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How can neurodiversity impact people*?

Updated: Jun 12

Growing up as an undiagnosed neurodivergent female, I learned that I was wrong quite a lot. I learned that I needed to pretend to be something I wasn’t quite a lot. I learned that what I did was often laughed at and my very sensitive feelings were often treated with contempt.


I learned to hate being called sensitive and that I often felt hurt or that I was going to cry. Instead I’d get angry, which also wasn’t acceptable, and eventually turned inwards constantly berating myself for not being what I was “supposed” to be.


I wasn’t much interested in makeup and fashion beyond trying to be accepted. Whatever I did try didn’t seem to work and fitting in felt like a full time job as a teenager. I was always tired and very in my feelings.


In reality, and with the benefit of much hindsight, I can see how some of these things happen to most girls and woman (see the Barbie speech). Many girls are taught to look after people, be appeasing and pacifying. So we try to be “good girls” and stuff our feelings away.


For those of us with neurodivergent conditions, the heightened sensitivity makes it all so much harder.


Trying to be acceptable or to present ourselves as what people are expecting from us (also know as masking) drains our energy and leave us more susceptible to losing our shit. Whether that’s in anger, having a tantrum, crying for hours or just crawling into bed at the first opportunity, it’s exhausting.


It takes such a toll on us emotionally and physically so that doing it every day means we’re more likely to experience burnout and experience it early.


We’re more likely to get addicted to things like drinking and drugs to get us through situations or times in our lives. Just to make things nicer when we’ve got a head full of noise.


Every neurodivergent is not the same but some typical experiences include:


·         Noisy heads constantly “what-if-ing” about every situation

·         Sensitivity to noise, heat, cold, materials, smells, tastes

·         Periods of intense focus

·         Lack of focus

·         Impulsivity

·         Rigid rule-following (these rules can be of our own making)

·         Difficulty finding motivation, particularly when tasks don’t make sense

·         Anxiety


Neurotypical people (those who don’t fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity) may also experience some of these things as well but what makes them diagnosable is the intensity and frequency of them.


In girls and women, they are often hidden more. I think partly because we’re socialised that way but maybe there are other differences as well. For example, a lot of the hyperactivity in ADHD is internalised (because we have to sit still and be nice) and can easily end up contributing to anxiety.


I experienced so much anxiety from when I was about 16 years old until my mid-late thirties. I had a lot of panic attacks and I didn’t sleep very well because I was busy worrying and thinking about EVERYTHING. I drank a lot and didn’t realise that was having an effect too.


People around me (except my closest friends) wouldn’t have known that. They would have known someone who was pretty mardy, shouted a bit, was unreliable for social activities, eating dinner out was hit or miss until I realised I didn’t HAVE to order 3 courses just to look like things were ok.


There was a lot of trying to fit in and it not working that well anyway. My favourite place was my bedroom. It was quiet, I could lie down and let things go. Or watch TV and distract myself until I felt a little calmer. That often took hours.


I know now that some (or most) of this was a trauma response. The difference between being fully accepted in every way and being expected to be a human being that looked a certain way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming anyone for this – I know it’s the way that people were brought up and what they expected.


Breaking out of the known way of being is hugely difficult too. Humans are designed to fit in – without community and connection as cave-people, we wouldn’t have survived very long. That survival instinct is still going strong and I feel it every time I want to do something that goes against what I’ve internalised.


Like bringing attention to myself!


Yet here I am, bringing attention to myself. And neurodiversity. And women in general. It’s not always easy and with a load of coaching, learning about trauma and my brain, a bit of practice, it gets easier.


💖 I want you to know that you’re not “wrong” or “unfixable”, no matter what’s happened.

💖 I want you to know that you don’t have to be at the mercy of your brain (and particularly anxiety).

💖 I want you to know that you’re not alone.

💖 I want you to know you are more than a set of traits or a condition.

💖 I want you to know that change is possible.

💖 I want you to know it may not be easy.

💖 I want you to know that it might take practice.

💖 I want you to know it’s still worth trying.

💖 I want you to know that there is hope and light and love.


Life isn’t easy for a lot of people, maybe even for everyone sometimes. Learning to be kind to yourself and take care of yourself is really important, particularly if you have a noisy, neurodivergent brain.


This has been a long list of hardships but finally getting a diagnosis for me was such pure validation I couldn’t quite believe it. I’d spent all those years (I was 45 when I got diagnosed) thinking I was fundamentally defective and now I could see the truth.


The things I love about my neurodivergent brain are now immense and on a good day, I feel indestructible. On a normal day, I can just be. Importantly, on a bad day, I can be more understanding and forgiving of what’s happened in the past that’s led to the behaviour or feelings on that day.


The things I love include:


🌟 How creative I can be, particularly when sparking off another neurodivergent person.

🌟 How much fun I can have – it’s like being an innocent child full of excitement sometimes.

🌟 How deeply I feel things, whether it’s love or sadness and everything in between.

🌟 How much now feels possible in my life.

🌟 How quickly I can shoot out a funny comment (I was at a wedding at the weekend and the line “minge whisperer” popped out of my mouth before I thought about it and, in context, it was really funny).

🌟 How much fun it is for me to research the shit out of something.

🌟 How easy it is for my brain to find shortcuts.

🌟 How joyful life can be when I drop my masks.


The fact is that right now, it’s not that easy to be always openly neurodivergent and show yourself in your full glory. There are dangers, particularly for people with intersecting characteristics that challenge people (race, gender, sexuality for example).


Things are changing and I believe the more we collectively shine as ourselves, the quicker it will be less surprising to people.


*I want to note that this is written from my perspective as a middle-aged white female-presenting/non-binary person from the UK and therefore not representative of all people who may fall into any of the categories I mention.


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