Neurodiversity, my constant companion

Over a year ago I dropped what felt to me like a tiny bomb, hidden in a bunch of other words. I wrote, “I’m a bit neurodiverse.” Then, a few months ago, I mentioned it in front of hundreds of people while giving a keynote talk at a conference.

And yet...

I still haven't brought it up with my friends and family. I still haven't taken steps to get a formal diagnosis (not even sure if that's a reasonable option where I live.) I still haven't (until now) published this post, which has been sitting written in my drafts for nearly a year. I sometimes tells my colleagues about it but only when I think it will affect some aspect of our working relationship. For whatever reason, I haven't felt the need to "make it official" with neurodiversity. But I do want to take a moment to recognize this aspect of my life, in case it may help myself and/or others.

In short: I suspect I may be somewhere on autism spectrum, based on multiple self-assessments I've taken, although I recognize these are not a replacement for a formal diagnosis. I also strongly suspect ADHD but without the hyperactivity, which I've only recently learned is a thing particularly in women. (I had ruled this out before because I don't have hyperactivity.) I know I have anxiety, and have for a long time. And, when I was younger, I used to suspect I had OCD. But I wonder now if that that was just these other two showing up in repetitive behaviours.

What neurodiversity looks like for me

These are a few ways neurodiversity affects my life:

  • Small talk is tricky for me. I find it difficult to understand meaning, and I'll panic as I try to work out whether I am suppose to laugh or agree or respond in a different way.
  • Concentration is challenging. I find it very difficult to focus on topics I'm not totally interested in, but when it's something I am interested in, I concentrate a little too hard; I can get hung up on specific details.
  • I rely on rigid routine more than seems normal. For example, I don't just have the same breakfast every day, I also use the same spoon. Changes to even small aspects of my routine can throw me off and spike my anxiety. But at the same time, I've trained myself to become flexible about changes. I can find ways to convince myself that it doesn't matter what spoon I use, though this has taken me years to develop.
  • I have a constant need to fidget (or maybe this is stimming?) It's an effort not to, and I make this effort a lot.
  • I struggle to express and talk about my emotions, although I feel them deeply.
  • I dislike hugs, unless they are from my children.
  • I've been told I can come across as rude and aloof, when inside I feel that's so opposite from who I feel I am inside.
  • I really struggle with time management, though I somehow manage to be relatively (+/- 5 min) on time for most things.
  • I'm hyper aware in social situations, of everything that is happening with myself, others, the room etc. It takes a long time for me to relax and bring down my anxiety during or after any kind of social event, and I will often feel physically hungover when I haven't been drinking.
  • And, it's not so much that I "mask," but more that I don't even realize what is masking and what is not anymore. I pretty much always feel like I am doing my best to study and play the role of a normal person.

What's in a label?

A question I grapple with often is, what does knowing this change? Does the neurodiverse label matter? On one hand, knowing that word doesn't change anything about me.

And yet, understanding and accepting that I may be neurodiverse has allowed me to stop minimizing or dismissing my needs. In my past I've spent a lot of time and energy feeling ashamed of my quirks, and trying to mold myself into a person that fits in, for everyone else's benefit. I'm much more forgiving to myself, and much more willing to speak up for what I need. And while I don't expect the world to rearrange itself to meet my demands, I also no longer believe it's acceptable that I have to change myself to fit in. Exploring the neurodiverse label has helped me to stop gaslighting myself. It's helped me figure out how to show up authentically, and how to make space for others to do the same too.

Will I pursue an official diagnosis? I'm not planning to any time soon, because I don't know whether it would add value to my life at this point. But regardless, I want to continue my journey reflecting, learning, and being profoundly accepting of myself and others.

a sign saying "my brain has too many open tabs" is surrounded by a white ceramic mug with coffee, two cupcakes and a pumpkin
Photo by That's Her Business / Unsplash