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Changes: Fern Brady

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Fern [00:00:00] I know full well what a lot of people think about late autism diagnosis'... why has everyone got autism these days? I fucking wish everyone had it Annie laughs like I wouldn't have half laughing the number of problems I have. I wrote about the very worst aspects of autism to be like, do you seriously think this is what everyone has?

Annie [00:00:24] Hello and welcome to Changes, it is Annie here. Delighted to have you with me. Just off my bike having cycled from town and all revved up and ready for this episode. My guest today is the Scottish stand up comedian and bestselling author, Fern Brady. After winning competitions at the Edinburgh Fringe, Fern has gone on to have worldwide tours, appeared on multiple panel shows and starred in Taskmaster. In 2020, Fern's life was kind of changed forever when she was diagnosed with autism. Her award winning Sunday Times bestselling book, Strong Female Character, is an incredibly honest and hilarious account of Fern's life as an autistic girl and woman. Fern Brady, welcome to Changes. How are ya?

Fern [00:01:14] Thank you for having me. I'm very good, thank you.

Annie [00:01:17] Can we start, please, by you giving us a bit of a snapshot of what you went through in your life as a young adult before you were officially diagnosed with autism?

Fern [00:01:27] It was a bingo card of chaotic life events, but I, I mean, I had suicide attempts, like depression, anxiety, burnout, so I would get signed off uni sick, I got sacked from loads of jobs. I did sex work which err, an unusual number of neurodivergent women laughs do sex work, it's wild. I was in an abusive relationship, it was just one thing after another.

Annie [00:01:53] So when you got diagnosed, was there a sense- and I'm asking this because we interviewed a woman called Katherine May on this podcast before who-

Fern [00:02:00] And she's autistic isn't she? Yeah.

Annie [00:02:02] Yeah, she found out as she was walking the length of the south coast of England Fern laughs she found out halfway through and she compared it to a grief, just in terms of how you can wake up every day and then the realisation dawns on you again. And then she said it made her feel her symptoms of autism in a much more intense way initially because she was hyper aware of them.

Fern [00:02:21] Yeah, it's like you suddenly register it. For example, I used to not realise I was stressed. I've got- a part of my autism is a thing called alexithymia, and the way my therapist describes it is it's like you're lying on train tracks and the train is coming towards you, but you don't register it till it's like this close to your face. So I would get agonising shoulder and back pain and not know why. Now I've got a lot of therapy to try and make the connections between my physical symptoms and stress more. So I got a lot better at registering my sensory overload. And that's the biggest reason to get diagnosed, I would say.

Annie [00:03:09] Well, let's get into the first change question we put to you Fern which is the biggest change you went through as a child. Can you remember what you said?

Fern [00:03:17] Oh, yeah, I stopped believing in God. It was such a bizarre experience growing up Catholic, but I loved God! All the paraphernalia that comes with Catholicism and all the superstition - I loved it! When I was little, my gran used to have these erm, books that were Lives of the Saints and every Sunday after church,we'd sit and read these horrific stories of the saints lives Annie laughs when we were little kids. I mean, the demented stuff about women having their boobs cut off or their heads cut off, and then they're always so religious that they silently like, still mouth a prayer to heaven.

Annie [00:03:58] Laughs yeah.

Fern [00:03:59] When their heads been cut off laughs. And then people say, I mean, why is your comedy so dark? Probably because I had to read The Lives of the Saints when I was a child.

Annie [00:04:07] Yeah. It's all based on total fear, isn't it? You mentioned your gran, who is in your house when you were, when you were young, when you were going to church, what did life look like?

Fern [00:04:16] My parents were together till I was err, an adult basically, and two younger brothers and I was the eldest, and we went to church every Sunday, had to go to church extra at Easter time.

Annie [00:04:30] Right.

Fern [00:04:31] And I started asking not to go to church when I was 13, because I used to be so into it, I'd pray every night, I'll do the rosary all the time, I'd go to confession. Confession really stressed me out as well. We had this duo of priests, a tall, skinny one and a short, fat one. And I remembered going to confession to one of them one time, and I could see him shaking with laughter through the curtain at me, at the sins I was saying laughs. And I was taking it so seriously.

Annie [00:05:03] Yeah, yeah.

