Awareness · Self-Reflection

Being Neurodivergent in College/University

This blog talks about my experiences about being neurodivergent in university. I went through undergrad unaware that I was neurodivergent and I spent most of grad school unaware of my neurodivergence. I have still not gone through a neuropsychological evaluation yet to pinpoint which neurodivergent condition(s) I have, and I might not get a diagnosis before I graduate in December. This blog will mainly talk about the struggles I encountered in higher education.

We’re going to talk about grad school first because I didn’t have many struggles being neurodivergent in grad school. The only negative aspect of my neurodivergence is not reading things carefully. I didn’t see that we had to have a cover page for our assignments in one of our classes until I read something for the research paper proposal. That meant my first three analyses did not have a cover page. Probably would have gotten higher than a C if I did that. In another class, I didn’t follow the file naming convention for the homework. It only happened on the first homework, but I was lucky because the document with the instructions said that it might not be graded if the naming convention for the document isn’t followed. I think I just read and forget. It’s happened in two Discord servers I used to be a part of as well.

However, my (then-unknown) neurodivergence gave me the interest for my graduate project (proposal is due at the end of the semester) to deal with web accessibility for ADHD and autism (though I might make it just about autism). There is a lot of web accessibility work that has been done for users with physical disabilities, but not much work has been done for people with cognitive and neurological differences. Covid permitting, autistic people and people with ADHD will evaluate a site in my university’s Usability Lab and talk to me about what challenges they faced when navigating a web site. This will follow the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” that I often hear by autistic people which means that anything about autistic people MUST be done with autistic people’s input. It also gave me the ability to help a friend cope with a bad exam score by giving him my worry stone… which was coral colored. I asked him the next day when he was calmer if he wanted a different color, but he didn’t care about the color since he had a pink shirt years ago.

Undergrad was when I had a lot more struggles in school to the point that I almost dropped out during my freshman year. I knew it was because college is a lot less structured than schooling from kindergarten to grade twelve. I barely kept a high enough GPA to keep my scholarship freshman year (the school’s scholarship required me to have at least a 2.6 after freshman year and I had a 2.67 GPA) and due to my grades, I couldn’t continue in the nursing major unless I retook a class and/or stayed an additional year. Now that I’m learning about demand avoidance, I had some of that too with me not doing some of my homework for a chemistry class. The stress of the spring semester of freshman year is what made me consider dropping out. I was a procrastinator since elementary school and still procrastinated with my lab reports. I kept my high school study habits until my senior year and didn’t know how to study. I found a quote from the book Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg that I completely related to regarding my struggle in undergrad and shared it with my therapist.

…once that young woman enters college… whereby routine structures are taken away – and she needs to depend on her executive functioning to navigate the logistical details of daily life that she never had to think about before – her experience changes dramatically.

(Nerenberg, 2020)

That quote is based on how girls may often do well academically before university due to various factors, but they struggle in tertiary education. This was in the section about ADHD, but my therapist told me that this issue also occurs in other neurodivergent conditions.

Junior year was the worst for my GPA. During junior year, the university decided to make a lot of the classes online. We had to completely learn independently and I’m not good at independent learning. Add the weekly quizzes to that and I had a very low GPA that semester (I think it was 1.5 for that semester) because I failed 3 of my 4 online classes and passed both of my in-person classes. This meant adjusting my class schedule to retake the online classes in-person in the future. I retook one class in Spring 2013 and the other two classes in Fall 2013. I felt like a failure because this was the first time I failed this badly. I worked hard to bring my GPA high enough to meet the scholarship requirement of having at least 2.8 GPA at the completion of junior year. I vastly improved my grades well enough to graduate on time in May 2014, but that left me with a 2.992 GPA. The GPA affected me because I was conditionally admitted to the Master’s program at my grad school which required me to get at least 3.0 in my first 9 credits before I could be fully admitted. I learned from my mistakes and am doing much better in grad school.

I never had (and upon reflection, do not need) accommodations in university, so I can’t talk about how accommodations could help or hinder my school performance. The only school accommodations I ever had were for speech therapy from third grade to fifth grade when I’d leave class and go to the speech room.

