My neurodivergence journey
If you read the new page I added to my blog site when I started writing about Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility, Allyship, and Covering, you may have noticed that I referred to myself as neurodivergent in that blog. In case you don't know what that means, Oxford Languages defines it as "differing in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal". This might leave you still wondering, but I am going to explain the journey I have been on for the last few months (and life for that matter) in this blog.
I've been undergoing a full psychological evaluation for the past month or so and have been pretty distant and running under the radar, so to speak. Let's just say the process is exhausting, not just mentally, but emotionally, and dare I say physiologically.
In case you are wondering what a full psychological evaluation might include for an adult, let me explain. The process started with a 30-minute consultation to understand what I was looking for and what I wanted to get out of the evaluation. For me, I wanted the full gambit to be analyzed. Autism, ADHD, PTSD, Personality disorders, Mood disorders, and anything else I had never heard of before (these are all things that would make a person "neurodivergent"). I knew that I was different and already identified as neurodivergent, but was missing a more precise/accurate diagnosis. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my early teenage years, and long since denied that diagnosis, but I knew there was something. Through a lot of reading I had formed my own hypothesis and through recent care from other psychologists and therapists, additional possibilities had been piled on.
One key question I was asked during this initial consultation was why I wanted to be evaluated. I think this is one of the most important things I convey to you. I wanted to know for myself what this thing was I feeling, why I struggled, and why I have always felt different. I explained that I have sought every medical treatment known to man to help combat fatigue and gut issues and maybe there was another answer that was not physiological but rather neurological. But more importantly, I wanted to use the diagnosis to do two things. One is to help find treatments designed for adults with a similar diagnosis to help me work on some personal traits that I CHOOSE to change, and the second is to use my experience and diagnosis to be a voice; to help explain neurodivergence and how to be a better ally to the world. While I hope that my following might grow so I can have a bigger reach through this process, I already have a great community behind me in this crazy little world of Dynamics 365.
The psychologist performing this evaluation went on to explain the process which would involve a series of self-evaluations (17 to be exact), interviews with me in person, some testing, and gathering of other people's perspectives from people that are close to me (surveys and questions to my close friends and family and care providers.) The day before my first 90-minute evaluation I was sent 12 of those evaluations. Let's just say that was overwhelming in and of itself. I'm not sure if it was a test or what...but I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning trying to complete them. Full disclosure I failed, I only completed 11 of 12 surveys/self-assessments. But have no fears, I woke up early to finish the last one and get them all sent to the psychologist before our first call. We spent nearly 8 hours together in total over three meetings. She sent four additional surveys before our second meeting and one more after our last meeting which is the survey that was sent to my family for comparison to my self-assessment. During the in-person interview, I had to take what I imagine are considered cognitive tests. One was visual and letter-based, another was visual and pattern-based, one was a storytelling exercise and another was an auditory sequencing type test.
Our last meeting was also in person and I was provided my official diagnosis with lots of explanations, handouts, time for questions and answers, and next steps. So drumroll, please...
I am autistic (also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD)
I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
But most importantly, especially for those of you who know me personally,
I'm still the same AMAZING Rachel.
These diagnoses are not what defines me. But, these diagnoses are what make me neurodivergent. I will explore each of these along with traits I experience personally more in future blogs. With that being said I want to say in my loud voice (those of you who know me personally, know what I am talking about)
I AM SO MUCH MORE THAN THESE WORDS.
But I hope that we can all learn from the words and grow from these words.
|My identity cloud|
If you know me personally and are thinking to yourself "but you seem normal" I guess I should thank you and explain that masking or covering are very real things. Masking or covering is exhausting and I hope to be able to bring my full self more of the time. But I might also encourage you to just remove the word "normal" from your vocabulary. The word is so subjective and just brings hate and discrimination in my opinion. We'll save that topic for another day though.
If you thought to yourself (or have ever thought this about someone else) "but you don't look autistic" (or ADHD or fill in the blank with just about any diagnosis), then I encourage you to stop and think. Answer the question "what does an autistic person look like?". Sometimes the struggles are inside and not visible. Not all disabilities are visible. If you don't know the mental health state of a person, use caution when asking probing questions, you never know what they are struggling with and what might set a person off. I'd like to think that you don't want to be the "straw that broke the camel's back" by asking a person who is struggling with depression, for example, a question that leads to that person attempting suicide. I will be exploring common myths in upcoming blogs, but want to simply say this:
If you met one person on the autism spectrum, then you have met one person on the autism spectrum.
On the flip side of this don't say things like, well we're all on the spectrum these days. (I recently learned that this is referred to as gaslighting. I will likely take this topic up in future blogs.) Although you might mean well, it feels like you are dismissing my differences and struggles.
So, I leave you with a few final thoughts today. I hope you will join me on this journey as I learn more about myself and share ways you can be a better ally and learn more about this neurodivergence thing. It's ok to ask questions, and I encourage you to do so. I also hope that you will choose kindness. I choose kindness.
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