Fern [00:05:04] And then there was one day I was sitting in church, and it was adding up the hours of my life that I'd spent going to church, and then I thought, I don't think any of this is real. So that was when I started asking my parents, I don't want to go anymore, I'm an atheist, and they just wouldn't let me not go. And I think that's been a real influence on my stand up because I sort of thought, if yous are lying about this, what other stuff are you lying about? And it was sort of a mistrust of authority figures. See, before my grandads funeral, I really loved the grandad, I was so sad when he died. And I wanted to do the eulogy at his funeral, and even then 'ohh you can't do a eulogy because it's against the Catholic Church'. We had priests that had very rigid funerals, and everyone's meant to get the same prayers deep inhale well, I go out my way to do the eulogy, and just before I went out, I would have only been 20 or 21, the priest leans over and says in my ear, 'never let a man see how weak you really are' and-

Annie [00:06:07] What?!

Fern [00:06:07] See if I hadn't been in such a state of distress I would have decked the guy.

Annie [00:06:13] What the hell ha- I do not get the logic of saying that to you in that moment. Is he trying to, is he trying to put you off?

Fern [00:06:22] Some priests are nutters man!

Annie [00:06:23] But also, just like the cruelty of a priest sitting there like pissing himself laughing at a little girl who is like Fern laughs trying to spill her sins. Like, you should want to comfort you in that situation.

Fern [00:06:35] But my sins were things like, this week at school I tried to say every swear word that I could think of, and I spilled purple nail varnish on my carpet and I moved my bedside table a covered it up from my mum Annie laughs. I threw a Star Wars anthology at my brother's head both laugh so I can see why the priest was maybe laughing. But it's mad where I grew up in Scotland, the central belt where I'm from, I think it was a lot of people moved over from Donegal and Northern Ireland, and it's like they preserve that way of living perfectly because it really is- I mean, I had a gran that thought tampons were- would compromise your virginity and it really was like so intense.

Annie [00:07:21] Wow. So it says in your book, 'growing up, I'd been told repeatedly that I was very, very clever, but also very, very bad'. How was it supposed that you were bad?

Fern [00:07:34] Yeah. I mean, that's almost the perfect recipe to make a narcissist, isn't it? And that's how a lot of comedians grow up. The reason my parents were like that was I was having quite bad meltdowns from when I was a toddler. I mean, when my parents tell me about the times I had meltdowns, there was one time I was a flower girl at a wedding, and they put me in this itchy lace dress, and then I still remember it clearly they like, tightly braided my hair. And then I pulled my hair do out and they braided it again. And people just didn't understand then, anything about autism. And because I was verbally articulate from a young age and hyper lexical, I would read a lot, no one would have thought that was autism because I guess a lot of kids get diagnosed with autism younger if they're not speaking. They had to talk to my mum when I was getting the autism assessment, they usually interview your partner, and then one of your parents. And my mum said when she first started going to parents evenings, they couldn't believe the teachers saying 'oh Fern's so, so quiet at school, she so well behaved', like I wouldn't speak in primary school. But when I was coming home from school, I was having meltdowns and just kicking off, and it was because I was holding everything in and trying to process everything. I mean, I remember standing in the playground and just thinking, I have no idea how to talk to any of these people, and just feeling so overwhelmed by it all.

Annie [00:09:13] Yeah. When you read the book, you bring us through all these different, you know, incidents in your childhood... exclaims and adulthood in university and everything where it seems, with the knowledge of your diagnosis, so obvious! It's like, oh my God, how could nobody see it? Was there a point, I suppose, when YOU started realising that I'm not the same?

Fern [00:09:33] Yeah, when I was 16.

Annie [00:09:35] Okay, tell me about that and what was it? What was the trigger?