I’m not sure how many neurodivergent graduate students read my blog and I can’t find online support groups for neurodivergent graduate students because I want to see if there are others like me who struggled in undergrad but is doing better in grad school. If anyone neurodivergent has struggled in undergrad, but did better in grad school, let me know in the comments. I also want to figure out why grad school can be easier to navigate than undergrad. I know for me, having stricter study habits is a big part of why I’m doing better, but do we do better in grad school because we get to focus more on our interests instead of having to add general education requirements to the mix that we may struggle with? I am good at math, but English and language arts classes were hard for me. I liked science as a kid (but struggled with chemistry in high school and my undergraduate science classes), but hate history classes.

Workplace

What Truly Are the Best Jobs for Neurodivergent People?

Short Answer: Look at your (or your child’s) gifts and challenges.

One day at work, a co-worker said that autistic people and people with ADHD make the best programmers. I suck at programming so I knew that statement is false. This caused me to look online for the best jobs for autistic people to see how many lists mention computer programming. Many different lists had different answers for the best jobs for autistic people, but those lists failed to account for the varying gifts and challenges autistic people have.

There is a sentence I have encountered in autism resources that everyone should understand: “If you’ve met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person.” This means that no two autistic people have the same gifts and challenges. Actually, no two people with the same diagnosis (regardless of if a diagnosis falls under the neurodivergent label or not) have the same gifts and challenges. However, it seems like many of the articles about the best jobs for autistic people have the same answers for “What are the best jobs for autistic people?” Articles talking about the best jobs for people with ADHD have done better to emphasize that the best jobs depend on the strengths and challenges that someone with ADHD faces.

How come these ideas of jobs that work best for us come in a one-size-fits-all package if we don’t have the same gifts and challenges? Well, I don’t know. The articles can be a good starting point to figuring out what jobs fit your strengths while being accommodating to your challenges. There are also online quizzes that you can take that will take your strengths and display jobs that may work well for you. I remember doing those quizzes once or twice in school. It might take some trial and error to figure out what job is best for you.

For me, the jobs that work best for me are administrative jobs and test engineering. Both of these jobs typically have repetitive tasks and test engineers may have tests that need to be run multiple times during a project’s life span and those tests will have you following clear step by step directions. I have also rewritten test cases for clarity and to add additional test steps to test validation. I was very successful as a test engineer, especially when writing automated software tests. I miss being a test engineer. It played to my strengths and I wasn’t being micromanaged.

The job that is the absolute worst for me is software developer. I don’t have good problem solving skills, and you have to be able to solve problems when programming. I can’t think the way developers need to think and there are no step by step instructions on how to do a task. I also felt like developer jobs forced you to be micromanaged, which was anxiety-inducing. I have lost a job and got kicked off a project due to my inability to code. It was over 5 years ago when someone at work who has been diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities noticed that I may have a learning disability, long before therapists figured out something was up. I have ultimately realized that being a software developer is not for me and I have no desire to be a software developer again.

To summarize, the best jobs for me involve:

  • Clear step-by-step directions
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Writing clear directions once I figure out how to do something

and the worst jobs for me involve:

  • Being micromanaged
  • Problem solving
  • Programming
Self-Reflection

(Re)Discovering Me (Part 3: New Blog Purpose?)

Happy 2021, everyone! To all who come to this blog, welcome. Welcome to old friends who may have been here from the beginning, and welcome new friends who may have found me from the Actually Autistic Blogs List. Since it’s the new year, I thought I’d think about this blog.

I started this blog on April 1, 2017 when I was trying to discover who I am after feeling too old to not know who I am. Seriously, people much younger than I am figured out who they are already. I felt lost in a world where everyone else knew themselves and where they belong. The goal of the blog was to chronicle my journey to figuring out who I am and what my purpose in life is. While my first year of blogging found me talking about people and things that weren’t related to my experiences (I reeled it back in), I discovered my purpose in life nearly two years ago and the theme of finding my purpose was dropped.

I started talking about grad school in 2018 when I applied and subsequently got accepted into a Master of Science in Computer Science program. Blogs about this will stop after this year once I get my Master’s degree, but I’m considering working towards a Doctorate after a break from school so the grad school theme may still continue. Honestly, I worry that people won’t believe that I can do it because I’m neurodivergent.

