I’ve always been weird. As a child, I had a sense of being different, apart from the norm in some undefined way. Some of the people I felt most connected with shared this sensation, and as we grew older, these friends had their “aha” moment when they realized they were part of the LGBTQIA community. I thought, “That must be it for me too!” So, in my early 20s, I dated a smart, funny, beautiful girl who I liked a lot. But when things became physical, I learned I was absolutely, 100% straight. I didn’t handle it well, meaning I didn’t handle it all. In modern parlance, I ghosted her. I was embarrassed and afraid and she deserved better. Somewhere out there is a lovely person to whom I owe an apology. And honestly, I really should have had some idea by then what was up with me, and it wasn’t that.
We didn’t know much (or anything) about neurodivergence back then. Some kids went to “special” classes and some didn’t. And that was that. Anyone who openly struggled – in any way – was likely to get lumped in together with kids who struggled in wholly unrelated ways. That didn’t happen to me. Therefore, I was fine in the eyes of everyone who had a say in my education. If I were a kid now, it might clue someone in that I thought “What do you think happens when we die?” was an acceptable way to start a conversation with a child I’d just met. It might raise some eyebrows that I could sit still for hours, gently rubbing moss, saying nothing, waiting for animals to come around. My certainty that my dolls were going to kill me in my sleep and that Danny was moving around in my Partridge Family poster while I was at school would at least get me a session with the school counselor (I swear, that picture of Danny was evil). But that’s not how we did things then, and I honestly have no idea if I would have been better off or worse if I had received that kind of attention.
I was so imaginative that I could see what my mind created, but I was also incredibly literal. I sometimes still struggle with this. If it’s not a combination you experience, it can (apparently) be difficult to understand. My emotions tend to be enormous, but I have now lived long enough that perspective is in play and I can (usually) stay quiet when this leads to destructive places.
I still don’t know how my neurodivergence would be classified. I often suspect anything that isn’t well understood gets tossed into the big bucket labeled “autism”. I’m guessing I’d get tossed in there too. I like almost everyone I meet whose neurodivergence has that label, and I understand and appreciate a lot of the humor and nonverbal communication that happens in the autism community. Whether it’s an accurate self-diagnosis or not, it’s a community that has given me acceptance and love, and I am grateful for it.
I have also suffered from depression, off and on, starting in my teems. A lot of this was situational, though not always. After sitting in several exposure therapy sessions for my child with OCD (which is neither cute nor quirky in real life), I realized my depression was probably the result of how I handled my anxiety. It was good to understand more of my historical behavior and why my attempts to make it better (over and over and over) inevitably made me feel worse. It also helped my doctor find a good medication for me. Things have been much easier since that happened! (I hope for some similar experience for my kid, but his is not my story to tell).
Add to all of this a frontal lobe injury from being rear-ended by a drunk driver over 20 years ago. My head injury often mimics ADHD, but despite not having the best executive function skills, having huge emotions, and being a bit day-dreamy even before the accident, I don’t think I have ADHD. I could be wrong. Nevertheless, my brain injury helps me understand my family members with ADHD just a little bit better. Managing impulsivity through conscious thought is a whole education in itself.
All this to say, it’s a tilt-a-whirl in here. I have a head injury. I am neurodivergent. I probably have as much alphabet soup going on as the most alphabet-soupy member of my family. I take medication for anxiety, and I am just doing my best to move forward through this thing called life. I am glad I’m still here. I’m glad I’m a parent to three beautiful boys – two of whom I grew inside my body, which was super-duper weird. I like watching squirrels play and trees dance in the wind. I don’t so much hope for the future (especially now) as I simply do what I do. Every day, I try to be a little more me and a little less a disguise I learned to get by.
If you feel strange and separate, you are not alone. Try to lean into your unique way of experiencing the world and celebrate yourself. I hope we all get to smile like the Fairuza Balk as Nancy in The Craft, when she says “we are the weirdos mister” (but you know, not for exactly the same reasons).
If you are a young person in the LBTQIA community who needs emotional support, The Trevor Project is a good place to start.
If you are neurodiverse person or caregiver of a neurodiverse person looking for resources, Understood.org is a helpful place to find this.
If you are mentally ill or are a caregiver for a mentally ill person in the US, NAMI offers regional support groups and guidance.
If you are depressed and in crisis, don’t be afraid to call 988.