“I hope that by sharing my story other undiagnosed women and non-binary people are not left in the shadows”

BY ZAHRA DELJOUI, IMAGE BY ALEX HERON/RANKIN CREATIVE

As a child I often struggled with anxiety, routine and OCD. I was labelled as weird or quirky and found mainstream school very difficult, which inevitably led to me being expelled. Over the years I had often struggled with my mental health and wondered, “why I couldn’t fix me”. I tried everything the doctors suggested and grew more and more frustrated with myself. Last year at the age of 34 I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Finally, things made sense! After years of being told by medical professionals, “You’re just anxious”, or “You’re just very sensitive”, it was a major relief. Getting the diagnosis was terrifying and liberating all at the same time. 

Soon after my diagnosis I joined a women’s support group run by The National Autistic Society (NAS). This was an incredible space where I was able to understand more about other people like me and realise my experience was not uncommon. It was here that I first heard about the #NowIKnow Campaign, which was being created by NAS, Ogilvy Health and Alex Heron from Rankin. The campaign was to raise awareness around the late diagnosis of autism in women and non-binary people. The team planned to tour the UK, photographing participants in their own space and interviewing them about their experiences.

I didn’t think my story would be chosen but felt it could be cathartic for me to write in as it was something I hadn’t reflected on since my diagnosis. I heard back the next day. Not many people knew I was autistic and as an openly queer female, it almost felt like I would be coming out again. I was scared but knew how important it was to share my story, I realised it could help other undiagnosed women or non-binary people that were struggling and had unanswered questions about themselves. This campaign seemed particularly important to me as more research is being done to explore the experience of autistic people who also identify as being part of the LGBTQIA community.  

As a British-Iranian, LGBTQIA, Alt-Pop artist I’ve always used music as therapy. Recording in my bedroom allowed me to be someone I felt I couldn’t be in the outside world, the hidden part of me. I found it hard to articulate my emotions to romantic partners but music was almost my conduit to express myself in ways I felt I could not. During my interview I decided to play them my – then unreleased – song, Pink Moon. As soon as it started playing, they lit up. It was such a special moment to see the connections I could make with a room full of strangers through music, it felt magical. There was a magnetism in the air that made me feel like, in that moment, anything was possible. I had gone from being terrified of having strangers in my house to not wanting them to leave. They even wanted to use Pink Moon as the soundtrack for the campaign. This was my debut release as a solo artist and it made me feel so proud to have it used for such a wonderful cause.

I hope that by sharing my story other undiagnosed women and non-binary people are not left in the shadows and that with growing awareness we can all come together as a more understanding and supportive community. I spent so long hiding and being ashamed of everything that makes me unique and now I’ve begun to embrace and celebrate those qualities. I finally feel, I am who I am and who I am is enough.

Follow Zahra on Instagram @zahradeljouimusic.

Listen to Pink Moon.

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