Flo received her autism diagnosis as an adult. She explains how anxiety has impacted her life and why taking part in research is so important.

I’d describe my anxiety as primal! If I'm anxious it will consume my other thoughts. I can feel my heart beating very hard and fast, my muscles tense up and I might often get migraines. I lose my appetite and feel so exhausted I often need to take a nap.

Luckily my friends and family are really accepting. They know that because of my social anxiety and sensory issues, I will cancel plans or disappear at events to have some time alone. And sometimes small changes can really throw me. Like a recent shopping trip…We left later than I’d wanted to and my fiancé drove us to a Sainsbury's when I was mentally prepared for the larger, quieter Tesco. By the time we parked my anxiety was so bad I ended up having to stay in the car while he did the shopping.

I can see why many autistic people struggle to keep relationships going because not everyone is so understanding. When I’m around people who don’t know me, I have to mask which is really tiring. And there’s always an underlying worry about coming across too weird.

My sensory issues are like a rubbish superpower that most days I could do without!

Anxiety has affected me in jobs in the past. I found the office environment really difficult, especially if lots of things were happening at once. I’d not be able to focus on anything because I’d be hyper aware of the subtle flickering of the lights, the buzzing electricity in the walls, printers whirring and colleagues talking to me could be too much. I’d not be able to focus on anything.

Working from home works a lot better for me, but my previous employer felt uncomfortable about that. Two weeks after my request to work from home full-time, the whole world went into lockdown and everyone in the company was working from home. It’s frustrating that employers don’t understand how much more productive we can be when we’re working in an environment that suits us.

Taking part in research

I had no idea I was autistic. Everything I read about autism, even when studying for a psychology degree, related to young boys. When I finally got a diagnosis aged 24 I decided I wanted to change that. I’d heard really good things about Autistica and how they involve autistic people, and I wanted future research and information to reflect autistic women’s experiences. So far I’ve been involved in a few different research studies, and fed my experiences into various surveys and campaigns, including Autistica’s anxiety animation. It’s been great to see the film change based on the feedback I gave. It feels really representative of my experiences, and I hope that the small part I played will help more autistic people to be understood.