Speaking of neurodivergence, I have been making many blog posts a lot about neurodivergence and my experiences as a neurodivergent person lately. I guess it’s my way of processing something that was only discovered in September by my therapist. If the pandemic would end so I can get evaluated to see which neurodivergent condition(s) I have, that would be great. There’s a family history of ADHD and autism. I have two cousins with ADHD, mom thinks my half-brother was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, I think my dad has ADHD, and I had an uncle who was autistic (he died in 2007). I feel like I have signs of both ADHD and autism, but the autistic traits have a more negative effect on my life.

If any readers were here from as early as 2017, you may notice that I changed my About and my tagline for this blog. As of now, this blog will mainly focus on neurodivergence as well as grad school, with occasional posts about other stuff so I don’t lose my original followers. Will I make a post about being neurodivergent in grad school? Well, I haven’t had any struggles in grad school due to being neurodivergent and everyone has different struggles so I wouldn’t want to make a post that speaks about every single neurodivergent grad student. I struggled in undergrad due to unknown neurodivergence, so I might make a post about that if I have time (I am taking one class for Spring 2021, need to prepare for my graduate project, and will be able to do kickboxing more often than once a week).

Come join me as I take this blog to a new direction.

Rant

If He/She/They Can Do It, Can You Do It Too?

Hey everyone. I have been really busy with school lately, so my constant posting had temporarily stopped. The semester is over, so I am back. This is kind of a rant, but doesn’t have the same raw anger that exists in my other rants. Heck, this rant isn’t even as angry as I usually get.

I’m going to be blunt. I will never be successful in life due to my brain being “differently wired” and having an anxiety disorder that may never get better. These factors caused me to lack the ability to become successful or be able (or allowed) to make my own decisions. You might be thinking “Dia! You’re just making excuses! You’re not trying hard enough to be successful!” How many times have neurodivergent people been told they aren’t trying? Countless people, including myself, have been told that we’re not trying. However, to be realistic, not everyone is able to be successful.

We’re bombarded via various forms of media about “the disabled” overcoming their challenges to become successful. People think “If they can do it, so can I!” But the truth is, you might not be able to do it, and that’s okay. One person does not and should not be the representation of EVERY person. If you think about it, some of what you see is called “inspiration porn”. Inspiration porn is media that portrays a person with disabilities (or disabled person, depending on if you like person-first or identity-first language) as inspirational, mainly due to their disability.

For every one disabled person who became what society deems as successful, there are at least one hundred disabled people who struggle a lot with basic self-care skills like self-feeding, getting dressed, or wiping themselves after using the bathroom. For every one person who overcame their struggles with trauma, there are hundreds who still can’t rebuild their lives. For every one person who became successful despite where they came from, there are thousands who became products of their environment. For every Dr. Temple Grandin, there are many autistic people who require 24-hour care who can’t live independently (like my uncle who died years ago). For every Toshia Shaw, there are hundreds or thousands of women who can’t recover from the PTSD of being trafficking victims.

While I can’t properly define what success means to me (because I will never be successful), we need to realize that not everyone can be successful like the people we see in the media. Just because they can do it, doesn’t mean you can. No two people with the same disability are alike in their challenges. For example, my cousin struggles with hyperactivity and my ex-boyfriend struggles with focus. They both have AD(H)D, but don’t have the same challenges. A churchgoer struggles with language that isn’t literal while I struggle with social cues and social appropriateness. We’d both fit on the autism spectrum (he has a diagnosis of Aspergers while I’m suspected to be autistic and still waiting for a diagnosis, though getting a diagnosis years ago would probably put me in the Aspergers category as well).

So yeah, recognize your own limits and don’t try to push yourself to meet expectations that you might not be able to meet.

(My last month of the semester was quite busy, so my words may not be articulate due to being mentally worn out from the course work)

Mental Health

My Experience in Support Groups So Far

I have been to many support groups so far. Some I liked, some I didn’t like, and some that just did not happen. These stories are based on my experience and should not be solely used to persuade or dissuade finding a support group.

My first attempt at a support group falls into the “Just Did Not Happen” category. In 2017, I wanted to go to a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group for people with mental illness (there is a support group for family members of mentally ill people too). This was because I had given up on therapy back then and wanted to learn tools and techniques. However, the advertisement on a local newspaper printed the wrong date so there was no meeting that day. The support group was usually on Wednesdays and Wednesdays are kickboxing days.

