‘What is wrong with me?’ The doctor said it like I already knew. I wasn’t sure what to say.’: Neurodivergent woman shares ‘now’ and ‘then’ perspective after multiple diagnoses

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“I look onto the event crowd and the words come as if the voice was from another. It shakes and speaks of vulnerability, of the longing to be understood, and of the deep sense of unrest that has followed me since childhood. I invite myself to look at their faces and see admiration and tears. I’m here, I’m enough, and I’m okay.

What does it mean to be able to share my heart with the world? The words come, now freely. My heart is open, and I am clear in my direction. Through this, I think back to the years past. They went on and on, and I masked who I was and the needs I lived with, all for the sake of fitting in. Ironically, the harder I tried, the more I knew I didn’t. Rare moments of being accepted haunted me as I adapted constantly to the needs others held.

A neurodivergent woman with curly hair wearing a white shirt
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

I attempted to do and say the right things, and as I would speak, others’ faces would often distort. I felt ashamed of who I was and got the impression I was only okay while being hidden away at home. My social and outgoing personality wilted over many years, and I felt myself fading. I would become agitated then react with anger, and the cycle went around like a merry-go-round.

In isolation, it worsened, and I was separated from friends and family, unable to see any strengths I possessed, which caused my hunger to grow into becoming a workaholic. It was a form of addiction that was socially encouraged, and I fell hard. I started a non-profit, supporting teens with mental health concerns, in Winnipeg, MB. Inspire Community Outreach (Inspire) grew to be a provincial registered charity, touching the lives of thousands of family members, providing inclusive, evidence-based support honoring the lived experiences of families who live with neurological differences and mental health concerns.

A neurodivergent woman stands working at a computer on a table
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

I chose to get a clinical diagnosis after beginning graduate school and realizing all the ways I needed adaptations in school meant something. It meant I had a learning disability, and the wiring of my brain could succeed beyond my wildest dreams if I used the adaptations available.

I sat across from the psychologist and asked if he could write a letter with my diagnosis. ‘Which one?’ he asked. ‘All of them…?’ I trusted him wholly, and he listed the diagnoses: ‘ADHD/ADD combined type, complex PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, learning disability.’

I wasn’t sure what to say. Hearing the words of my multiple diagnoses startled me. So often the medical professionals assume we know, and we don’t, and like many, I didn’t. I was surprised. He had never told me I had ADHD/ADD, and he said it like I already knew. I felt ashamed at first, like saying it aloud would make it true somehow. It took time to have it set in: I was the same person I always was, and I was going to be okay.

A neurodivergent woman runs her hand through her curly hair
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

I sat with the words and let them sink in over days. When I told my best friend, all she said was, ‘Oh, yeah. That makes sense.’ I felt confused and empowered at the same time. I understood for the first time my brain was different and there were good reasons for much of how I was. The hard things about being me made sense for the first time. I also knew then that those in my life who projected anger onto me for being wired the way I was were causing me severe harm.

In my old life, I was hated by those who were supposed to love me, and I hated myself. My self-identity changed, but not overnight. It took time for me to feel I deserve good things and to give myself permission to walk away from those who were actively trying to hurt me.

I jumped from feeling pressure to be silent to disclosing the details of my diagnosis like a badge of honor and a reason to be seen and understood. I feel like it’s my role to push society’s ideas of the limitations of the neurodiverse community. We are innovators and change-makers. We aren’t meant to fit in.

My story is one of survival and learning to thrive despite my life. In fact, I think of it as 2 lives: 1) Before knowing who I was, trying to be someone I wasn’t, and 2) now, knowing exactly who I am and the complexity of my brain.

The idea and acceptance of being neurodivergent crept into my life like water into cracks, expanding year after year. Eventually, I could see myself in my son and in his sensory experience. Then all at once, I was myself and understood what that meant. At 36 years old, out of the pressure cooker of trying to be something I wasn’t, I found the path to thrive.

A neurodivergent woman sits on a couch with her son
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

I look to my reflection and see the beauty that was always there. I have a deep and tender heart, layers of kindness and sensitivity, which can be misunderstood as weakness by many, and even myself. The longing I carried was a longing to be seen and understood, and now I bring that to myself.

I see things differently now, beyond what those around me tell me I should hate about myself:

Then, I thought I was hesitant and fearful for no good reason. Now, I know my previous decades of trauma do make me scan for danger and sometimes see it where it isn’t. The truth is I have thousands of good reasons not to trust people and my environment, and it’s actually amazing I’ve worked so hard to confront and hold tender space for my fear.

Then, I thought I was a reactive person. Now, I know I can become triggered when things feel dangerous to me, and being aware of that means I can adapt my environment and remove those dangerous people or reduce my contact with them.

Then, I thought I was damaged and could not be fixed. Now, I have a parfait of neurological and mental health diagnosis, and I live a balanced and beautiful life most people would give a prized pony for.