Fern [00:09:38] When I was 16, I became really preoccupied with getting straight As my exams so I could go to the best uni. Everything had to be like the best, the best of the best. I think the combination of normal exam stress with the social demands of high school. I had a nice group of friends, but I started just err, going and sitting in the library by myself at lunchtime, or I'd go and sit in a toilet cubicle by myself to try and calm down. And then that turned into just walking out of school. I'd go and walk out of school and I'd go and sit at my granda's house. This was my arsehole grandad, I had a nice grandad and a drunk grandad, and my drunk grandad didn't know what was going on. I mean, the guy didn't know who I was. So I'd go and sit in drunk grandads house just to get out of school. And then, I got more and more depressed, yawning and then I tried to talk myself- oh you shouldn't say it that way laughs, but, like, I took an overdose and I couldn't really articulate what was going on, but I got put in a Camhs unit, which is like a child and teen psychiatric unit, and then that didn't do very much but it was kind of good to be out of school and just study for my exams in peace. And then when I got out of there, I wasn't depressed anymore but I still felt something isn't right about me, I kind of feel like an alien. And I was reading up on all these different psychiatric things and just to be clear, before anyone messages me, I know autism's not a mental illness, but I was reading the DSM manual and I saw Asperger's and I thought, that's me! That's what I've got. And I went to the doctor and I said, I think this is what I've got, because they'd said I had OCD and depression. And I mean, I was depressed and I did show signs of OCD, and I was really fixated on all my things being in the right place at home and I'd go mad if anyone moved my stuff, but what I didn't know back then is that a lot of autistic people get misdiagnosed with OCD, and we get depression but it's because we're living lives that aren't built for us and we're trying to mask and cope with social demands that we're not able to cope with. And so, so often it comes to a head when girls are in secondary school because the things that make you kind of quirky and cool at primary school, like I used to invent games when I was at primary, and I would sort of boss the other kids around and, and then you go to secondary school and suddenly there's a lot of unspoken social cues, especially with girls. And I meet so many parents of autistic girls now who say the same things happening with their daughter. Like I say in the book, you can set your watch by it. It doesn't have to be that way but I mean, it is-

Annie [00:12:40] Yeah, and when you say the same things happening, you mean once they hit secondary school they're not able to-

Fern [00:12:45] They find it really hard.

Annie [00:12:47] To cope as they were. Yeah, yeah. And that's so much of- again, just learning through the book of what you go through, you talk about articulation, just being able to articulate yourself. It feels like there's so many doors that are closed in your face because of a lack of you being able to articulate yourself and other people being able to understand what you're going through and to see that.

Fern [00:13:07] Yeah. I remember thinking, how come I'm clever and I do well at school, but when people pick on me I can't, I'm like very slow to respond and I can only really process it later. Like, even now if someone says a bitchy thing to me, I don't really take it in and it's only much later you realise, because we have slower processing times. So I always knew something was up but then a doctor told me that I couldn't be autistic because I'd had a boyfriend Annie gasps and that I was making eye contact. And I always thought my eye contact was okay and I thought it was normal that when you look into someone's eyes, you have to really concentrate laughs. And then when I got diagnosed, the doctor said to me, she was like, you make eye contact with me when I'm talking to you. But then the rest of the time your eyes are looking up there. So, yeah, it was wild finding all that.

Annie [00:14:04] And it's wild reading about the gendered kind of notion of autism and how it's based on boys. The differences are quite extreme in terms of how a female would experience autism to a man, right?

Fern [00:14:19] And I love the way you say that, how we would experience autism, because what a lot of people were saying for ages is, the reason women don't get diagnosed till later is we're so much better at covering it up. And that's not true, it's just that the demands, there's more demands on us to cover it up. I wasn't good at acting non autistic, I mean, the book details all these different things that happened to me where I was getting it wrong over and over again. Even when I studied books on social skills, even when I tried to, like, read up on, err the correct facial expressions to make and what people mean when they're saying certain things. I just was getting it wrong again and again and again. And by saying that the reason women get diagnosed later is because we're so good at covering up, it takes the onus off doctors to learn more about it and puts it onto us.

Annie [00:15:15] Are you finding it now that there is more knowledge on how women experience autism, and that people are able to see the different ways that it can manifest?

Fern [00:15:23] I mean, there's a lot of comorbidities that go with being autistic, a lot of physical comorbidities, like a lot of us have chronic pain, fibromyalgia, Pmdd, you know that thing where you don't just get PMS, but you get the kind where you go nuts every month, and doctors just don't seem to know. But by far the best thing that happened to me from writing the book was I met so many other autistic people, and once an autistic person is interested in a topic, they want to know everything about it. So that means that other autistic people are the best resource for finding out about autism. Various people contacted me that read the book and they said, I think it would benefit you to look into this. But the general public, I think their knowledge has a long way to go.

Annie [00:16:15] What is the general, I suppose, misconception about women with autism that you've found?