Years later (in September 2020), I decided to join an online support group for autistic people who were either professionally diagnosed or suspect that they’re autistic. This is where I found AANE. My second attempt at a support group also fell into the “Just Did Not Happen” category, but this was due to the facilitator being unable to log into Zoom. I have returned to that group and have had fun ever since. More on that later.

I really wanted to go to a support group this past September, so I went to another support group (also with AANE). I didn’t have as much fun because I had a headache and introductions took up most of the time. It also wasn’t at my desired time, so I switched back to the aforementioned group time.

October 2020 was the first time I experienced a support group in which I enjoyed. I thought that the group facilitator forgot to show up in September, but I found out that the facilitator had technology issues. There were not as many people in that group that month as is typical, so I had a lot of fun talking with the facilitator and other group members. This month, I had even more fun! With this group, it isn’t as structured regarding topics. We introduce ourselves and we talk about things based on what someone said. I learned from someone that I may find comfort in logic because I am a musician for fun and music can be logic-based. Well, that explains why I wanted a music theory book.

Going slightly off subject, I will talk about AANE support groups. This is not an endorsement for AANE and I am neither an employee nor facilitator of their support groups. With AANE support groups being virtual now, it gives people living outside of the New England area of the United States a place for support. Heck, there have been people living outside of the US attending the meetings! Many of the facilitators either have a family member who is autistic or the facilitator is autistic. Not only are there support groups for autistic people, but there are also support groups for non-autistic people who have an autistic partner (this support group is not free), parents with autistic kids, grandparents with autistic kids, women, etc. Events are listed in a calendar format here. These groups require registration ahead of time since you will need to register to get the Zoom link. This also means that your name on Zoom needs to be the name you used to register because the facilitators’ Zoom is set with a waiting room and they check your name against the name in their registration list before you get in. Due to this, I will not tell you which support group I attend. I will also not disclose myself in the support group if you happen to show up to the same one I attend and say that you found out about the support group because of blogger DiaryOfSelf. You would know my real name if I did that and I prefer to go by “Dia” or “Cara” in certain online spaces. I hope there can still be virtual meetings once in-person meetings are safe again because there is only one support group in my state.

I decided to try a women’s group as well! However, I came out of it feeling hopeless because they made me realize even more that an autism diagnosis will cause issues with medical support (they mentioned the problem with doctors and female patients as well as doctors and the problems with neurodivergent patients) and disclosing a diagnosis will mean that any REASONABLE accommodations I would need will likely not be given to me. However, my doctor takes me seriously and the way that my job works, I can declare a disability online without my supervisor knowing. I would probably talk about any accommodations needed with my role’s lead (not my supervisor). I may go again in December to see how I feel, but I think I am going to stick with the group that causes me to have a lot of fun!

It took some time for me to find a group that I liked, and this may be the case for you too. Figure out your expectations for support groups and find support groups that meet your expectations.

Self-Discovery

(Re)Discovering Me (Part 1: The Journey of Unmasking)

Masking is when someone changes their personality to fit societal norms. People of all genders mask their emotions because “boys don’t cry” and “successful women aren’t emotional.” People know the advice “Be yourself!” fails because being yourself could lead to bullying or teasing. Many neurodiverse people mask to avoid bullying or to try to fit in with popular or neurotypical peers. For example, autistic people may mask their symptoms by forcing themselves to have eye contact or force themselves to not stim. As a possibly-autistic (not formally diagnosed since no one here is doing neuropsych evaluations during this pandemic) person who has been confirmed to be neurodiverse, I will talk about masking through a neurodiverse lens and how I have been masking so I can start my journey of not wearing my mask all the time.

Even though I have suspected myself to be autistic over 5 years ago, I was unfamiliar with the concept of masking. Probably because I didn’t start REALLY suspecting myself to be autistic until February of last year when I almost lost my job over social inappropriateness. I didn’t fully have my “A-HA!” moment until August when I switched to a new therapy center and I was asked if anyone has mentioned the possibility of being on the autism spectrum. Since then, I have been working on learning about my gifts and challenges that come along with my differing neurological makeup. After watching a Purple Ella video with my mom, I started understanding that I have masked more than once in my life without realizing it. I didn’t have many friends at my second high school and at one point I had my mom buy me clothes from American Eagle and Hollister because those were the brands almost everyone wore at school and I thought that I’d get more friends if I dressed like them. While it didn’t work, more people talked to me. I was bullied at work years ago, so I now make sure not to do the things that caused me to be bullied. Autistic people are often bullied at school or work. I have tried to hide my anxiety disorder from partners, but that would fail when I experience noticeable anxiety in front of other people. I try not to act weird so I don’t get called weird.

