This story was collected at our Margaret River backyard and is told by Elisha Caulfield. Elisha always felt different and was bullied badly at school. Later, when she realised she was neurodivergent, she also knew she had to change the way she viewed her differences as strengths, rather than weaknesses.
Backstories 2022 is a multi-sited storytelling festival located in suburbs of across Perth and regional Western Australia. In 2022, Backstories occurred in locations such as Geraldton, Kununurra, Bunbury, Margaret River and Lesmurdie.
Backstories 2022 Margaret River was made possible with funding from Lotterywest, Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, and Centre for Stories Founders Circle.
Interested in creating your own Backstories event? Get in touch at [email protected].
Copyright © 2023 Elisha Caulfield
Photo by Ovis Creative Photography.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
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EC: Hello. I’m Elisha, and this is my public-speaking pig. Now, this pig, there’s some contention about the identity of this pig. Some people say this pig’s a cat, but I feel like if this pig says it’s a pig, it’s a pig.
I’m sitting on the floor again. The warm waters pouring over my head, the tiles underneath me. I didn’t really know what to do. I’m crying. When I was a young kid, they always said that I was like, full of joy and happiness and light and laughter. And I guess life was pretty good. We moved from Ireland, and we came to Australia, and my parents were immigrants, and I went to school, and I made some really good friends.
I guess I really love, I loved learning. It was something that I found quite magical and I really love like understanding things and understanding how things grow and, you know, connecting ideas together. I had this really beautiful friend and we just had a great friendship, and she really helped me understand things that kind of didn’t make sense sometimes.
And I helped her out as well. As I was going into high school, I decided to take up the athletics. And I always remember just sitting on the toilet before we went out to do the competition, and I was just so nervous and like my stomach was hurting. And yeah, like you can imagine the other parts that go with that.
It just didn’t feel that good. And, you know, I kind of got the same results every single week. So it didn’t really matter. I didn’t really need to put so much pressure on myself, but I guess, like, I just remember every single one of these 1500 meter race, I pushed myself so hard that by the end of that race I had nothing left to give and I really actually enjoyed.
If I think back on it now, that moment where I just had this, this release and this pure utter exhaustion, it was like a calm almost. I went into high school and I remember that first week of high school we were sitting around in homeroom and I guess I made friends with the cool girls. I was I was pretty impressed with myself.
We went on camp the next week and I remember looking around and going, What is everyone else wearing? And I looked down at my clothes and I went, Oh, dear. And I thought about my bag. And my bag had none of the right clothes. And over that week, I guess I started to realize that these girls probably weren’t my friends.
They were saying little things to me and I guess maybe even pointing out certain things about me to other girls and other boys. I wasn’t so cool. Over the next few years, those two girls would be on the bus behind me every single day and they would be throwing things at my head, pulling my hair, just making my life miserable.
I didn’t really understand why. I didn’t know why they had to do that to me. And how could they go from being my friends on day one to being basically my bullies? I had some great friends, though. We were a bit of a pack of weirdos. Let’s be honest. You know the goofy kids we would always, like play acts and make up these characters.
And, you know, one of those girls then went on to use those characters as a professional dancer. It’s quite amazing to see. Went on to do university and I was studying teaching and, you know, I was pushing myself again and always trying to be the best student and really get kudos for my intellect. It wasn’t as easy, though, because there was other kids with more intellect than me.
And, you know, I was a bit more competitive. I was doing a couple of jobs and I was also partying pretty hard. So I would do Monday to Friday at uni, 3 hours on the train, go out at night, come back early hours of the morning, and then do it over and over again. Sometimes I’d be it up to like two, three, four in the morning doing my assignment that I’d only just started the evening before.
I finished uni and that was a really great time in my life. And I went on to get a really beautiful job as a teacher. And I tell you what, I never felt so supported in a workplace. They really saw who I was and they let me thrive and they let me use my ideas and my creativity to build things that no one else was doing inside the school.
I would always go into the deputy’s office and I’d walk in and he’d be like, Yes Elisha, what is it now? And I would give him this piece of paper. He’s like, What’s your idea? And he’s like, Is it going to cost me anything? And he’d always be laughing. You know, he’s really like, he felt good about what I was doing.
And he’d just sign the paper. And say send me an email when it’s happening. And that was quite beautiful. I felt like I was really thriving in that environment. At that time. I was dating someone and he didn’t really go so well in the city, so we decided to move to the south west. I left all my kite surfing friends and I left.
I guess what was a really beautiful community and a sense of place. Living in the South West was a bit different for me. My partner didn’t really socialize that much, so I didn’t have that many opportunities to meet new people. I kind of felt like I didn’t really fit in, like there was some secret code and I just wasn’t the right sort of person to fit into that situation.
I ended up getting another job as a teacher, and I guess I just always assumed that all schools where the same that they all had this like way of supporting you as a teacher, but it wasn’t quite the same. I’d come with my excitement and my ideas and I just get nos.
I get told that, Oh no, maybe in the future or no, we cant put that in. That’s not going to solve the problem. And I just felt myself pulling more and more inside my shell. That sense of frustration led me to really think about maybe I need to change, I need to do something different or I guess study something.