Fern [00:16:21] Not just women but everyone, people still say 'being on the spectrum', it's synonymous with being a bit of an arsehole and being rude and socially unaware. And I always understood my autism as something that affected other people rather than- I never knew about how much the sensory side of it was all linked.

Annie [00:16:43] And how do you mean by that?

Fern [00:16:45] So every autistic person has different sensory profiles, but there's a lot of things that we have in common. A lot of people have ARFID which is like, avoidant restrictive eating where they can only eat a certain number of foods, they can only eat beige foods, and it often gets misdiagnosed as erm, anorexia or another eating disorder.

Annie [00:17:11] Yeah.

Fern [00:17:12] Thankfully, I've not got the food one. I have issues with people touching me lightly. When someone touches me lightly it feels like it stays there for hours and it's like, unbearable. It's like nails on a chalkboard. I have a lot of issues with noise, but I wear noise cancelling headphones anytime I'm outside the house. But it can also have positive effects, like when I listen to music, I feel like I have such a strong response to it. I get goosebumps and just feel so amazing. I love smelling. But a lot of people who are undiagnosed, they don't know about their sensory needs, so they just try and live life the way other people live life, and that leads to them having either meltdowns or shut downs. Shut downs are a lot more common, that's like an implosion and you just go into yourself, and people end up with this crippling depression and they don't know why. So yeah, if anyone's listening and you get- you've just been diagnosed, I would recommend getting a sensory diet made by an occupational therapist.

[00:18:13] Short musical interlude

Annie [00:18:23] Talking about university, like so much happened to you in your university years!

Fern [00:18:27] Oh my God! Literally at uni I was just like, I kept thinking I hope I can write a book about this one day because it was just-

Annie [00:18:35] It's insane!

Fern [00:18:36] Unrelenting chaos. None stop chaos.

Annie [00:18:37] There's an arrest, there's a violent assault, there's a job as an editor of a student newspaper, there's an on and off career.

Fern [00:18:44] Laughs no one ever says that one!

Annie [00:18:45] Well, I was like, that needs to go in! Because it's important that people know the full breadth of what you were doing, because it is really extreme. Overtalking eachother You're editing a newspaper, and you were lap dancing at the same time as a job. But kind of- underpinning all of these years in uni was this constant sense of chaos because of a lack of knowing how to do it. You kind of keep coming back to --- Like, I didn't know, I didn't know how to do it, I didn't know how to do uni. No one told me, no one helped me.

Fern [00:19:14] Yeah. And I thought, I thought I'd be good at uni because I was clever. And I mean, this happens to a lot of people, especially when you go from state school to uni, you're used to being the cleverest kid in your year, and then you go to uni and everyone's clever. And not only that, these are kids that have had private school and they've had private tuition to get them through their exams. They're being given free money by their parents so all they need to do is study. And I just got there and I felt absolutely incompetent. The way normal erm tuts normal people, neurotypical people move through uni is they crowdsource through their peers. So they'll say, oh, how do I go to the library? Do you want to go to the library with me? Should we go and register for this? I just didn't ask people. And I ended up becoming more and more isolated, and I ended up doing three first years at uni. Four actually then laughs --- do uni? So yeah, I was happy I managed to graduate, but there's still a lot of universities that don't know how to look after their autistic students. And it's a shame because we really, we can really thrive.

Annie [00:20:30] Course, yeah. And then kind of within that, the stance that you had which was kind of not asking for help, you weren't getting the money that you needed to survive from your mum and dad so you had to get jobs and you weren't getting the bursaries that you were entitled to.

Fern [00:20:44] Yeah, I was getting 80 quid a month to pay for everything. Then I worked in a bookies in Leith, and then I saw an article in the student newspaper about students stripping for cash, such a cliche, I was like, oh, I'll, I'll go and do that. And my friends at the time were like, what, why would you do that? You're so unsuited to that laughs. And then I went and I ended up doing it for two and a half years, and I kind of loved being around other strippers because a lot of them were weirdos.

[00:21:18] Yeah.

[00:21:19] And a lot of them were outsiders as well. I mean, some of them were the stereotype of what you would imagine they would be, like, kind of scary. And then others were just students that were just like, absolute weirdos. And I'm still in touch with some of them today. But yeah, so I ended up, that was mostly who my friends were when I was at uni. Because the other thing at uni, putting autism aside, was the horrendous class difference when I got there. I went to Edinburgh Uni because I just thought what's the best uni near me, and then I got there and everyone was just saying, oh, Edinburgh uni is where you go if you get rejected from Oxford or Cambridge. That was what they were all saying, because that was their experience. And it was so annoying that for me my highest achievement was like their laughs their lowest ebb.

