How Recognizing My Neurodiversity Has Helped Me
Being a neurodiverse child was tough. I was always exploding with emotion, regularly confused with what was happening, and the world just seemed to happen around me rather than me being actively part of it. My feelings seemed to penetrate every fiber of my being. I remember feeling scared of feeling sad because once I started to cry, I found it extremely difficult to stop.
My upbringing was far from idyllic. My father had all the hallmarks of his own undiagnosed neurodiversity, and he self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. My mother seemed to shut down from the world regularly, although undeniably wanted the best for us children and worked hard to provide a nice home. Despite this, I never felt like part of my family. After my parents’ separation, I lived between two very different worlds. One of no rules and dysfunctional adventure and another which in contrast felt regimented and confining.
There has been much research on the attachment style of the neurodiverse being different from those who are typically developing, and I feel this was very much true for myself. I didn’t quite understand the “purpose” of my parents or their messy lives. Therefore, after the death of my father when I was 12, I distanced myself from my family, first emotionally and then physically. It was the idea that my parents must have “damaged” me in some way for me to feel that way, which fueled my upset well into my teens and 20s and in turn, was an unhelpful barrier to me understanding myself better.
You see, when you are trying to make sense of your neurodiverse experiences through a neurotypical lens, there is a tendency to draw on your childhood for the answers as to what makes you feel the way you do. I explained my whole way of being; why I couldn’t regulate my emotions, why I couldn’t settle, why I found friendships confusing and why I felt constantly restless on my childhood. My biggest confusion was why I couldn’t stand to be in the loving home that my mother had worked so hard to provide. The feelings of “it must have been really bad for me to feel that way” was my concluding answer and gave reason as to why I couldn’t respond to the world in the ways that I saw others responding to their day-to-day.
The truth is that by not understanding my own neurology, I wasn’t able to regulate. The feelings I had were not just from unprocessed childhood experience but rather from how I processed my environment as well. I was using my childhood as an explanation of my present day, but it made no sense because I was now an adult not understanding why I couldn’t “move on” from it all.
When I was 35 I was finally diagnosed ADHD, and once medicated, I recognized my autistic traits more than ever. I am now waiting for an autism assessment, and I am taking it upon myself to use regulation strategies throughout my day to help me feel more balanced. I have to work on myself every day to feel OK, but I feel happy to do so now because I know the reason why and can try to practice strategies that help.
Understanding my neurology has also enabled me to start to try to build a relationship with my mother. I now understand my demand avoidance was one reason that drove me away from my family home. I simply could not stand being told what to do, which is why I spent most of my time avoiding parental company and, in turn, the opportunity to build a relationship with my mum. By recognizing my neurology, I can now start to make sense of where my discomfort comes from. Although I still find direct commands (being told what to do) difficult, I try to recognize it for what it is when it comes up.
Now that I understand my neurology, my childhood makes a lot more sense to me. Some of my experiences were indeed painful, but I can recognize that now through the understanding of my neurology and experience, not just through my experience alone. I can recognize that I am not that damaged person I once viewed myself as but rather a neurodiverse woman who was left without strategies or support for a long time.
From my experience, it is evident that you can’t view neurodiversity through that of a typical lens. We are wired differently, we experience the world differently, we process emotions differently and we relate to people differently. For those of us who are different, we find life easier to understand. We also find it easier to regulate when we know why we are different and know what we can do to help ourselves. I am glad I have had the opportunity to start to understand myself better and that, in turn, I can support my children to do the same. Most of all, I am grateful for the opportunity to now view my childhood through a neurodiverse lens: it helps everything make a little more sense.
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