In my own words: Finding my true self in honesty

Sam P., 19 

Meet Sam P., 19 

According to my parents, everything kind of started when I was 18 months old. That’s when they took me to see a doctor because I had no words when most other kids my age were already talking. Shortly after that visit, I received an official autism diagnosis.  

From that point until I was about 7, I was in applied behavior analysis (ABA) thanks to my parents. They also made sure that I was enrolled in mainstream classes in public school, so I could have those key social interactions and learn more about myself as I got older. I also started swimming competitively at an early age. Today, I’m a Division III swimmer at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., an accomplishment that I’m so proud of.  

Aside from my autism, I was also diagnosed with bipolar 1, ADHD, some social/processing delays and other struggles as well. I have always talked about my challenges, but never about my autism because I didn’t know how people would treat me. Recently, I realized I can’t hide who I am, so I decided to come out and share my story with the world. What better time than Mental Health Awareness Month? 

Talking about mental health is important because people need to be aware of what others may be going through, even if they can’t see it. Part of me wanting to share my story was because I didn’t want to be untrue to myself anymore, but mostly I want to let others know that it’s okay to show the world who you are. We are all imperfect in our own way.  

Learn more about Sam’s story in this Q&A: 

Sam P., 19 

What are some of the biggest mental health challenges you’ve faced recently? 

Probably coming out as autistic. The reason why that was a challenge was because I didn’t know what people would think of me. Was I going to be treated differently now? Would people not believe me because I’m a college student athlete? On top of that, I have also recently opened up about my bipolar diagnosis and my other struggles but haven’t talked about my autism until now, so this was just another hurdle to clear.  

What supports or strategies helped you cope with those challenging moments?  

In quiet moments alone, I would talk to myself and encourage myself to open up to friends, teammates and peers. I was just always so afraid to be judged or viewed as an outcast if I was honest about these parts of my life. I began seeing a therapist and talking to friends and family members more, and just tried to be honest with myself. 

What are some ways that you self-soothe in a stressful situation?  

I put on my headphones and listen to music or remove myself from the situation.  

What advice would you give to other people who may be struggling with their mental health?

My best advice is to go to a licensed therapist or talk to a trusted adult. Don’t be afraid to seek out the help you need.