Annie [00:22:08] Yeah.

Fern [00:22:08] Working at the student paper, I did make friends with posh kids, and it taught me loads about how to get ahead in media because they had this confidence and entitlement that I feel like was really lacking in the  people I went to school with. And I actually feel like at my school they actively discouraged you from wanting to, from wanting to do more stuff.

Annie [00:22:37] Yeah. Or showing any sort of kind of overt ambition.

Fern [00:22:41] Yeah.

Annie [00:22:41] As a young girl that's not really encouraged is it weirdly? Like people want to put you in your place.

Fern [00:22:46] Yeah. Like it- what I'd really, really like to do is run some sort of scheme through my old school that like helps people get advice on getting into the arts and stuff. But I went to a nicer school for my sixth year, this wasn't even anything to do with my parents I just transferred myself there laughing. I was such a weirdo. Anyway, while I was there, they got this Scottish writer called Ron Butlin in to come and read our creative writing, and he said you're so good, you should write more. And that was such a crucial thing and it encouraged me to write more.

Annie [00:23:26] Woow.

Fern [00:23:26] But even so, that guy only goes to like, nicer schools. I think I've since written to him to be like, you should keep doing school visits because it makes such a big difference.

Annie [00:23:35] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Fern [00:23:36] It was because of going Edinburgh uni that I got encouraged into stand up because I had a friend there, he was in the year above me so he graduated before me and went to work for a newspaper, and he phoned me one night and he told me he was on ecstasy Annie laughs and he was like, 'Fern, I've realised you should go and stand up. It's what you should do. Definitely do it'. And that was like the push that I needed. Now it later turned out that he had been sold a Smint Annie laughs, so he' just taken a Smint and it had a placebo effect. How does he not notice from like the minty fresh taste? But that was like, honestly such a key moment for encouraging me into stand up.

Annie [00:24:14] Let's talk about that moment when you saw- because you mentioned it in the book, you go with your ex-boyfriend, you go and see stand up and you say you woke up the next morning and I quote, 'I knew with a horrible certainty that I was going to have to keep doing this forever'.

Fern [00:24:28] Yeah, yeah. Even though I'm from outside Edinburgh, I never went to The Fringe growing up. It's like a thing that's for older people. So I think I was 20, 19 or 20, and this guy I was going out with took me to see a Fringe show, and the guy on stage was very alpha male, shouting about having sex and stuff and I thought, ohhh yeah, this is like me, this is what I want to do. But I had this terrible, uncomfortable feeling of like, there's no other women doing this. And then it was only because this magazine that I was interning at in the summer holidays, this erm, Edinburgh Festival magazine, they encouraged me to try stand up and then write about it for an article, but that was the push that I needed to try it. So I did my first gig. I was in an absolute state. I was like, shaking violently. I felt so nauseous for weeks in the lead up to it, and then I was rubbish, my first gig, but still felt such a thrill and I just felt like this is what I'm going to do as a job. And then I said to the guy I was going out with at the time, ahh I think I'm going to keep doing this and he said, I don't know why you would do that to yourself, like you were in such a state. And I've always, I've al- I've still got this now, if I have a creative idea that's important to me, I don't tell many people about it until I've really got going with it, because it can, it can kill it early on. It's like trying to get a fire going, you don't kill it too early on.

Annie [00:25:58] Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Fern [00:25:59] So for the next year, I didn't tell anyone that I was planning to do stand up, and I just started researching how to get into it. And then I started messaging different comedy nights, and then I just started turning up to comedy nights and getting them to put me on. But yeah, Edinburgh Uni was like, honestly, that was the push to get me into stand up.

Annie [00:26:23] Mmm. How old were you when you got officially diagnosed?

Fern [00:26:27] 34 or 35.

Annie [00:26:28] So upon getting that I suppose, is there any change in terms of how you approach your comedy? Is there a sense of wanting to talk about it more or less or anything like that?

Fern [00:26:38] I feel more comfortable talking about it more, but then at the same time, I have to talk about a wide range of topics. I wouldn't do a full show talking explicitly about autism, because I want a lot of people to come to my shows so- but at the same time, my comedy was always autistic because I see the world- I see the world that way.