Then, I thought I was too busy for my own good. I needed to live up to being a ‘superwoman’ by being the perfect wife, working full-time, carrying the responsibilities of my family as a martyr, and pushing myself until exhaustion. Now, I know I have ADHD combined type, which means my brain and body are wired to be busy. This also means I seek dopamine in ways typically wired brains do not, and that won’t ever change. I will always seek things that are exciting or make me feel good, and understanding this, I can choose healthy and balanced activities to better my overall life. Striving to do will always be part of who I am.

A neurodivergent woman and her daughter with mouths open in the kitchen
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

Then, I thought I was a workaholic. I thought I was selfish for working so hard. Now, I know I used to work as a fixation while my life felt like a pressure cooker, with demand coming from all directions and no power or control in my life. I was seeking people to see me as worthy of care and kindness because I wasn’t getting elsewhere. When I left that environment, I no longer held that need.

Then, I thought I must fight my sticky thoughts and fixations because they aren’t healthy. It might make me worse. Now, I know these are part of who I am and what makes my brain wiring special. There are beautiful parts of this, as I don’t only get immensely good qualities (that’s not fair to neurologically typical people who have more balanced neurology), I also get sticky on things I don’t want to be sticky on. My passion to support the community and research neurodiversity is also born from these sticky thoughts…thank you neurology.

A neurodivergent woman leans her head on her hand in her studio
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

Then, I thought I didn’t fit in and never would. I said all the wrong things at the wrong times and couldn’t get it right. Now, I know I’m not meant to fit in. There is a relatively low percentage of those who are neurodiverse in the world, and we find each other and connect to feel at home. I get along with people who want to understand me or who have different wiring like me. I can’t get along with everyone because no one does, and I click with fewer people than most, which is okay.

Then, I thought I was too sensitive and needed to get a grip so I could be normal. If I could suck it up, people would like me better and I would be a better person. Now, I know I am wired to be sensitive, and there are both positive and negative things about that. The input of uncontrolled or painful things like loud sounds, scratchy tags, unkindness or abuse, forcing myself to do things I don’t want to, etc. adds up in my body. My body keeps score, and the joy has to find a way to balance, or I can become agitated and escalate with what looks like anger but is in fact being overwhelmed, which is called sensory overload.

The truth is, not fitting in was terribly difficult. Even now, with all the therapy to process my trauma, using medication to help learn to manage my anxiety, having a stable and consistent chosen family in my life, there are hard moments. At times the waves of pain are so large, I fear it will swallow me whole. The truth is I will always feel my feelings strongly, and my intense passion and joy must be balanced with hard emotions.

I no longer want to be anything but what I am. Do I live with additional challenges? Yes, and I always will. I also live with amazing gifts, ones I am only now unraveling the magnificence of.

I choose to have those around me who accept and see the strengths I possess. I will not click with everyone, and I don’t want to.

I am a known artist and create works of art to process my pain and joys. I no longer run from my emotions, no matter how big they become. I hold space for the fear, the joy, the rejection, the passion, the power, and the ridiculousness of humanity.

A piece of artwork modeled after a photo of a woman resting her head on her hand
Courtesy of Angela Taylor
A piece of art with rainbow colors coming from a face
Courtesy of Angela Taylor

I love myself, wholeheartedly. I love my humanness, my opportunities for learning and growth (mistakes, which I make a million a day), the way I love, my creativity, and the life I worked so hard to create.

I celebrate my wins. Each success, I pat myself on the back, no longer needing someone else to do it. How do you single parent, live with co-parenting concerns (read into that all you like), work towards your Ph.D., run a charity and live life to its fullest? One moment at a time, savoring the joy.

I soothe myself and flood my system with things that feel joyful and bring peace. If you don’t feel the need, it’ll bite you. Meaning, listen to the needs your body cries for. Love it.

If it feels hard, it’s because it is. If you think, ‘what is wrong with me?’ all the while, listing things you don’t understand or things that make you different from those around you, you might be neurodivergent. If so, congratulations.

If I can thrive, anyone can do it. I even wrote a book about it (Forever on Fire).”

A neurodivergent woman holds up her book in the car
Courtesy of Angela Taylor
A neurodivergent woman and her daughter surrounded by artwork
Courtesy of Prabhjot Singh of The Other Hundred

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Angela Taylor from Winnipeg, MB, Canada, author of Forever on Fire. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website, and you can see more of her artwork here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories like this here:

‘After a life of pretending to be normal, I finally let myself be me.’: Woman diagnosed with autism, ADHD as an adult

The Day I Was Diagnosed As Autistic Was The Day I Became ‘Normal’

‘Isabella has potential…but is easily distracted.’ I am not stupid. I am neurodivergent.’: Woman diagnosed with ADHD urges ‘representation matters’

‘I’m fine! I have it figured out!’ I struggled in secret as I hid behind my smile. I woke up in a suicide room.’: Woman shares her ADHD journey to make mental health ‘less secretive and stigmatized’

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