Deaf & Austitic: My Mental Health Struggles

Corey Burrell sitting in front of a river.


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My name is Corey Burrell (he/him). I am 26 years old, deaf-autistic with a hearing aid and cochlear implant. All my life I have gone through so much with finding acceptance because people don’t understand the struggles of being deaf and autistic. It has always had a significant impact on me. In my experiences, I have always struggled to find a voice and to get others to be accepting of who I am and look past my challenges and difficulties.

During my early childhood I went to a preschool-kindergarten called “Hear In New Hampshire,” a school for the oral deaf/hard of hearing. I remember being very close knit with my peers and getting along with them very well. Even after I left “Hear In New Hampshire” after kindergarten, for at least a decade I attended gatherings and events that the school held dedicated to raising funds to maintain “Hear In New Hampshire’s” goal of providing preschool-kindergarten services for the oral deaf community. I owe so much to “Hear In New Hampshire,” and am saddened that they ceased to exist back in 2016. The school did so much to help those within the deaf community in the state of New Hampshire.

I miss my early childhood days so much.

Going from a preschool-kindergarten for the deaf community to a public school really affected my mental health. I was going through so much with bullying. None of my peers were accepting of me. I never had any friends who were willing to look past my differences. I suffered from first grade all the way to the end of high school with my peers not understanding the struggles that come with being deaf and autistic. The sad part is that no one has ever shown much empathy towards me at all. I often wish that others did, growing up and even now.

During my tenure in elementary school, I had a couple of speech-pathologists who I really enjoyed working with. They both treated me so well. When I was in fifth grade, I was a huge Red Sox/baseball fan. My speech pathologist from 5th – 6th grade was a huge Red Sox/baseball fan as well. She was a huge fan of Kevin Youkilis. At the time, she was probably around my current age or a couple years younger. We related to each other very well. I remember when she defended me from being harshly mistreated by my peers at school. She was the only one who advocated for me, and she treated me with the most respect. Our connection was very special. I was devastated when she wasn’t my speech-pathologist during middle school.

Middle school for me, socially, got to the point where bullying became very physical. It was quite a traumatic experience for me, as I didn’t have anyone to support me. From 7th – 8th grade, I had a notetaker who I related so much to. We had a couple of things in common. He was a huge baseball and Star Trek fan. When he was younger, he attended UNH and was teammates with Red Sox Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk. He also looked just like Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and we joked/roleplayed a lot about that during 7th – 8th grade. It was a ton of fun. Ironically, he was a Captain in the Army. I was saddened when he left my school once I entered my freshman year of high school. He was really the only support that I had in middle school.

High school was very tough for me. I moved to a different town, and things did not get any easier for me. My experiences with bullying persisted. It got to the point where I found myself moving from one new school to then being placed in three different schools across a period of three years. During my entire high school tenure, I went to altogether four different schools. This experience was very traumatic for me.

As a result of my experiences at school, I suffer from a few mental illnesses: anxiety, adjustment disorder, and depression. Anxiety I’ve had since I was in elementary school. People will take depression seriously but will downplay anxiety and adjustment disorder. What many don’t realize is that when you have autism as well, all these mental health struggles can make life very hard to contend with. It saddens me that the lack of empathy towards people with these struggles, like me, is extremely high. I empathize for anyone who has to contend with any mental illness. I would never chastise them or downplay their struggles like many have with me. I think we all should be treated humanely and with respect. No one should ever be chastised, disrespected, or treated differently because of something they can’t help.

Everyone, no matter what their differences or struggles might be, should be able to have a voice in life. We all deserve to be accepted by everyone.

It frustrates me, the lack of compassion, empathy, and understanding towards adults with autism. Everyone thinks about children with autism, but they never think about adults. From my personal experience, the struggle to be treated humanely and equally is very real. Even as an adult, I still go through so much with being bullied. I think there needs to be more awareness towards the deaf community, those with autism, anxiety, adjustment disorder, and depression. I really hope one day others learn how these struggles affect me, and others like me, on a daily basis. I wish more people were willing to learn how to communicate with adults who suffer from autism and mental illnesses.

Everyone seems to think that those with autism and mental illnesses have the same struggles, which is entirely false. People with autism and mental illnesses have different challenges that they do their best to, and can, overcome. Autism and mental illnesses can present differently in every individual. Even as an adult, I have encountered a ton of prejudice and a lack of compassion from my peers due to my being deaf and autistic. I think that’s entirely due to the insufficient amount of awareness and understanding about how my struggles actually work. To find acceptance towards my difficulties from others has been very challenging. It has greatly impacted my struggles with anxiety, adjustment disorder, and depression. I hope that one day there is change for those who are like me. I would like to be treated more humanely. It’s tough to go through life feeling not being accepted, understood, seen, or heard by others.

I will conclude my story by mentioning that I am a huge railfan, specifically vintage railroad equipment. I’ve loved trains since I was a child, and I love all vintage locomotives. My dream is to one day become a railroad engineer for a heritage railroad, and to be given the opportunity to handle my favorite locomotive, the EMD F7/F-unit. It would be cool to one day inspire others by becoming the first deaf-autistic railroad engineer. The hurdles to get to that point are extremely challenging, but I will do whatever I can to overcome them. Even though I identify myself as deaf, I am technically hard of hearing since I wear both a hearing aid and cochlear implant. As far as I know, there aren’t many like me who work for the railroad due to the lack of awareness towards being deaf and having autism. The prejudice towards those within this line of work is very high due to the lack of knowledge of their differences. Many in the railroad think that someone like me would be incapable of doing the tasks required in this profession.

I refuse to allow deafness, autism, anxiety, adjustment disorder, or depression to prevent me from reaching my career aspirations. I also used to do World War II reenacting as a hobby since I appreciate reading about history. No one ever expected someone who is deaf like me to be interested in that hobby. I am also a huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan as well. Lastly, I love being outdoors. My favorite area of New Hampshire is the White Mountains. I have frequented there since I was three years old. I love camping and being in the woods so much. I wish that I could do that more. I find the view in the White Mountains to be absolutely unforgettable. Visiting the White Mountains and growing up visiting the Conway Scenic Railroad are some of my best childhood memories that I cherish so much.

 I hope one day that I am given the opportunity to break through all the barriers that come my way in life.

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