Zoe Andrews is a local healthcare worker, student and mum. She is Yorkshire-born and bred (like our very own Stefanie!), yet also the creator of the ever so wonderful #CHOG community on Guernsey Twitter. If you don't know, #CHOG stands for Common Housewives of Guernsey and was born out of the tongue-in-cheek Twitter commentary when Jersey's Real Housewives series first launched on ITV in 2020. Now, amongst other things, it serves as a way for local people to ask each other questions quickly. Here, Zoe talks to us about juggling the joys of autism parenting with her career and studies in BioMedical Science. The journey so far hasn’t been without its challenges, and Zoe is refreshingly honest about the struggles life has thrown her way in recent years.
Whilst Zoe admits she can be her own worst critic, she is learning to be kinder to herself and become more confident, with the support of both professionals and a lot of self-reflection. She is an inspiring lady and a true advocate for autism and mental health, sharing her sincere account of the ups and downs of life as a working mum within a neuro diverse family online. Her honesty online has become her badge of honour, a blessing and a curse at times, and she holds nothing back as she tells her story here.
Zoe Andrews is Listed.
In 2017, we made the leap to follow my husband’s job and move to Guernsey from Halifax, West Yorkshire. Having one child diagnosed as autistic, but accessing mainstream school and the other child on the waiting list we thought we would be ok. Little did we know there was no functioning diagnostic process before we moved, and we ended up waiting just under five years. However, fast forward to now and our eldest is thriving and we encourage our daughter as much as we can to attend school, feel comfortable and confident in herself and find wins in every step forward.
Guernsey is beautiful, safe and so rewarding in lifestyle for us. Before, my husband would often have two-hour commutes and no time for hobbies in the UK. Now he’s going to compete at national level in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, which would never have been possible had we stayed in England with his work-life balance.
The guilt of being a working parent when your children are neuro diverse is hard. You want to wrap them up in cotton wool and protect them, but that is not the real world, they need to experience both the good and the bad. I decided to start working here after working in an NHS laboratory in England. In all honesty, we were wanting to try for another child, but sadly the fertility treatment didn’t work and I had to weigh up the thoughts of having another autistic child and giving the right amount of focus to the children I already had.
So I threw myself into work. And once I had the opportunity to get into microbiology, which I have always loved, I knew I wanted to become qualified, so embarked on five years of study to become a Biomedical Scientist.
The journey so far hasn’t been without its blips, but I’ve learnt so much about how my own brain works and how we all need to be kinder to ourselves. I am my own worst critic, and that accumulated in a nervous breakdown in September. Of course, there were other factors, but I realise now that here are no brownie points in juggling so much and trying to look like superwoman. Thankfully, I have a lovely GP who I can rely on and I found a good therapist. And here I am six months down the line. Reflection has led me to feel so much more comfortable and confident - even in my mistakes! Now I am comfortable owning my mistakes, admitting I got things wrong and openly changing my mind about things and being confident enough to say 'NO!' and have boundaries.
The biggest learning for me has been the realisation that it's ok to not be liked. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. I have had some negative comments about how open I am online. But I have had so many autism parents message me, as well as other people with mental health problems thank me - and if that’s because I talk, then long may it continue. And now I suppose I’ve sort of set myself free.
I still actually can’t really understand how I juggle stuff; I tend to do a lot of my work at night and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I’ve also got past the stage of worrying whether I ask a stupid question, because in this life we’re not meant to know everything. Everyone has a pocket of knowledge someone else can gain from. Knowledge isn’t power anymore. The power is passing that knowledge on. So, I network a lot with other scientists all over the world to try and improve my understanding of things and increase my resources for educating others.
I will always speak up for my children. Now, that tends to be me mainly raising autism awareness on my Twitter account, fundraising, educating staff on different resources available and basically being an advocate for autism.
Neuro diversity is amazing. There are so many hidden talents. It is a joy - from the ability to feel noise to being able to smell something someone else can’t. My son retains incredible amounts of information.
Another passion is sharing Biomedical Science with children. Because of Covid, I haven’t had much chance to have many children into the lab recently, but I have been doing some visits and have another school visit soon. The charity I work with is called Harvey's Gang and is invaluable when it comes to making the scientific side of healthcare child-accessible. It really is a game-changer, because children need to know these things - and realise that hospitals have a variety of career paths for them.
But, ultimately my goal in life is to make sure my children are happy and healthy. If I do that correctly, everything else is a bonus.
Head over to hear from Zoe on Twitter, where she shares regular updates on life as a mother, a scientist and an advocate for autism and mental health. We love her Autism A-Z Awareness Thread. Autism Guernsey also provides information, support and a range of services for adults and children on the spectrum and their families or carers.
If you are concerned about your mental health, here is our guide to Where You Can Find Mental Health Support in Guernsey.