So I went on to study special needs education in a postgraduate study. Two years into that, I was on my very last assignment and that was an autism unit. It was like the very last thing I needed to submit and I kind of had some stuff ready to go, but I just couldn’t do it. I was sitting there like alternate nostril breathing and like doing all these different, like meditation techniques, and I just couldn’t get this assignment out.
I rang up my lecturer and I was just telling her what was going on. She’s like, Just put something out. It’ll be fine. Just pass. I just looked at her, was like, pass? I do not pass. I’m a high distinction or distinction kind of woman. The sense of, the idea that everything I mould myself around being this achiever was going to be, like, stripped from me.
And this last assignment, I just couldn’t do it. I was driving home from work, and at that stage, the drive to work would be tears, the drive home from work would be tears. And I was on this highway and I remember it’s like 110, 100, 80, 60, and you always know that there’s going to be a speed camera there.
It’s always going to happen. And I got done by the speed cameras. Come on Elisha, you can do this. But I was just, I was on the edge by the time I left that workplace. I just needed to go home. I need to hide. I need to be away from all the feelings that I was feeling.
It happened again within two days, I got another speeding fine. I’m down to three demerit points. That’s not so good. A small country town. I need my transport. Then within another two days, I got another speeding fine. It wasn’t good. I was thinking I’m going to lose my license. I’m going to lose my freedom. I was freaking out. I’m back on that shower floor, the tears pouring down, and I just don’t know what to do.
I realized I needed help. I needed to see someone. But I’m not the sort of person that goes to the doctor. It’s not my thing. I don’t even take medicine. I sat down in front of this strange doctor and just put my heart out. I was crying for like half an hour, telling him a little bit about how I was feeling, but I just didn’t even know how I felt.
He gave me some medication, anti-depressants, and I was like, Oh, okay, so when will I be off these things? I thought it was just like a little bit of a quick thing and it’ll be done. He said, Oh, you can be on these for the rest of your life. I swallowed that pill. I swallowed that information, but I really didn’t want it.
I didn’t like it. I took those pills for six months and I went to see the counsellor that he recommended. Now, I don’t know why he didn’t recommend me to go and see a psychologist. I needed some serious help. That counselling was okay. She helped me, I guess, pull back a little bit from work. And, you know, she recommended meditation.
I don’t know if any of you have ever felt anxious before or super stressed. Sitting down to meditate is hell. It’s like a tiny little monkey inside your head is going crazy and just trying to destroy any sense of sitting down and meditating. I went to my yoga class and this teacher was wonderful. She just like, would let me be who I was.
You could come in there and just sit on the mat, and I was just in the back, like lying down and just breathing and crying and breathing and crying. And that’s pretty much all I did for 15 bucks, but it was helping me. Fortunately, I found a really great psychologist, and that’s where things started to open up for me.
I really started to realize that, you know, I didn’t have to live this way. I didn’t have to go so fast. I didn’t have to put so much pressure on myself. I moved out of town and I moved to the forest. I tell you what, I have never made a better decision in my life. It was like the forest took me and held me and brought me back to life.
The forest showed me that it’s okay to be slow. The forest showed me that it’s okay to just sit and be. It was a place where I could use my emotions and let them out super loud. No one was around to see me. I could run, I could dance. I could scream. I could yell, I could frolic. It was magic.
At that time, I was working in disability support work. And I’m the sort of person who goes to the library. I love information. I just like, I just want to eat it. And I was walking out with my 18 books under my bag, under my arm, and you know, the library ladies like, do you want a bag like this?
So used to me in there. And one of the books that I had was Aspergers and Girls, and I was working in the industry. So I’m like, I really should I really should understand this a bit better. And I’m reading and I’m reading and I’m like, Oh shit, that’s my frickin autobiography. I’m autistic, I’m autistic, shit, I’m autistic.
How did no one know? How did no one tell me that I’m autistic? I went through school. I went through university, I studied autism. They weren’t talking about me. They were talking about boys. How did no one make me understand this? So then I went online and I tell you what, first thing, never Google autism. It will make any autistic person feel terrible.
It describes a very select number of people, a very select, often young men. I then found a beautiful community of autistic women and I tell you what, it was like listening to my community of people that were saying what I was feeling every single day of my life. They were talking about the ways that they’ve navigated the world and how they helped themselves.
And I was like, Oh, you hear me? You see me. Finally, someone understands how my life is. And I started to thrive. I started to say, No, no, I’m not coming to all these social engagements. No, I’m not going to do things your way. No, I’m not going to walk into Coles with your loud music. I started to live my life my way barefoot fairy in the forest.
I can still earn money. I still know how to do that, man. I’m probably one of the most efficient people I know. Something someone can do in a week. I can do it in a couple of hours. That’s the beautiful thing about my brain. When I am calm and relaxed and my senses are nurtured, I thrive. I feel alive.
It’s a big dream of mine that every person who has a neurodivergent brain can feel amazing about themselves. But right now we live in a society that doesn’t doesn’t make us feel good. It doesn’t celebrate us. My name is Elisha. I’m weird, I’m quirky and magical, I’m joyful, and I am autistic and I’m proud of it. Thank you.