struggling with bullying and other issues at school and university— that I was eventually diagnosed with autism.
Explaining masking with my drawings is much easier than with words. If studying literature has taught me anything, it’s that words are not powerful enough to express fully what you want to say and that meaning can sometimes be conveyed more fully through metaphors and images. When it comes to emotions, it is easier for me to communicate with drawings than with words. Sensory overload is hard to explain in words to people who have never experienced it.
With my pen, I don’t feel like I have to justify myself. Things are just the way they are, and I can reveal everything I hide under my mask of normality. But masking took it’s toll on me, and I slowly started disappearing, hiding all the time, never allowing myself to feel any emotion, or to act naturally, always thinking twice, observing and learning tricks to fit in and hide, and keeping everything inside until I could not take it anymore.
Drawing helps me break the myth of “you don’t look autistic = you are not autistic” and that not all disabilities are obvious. It helps showing the difference between what I express and how I actually feel, deep inside.
Because autism is an inner difference that has nothing to do with gender, age, ethnicity or looks.
My name is Alice Farion. I am French and moved to London at the age of 18 to study Comparative Literature and Swedish at UCL.I was formally diagnosed with autism in April 2020 at the age of 20 but my doctor had already mentioned autism when I was 18. I am passionate about History and languages and horse. I am also a swimmer in the London University Swimming Team. Very early I showed an interest in drawing and have always been drawing with pens.