Annie [00:27:02] Yeah, yeah.

Fern [00:27:03] Stand up is talking about inconsistencies and looking at the gap between what people say and what they do, and pointing out how odd human behaviour is. I found that the process of getting better at comedy and having to be comfortable with feeling repeatedly- and be comfortable was embarrassing yourself repeatedly, it made me get better at other things in my life, so I was always really physically clumsy, I realised so much of getting good at putting a physical movement together is just trying to force your brain and body to, like, learn the connection. And being okay with failing at it repeatedly. I also just passed my driving test last week and it is HANDS DOWN the best thing that happened to me Annie laughs. I drove to my pilates class this morning and I was singing Smashing Pumpkins full blast in the car, and it was amazing. And I was dreadful at driving when I started, it took me four go's to pass the test, but weirdly now I've passed my parallel parking is fine and my reversing's fine, and it was all just about like, being- having a sort of bloody mindedness that I'm going to get these manoeuvres right, and I'm not going to talk myself out of it or have people say it to me online, 'oh, some autistic people just can't drive. We've not got the spatial awareness'.

Annie [00:28:29] Yeah.

Fern [00:28:29] I was like, no, I'm not having it laughs.

Annie [00:28:31] Yeah.

[00:28:43] Short musical interlude.

Annie [00:28:43] Fern, can I ask you about the change you would still like to make or see?

Fern [00:28:49] Yeah, I'm desperate to make films because I love films, and I love- I go to the cinema every week. It's again, just- I always think you should make the thing that you wished existed. Oh, I tell you the film I just saw that made me be like, I have to take time off work to make films! That film, How To Have Sex by Molly Manning Walker.

Annie [00:29:09] Oh, is that the one about the holiday after the exams? Like 17, 18 year olds?

Fern [00:29:15] Yeah, yeah!

Annie [00:29:15] Ahh, my friends have seen it, I haven't seen it but they said it was so triggering because it's like every young Irish girl's experience, fucking off to Tenerife and just like, yeah.

Fern [00:29:23] Yeah, my best friend Allison, she's a Irish comedian, Allison Spittal, we both went to see it separately and we had the same response when we came out the cinema of like, we have to make films. Because when you watch it you're like, of course someone should have made a film about the experience of going on, going to like Greece with your friends as a teenager, and it just articulates all these unspoken things, not even about being on holiday, but having sex when you're a teenager, sexual experiences where not everyone's having a good time.

Annie [00:29:58] Yeah.

Fern [00:29:58] And not knowing how to voice that.

Annie [00:30:00] Yeah, yeah.

Fern [00:30:01] But yeah, I love cinema. I would love to get into, into that.

Annie [00:30:06] One of the things I loved about your book, Fern, was the fact that there is no laughing happy ending.

Fern [00:30:12] Laughs no!

Annie [00:30:12] It's just like, you know, I can't give you a lovely, like me walking off into the sunset feeling great, like ending.

Fern [00:30:18] Yeah.

Annie [00:30:18] There is a sense of things having changed upon you writing the book and I'll quote it,  you say 'the more I came out as autistic or half mast, the less I felt revolted at my odd posture or voice, and in turn, the more I stood up for myself, the calmer I felt'.

Fern [00:30:32] Yeah, I mean, the happy ending actually is, is what happened after the book came out where I met more and more autistic people, and I thought, I like all these people so I can like myself in turn. Because I used to have a thing where I'd see myself on TV, but there is something just off about the way I speak and move, and that then can sometimes make people either pick on you or feel unnerved by you. And before anyone has a go at me over this, they've done studies into this where autistic people are consistently seen as less likeable, less intelligent, less trustworthy, all because we sometimes speak and act a bit differently. So yeah, the happy ending came after the book came out, because I've just met dozens and dozens of autistic people, had like, the most interesting chats at book events. Yeah, yeah, it's been really cool. But all the stuff that affects me in the book, still affects me now. Change only comes incrementally so to give an example, at the start of my book, I tell my dad that I've been diagnosed autistic and my dad was incredibly rude about it. Laughs and then my dad drove my car up to Scotland for me so I could take my driving test which is so nice of him, and as we arrived in Scotland, we passed a charity called Scottish Autism and my dad went, oh, look, Scottish Autism, that's you both laugh. Just the fact that he's acknowledged I was autistic, was like a really tiny change.

