And this is the first time I’m saying that publicly.
As a kid, I always felt a little different. I didn’t always fit in. I tried to fit in with the other kids, but I often didn’t. I experienced some light bullying here and there – but thankfully nothing extreme. Mostly just the standard social exclusion and “icing out” that is pretty popular amongst little mean girls.
As I tried to figure out why I was different, I often assumed it was just because I was the only Black girl in my predominately White school, from K-8. But that wasn’t it. (Or at least, not ALL of it.)
Once I got to high school, there were other Black students – not a ton – but there were a few. But I didn’t really find that I fit in with them either. I was an orchestra kid and I belonged to the TV club. I loved being on the debate team, watching anime, baking, and singing show tunes.
I’ve met a ton of amazing Black nerds since then, but back in my high school days, loving those things didn’t make me very cool. Not with anyone, and unfortunately, not with the few Black kids in my high school.
Getting comfortable with the idea
The first time I started flirting with the idea that I was neurodivergent was several years ago when I started talking to a coworker, now a good friend of mine, about some issues I was having with focusing on tasks. These issues weren’t new. I had found ways around those issues previously, but the particularly chaotic nature of the workplace we were in had made things infinitely worse. That’s when I learned about ADHD symptoms, and particularly how those symptoms often present differently in women.
Because I would never have been described as “hyperactive”, neither I, nor others around me would have likely thought I had ADHD. Apparently, there is also an “inattentive” presentation that was much closer to the set of issues I experienced (like forgetting to do standard chores, losing things, getting distracted, issues with organizing).
As I looked back, things started to click. I was a “smart kid” in school. Learning, memorizing, and test taking were easy for me. But I would often make careless mistakes – like forgetting to do the weekly spelling homework. I also loved to read, but if I didn’t care about the book, I struggled to focus at all.
And then there were the social difficulties that had continued from childhood. I wasn’t friendless. But I had a string of failed friendships – usually ending in some kind of betrayal that others likely would have seen coming a mile away. But I didn’t for some reason.
I’ve learned about masking, or, concealing certain aspects of your neurodivergent traits and how this can be both conscious and unconscious. I also learned about scripting – pre-rehearsing conversations or answers to common questions you might be asked. These were both things I had been doing for years but had no idea they were connected to neurodivergence. I just thought these were symptoms of anxiety.
The joy of authenticity.
A couple of years ago, in the middle of the pandemic, I started this journey focused on wellness and authenticity. The wellness part was focused on sobriety and overall health – how I ate, fitness, mental health, spiritual health. The authenticity part was about how I presented myself to the world and who I associated with.
I didn’t know it at the time – but I was essentially deciding to stop masking, and stop spending time with people with whom I needed to mask.
As I now learn more about myself and accept the fact that I’m neurodivergent – even if I don’t yet know the full extent of that beyond the ADHD symptoms – I’m actually starting to focus on the positives of my brain type instead of just the struggles. I can be a sponge for information (if it interests me) and I’ve found that I can often see patterns that others don’t always see – which has helped me a lot in my career.
As I’ve lowered my mask and cultivated some great, healthy friendships – much to my surprise – it turns out that nearly all of them are neurodivergent as well, and I finally feel like I have a home. Like I belong.
No masking, no scripting. Just all of us being our wonderful, weird, funky, fun selves.
Instead of looking at my neurodivergence as some kind of deficit – I’m seeing it as just a different brain type. Is it harder living in a world designed primarily for neurotypical people? Of course. But I’m also finding that when I look around at my neurodivergent friends I see passionate, funny, intelligent, kind, supportive people.
And I’m proud to be one of them.
Check out part 2 of this series here.
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