Annie [00:32:09] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Fern [00:32:10] That's all you can really hope for.

Annie [00:32:12] In the book, you mention how your kind of intentions for the book changed upon writing it.

Fern [00:32:17] Yeah. This is common amongst a lot of the autistic community online. You get a big sense of imposter syndrome when you're diagnosed, which is mad because on the run up to getting diagnosed I had so many people saying it to me, I found out my mum had said she thought I was autistic behind my back before I got diagnosed, this was when I was a teenager but she didn't want to say it to me because it used to be the kind of thing you wanted to avoid getting diagnosed with. So when I started writing the book, it was kind of, I was writing it with the intention of trying to prove to non-autistic people that I was autistic. And then as the redrafts went on I thought, I really want to just write the thing that I wished existed when I was 21. But yeah, the response from the book, I mean, I've had like people coming up to me crying and stuff. I went to America for the first time in November for comedy, but I had people from all over the States and all different backgrounds coming up saying, it feels like you've written about my life, which is mad because to me I tried to write a very Catholic book as well, and it's very specific about being a Scottish Catholic girl. But yeah, the response to it's been so cool and not like anything that's happened to me ever.

Annie [00:33:38] Did writing it- you know, because they say you write to know yourself, you know, we spoke to Michael Rosen, the writer on this podcast.

Fern [00:33:46] Oh, I love him!

Annie [00:33:46] Oh my God, he was amazing but he he talked so much about how writing can help you feel better as a person. Did it change the way you looked at your life in any way?

Fern [00:33:54] Yeah. I know full well what a lot of people think about late autism diagnosis'... Why has everyone got autism these days? I fucking wish everyone had it, like I wouldn't have half the number of problems I have. Buses would be a lot quieter wouldn't they, restaurants would be quieter. All the lights in offices wouldn't be fluorescent. I'd had people say, oh you don't look autistic, you don't seem autistic, everyone gets anxious from time to time. So I had all these sort of nagging voices, and I had to sort of put that out of my head. I wrote about the very worst aspects of autism to be like, do you seriously think this is what everyone has? Because just because I don't talk about it a lot publicly and stuff, doesn't mean that it isn't happening to loads of autistic people and they're too embarrassed to discuss it.

Annie [00:34:44] Yeah. There's a line where you say, you know, if someone saw you having the meltdowns, you know, from the outside, not understanding, you say 'my career- I wouldn't have a career', and that's really powerful.

Fern [00:34:54] If there was a fly on the wall in my house, people would be like, oh aye, she's got it.

Annie [00:34:59] And are you glad in retrospect that you put everything in?

Fern [00:35:03] Yeah because with any creative stuff or any writing, a good guideline is to write about the most humiliating things that you think happen only to you, because guaranteed that's happened to someone else.

Annie [00:35:17] Strong Female Character is Fern's book. Buy it, buy it for your friends, it's such a brilliant read. What is the plan then for 2024?

Fern [00:35:26] Ohh, it's a busy year. I wanted to get a dog but I can't because I'm going away on the 1st of March to Australia. I'm going Australia, New Zealand, and then if my visa gets approved I'm going America. I'll have a couple of months off in the summer and then I'm back on tour around the UK from August.

Annie [00:35:43] Wow.

Fern [00:35:44] And then hopefully next year I'll get a puppy. Laughing that's all I want is a little puppy.

Annie [00:35:49] And then it's film time!

Fern [00:35:51] Oh yeah, Annie laughs then I need to make my film about a Scottish girl on a quest laughs.

Annie [00:35:58] I look forward to watching it.

Fern [00:36:00] Thanks.

Annie [00:36:01] And listen, I can't thank you enough for this. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

Fern [00:36:04] Ohh thanks for having me on.

Annie [00:36:10] If you enjoy Changes, please do rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Share it with your friends and family, go on social media, tell everyone about it, tag me Annie Macmanus, I always love to see how you react to these episodes, and it's just so helpful to be seen and to be shared by you lot so thank you so much if you do. There's a whole catalogue of episodes to listen to. If you have missed any at all, go back and check 'em out and we'll be back next week. Changes is produced by Louise Mason with assistant production from Anna Dewolf Evans. See you next time.