Now that I’m learning about my neurodiverse traits and no longer live with my parents who have denied anything being wrong with me, I want to start unmasking with the goal of not hiding my neurodiverse traits all the time. I want to feel like I can be free to be myself without judgment, though that won’t be completely possible since humans are judgmental. I no longer feel the need to fit in through my clothes since people wear whatever after they finish high school, so that’s one mask I was able to throw away in 2010. However, I still try not to act “weird” because I have been told that people are turned off by me being weird. Being myself has caused guys to not like me (my mom told me that my negativity is what drives men away. Sorry I’m a pessimistic-leaning realist who thinks optimists are stupid). Being myself has social consequences. All I really need to do to occasionally take my “Not Weird Person” mask off is to be around people who like my brand of weirdness, but I don’t do well in social situations and there are barely any online meetup groups that pique my interest.

Autistic people can have a weak sense of self due to the masks and this very well explains me not knowing who I am, so come along in my journey to figure things out as I gain more knowledge about how I fit into the neurodiverse universe.

Mental Health

I Think I Found My Therapy Home

To preface this, I had to leave the therapy practice I have been going to since November. I lost two therapists in under a year due to them quitting the practice. Seeing as how instability breeds instability, I went to another place that had a much lower turnover rate. I wasn’t planning on going to my previous therapy practice due to a review about high turnover rates, but they were the only people to respond back to me when I was seeking therapy. I wasn’t planning on going to my current therapy practice because the bad reviews were due to an in-house psychiatrist that I didn’t want to see if I absolutely had to be put on medication, but that bad psychiatrist has left.

So I started at the new therapy center and it was the first time someone vocally mentioned autism as a possibility. It’s not a definitive diagnosis, but I’m attending a drop-in virtual support group for people with confirmed or suspected autism. I’m only attending this one session just in case I don’t have autism. However, my therapist told me I definitely have a condition that falls under the neurodiverse conditions umbrella, but we will explore it to see which condition I have. It could be ADHD, autism, non-verbal learning disorder, or something else under that umbrella. Years ago, I made a blog post saying that I took a questionnaire during a physical and it was concluded that I have very mild ADHD. My dad doesn’t think I have it because my primary care doctor isn’t trained to properly diagnose and my parents said I didn’t have trouble in school. I did have some struggles, but I was told to try harder. Also, some of the signs of ADHD are caused by anxiety or another condition, so I stopped talking about ADHD on here. I heard of people getting misdiagnosed with ADHD when it’s autism.

Did you know girls present with ADHD and autism in different ways than boys? Studies have only focused on how white men present with those conditions, and some signs of autism are overlooked in girls because it’s seen as normal in girls. Also, I suck at programming and people with ADHD and autism are seen as being successful programmers. I can’t think abstractly like a programmer and I had lots of success as a test engineer because you’re following step-by-step instructions and I do best having step-by-step instructions to complete tasks.

My therapist is going to send me a video to watch on neurodivergence and I’m sharing it with my parents and husband too. I did not have proper supports for my mental health issues from my parents and I need all the support I can get, especially since I may have to temporarily move back in with my parents. My husband is traveling out-of-state for work and our state’s policy is that he’ll have to self-quarantine for two weeks and get a negative Covid test result before he can leave the house. I’m not sure if I’ll have to self-quarantine with him, or if I only have to self-quarantine if he tests positive.

Also, I like this therapist so far. I think that’s the other point of this blog. She is a DBT therapist and she will teach me DBT skills because I can’t attend DBT group therapy due to school and work conflicts. CBT did not work for me and my anxiety disorder is therapy-resistant due to not being identified with a neurodivergent condition. Maybe I won’t have to be in therapy for the rest of my life. She also respects the fact that I don’t want to see a psychiatrist right now and I told her about my difficulty swallowing pills. I forgot to express my concerns about being on medication for mental health issues for the rest of my life since I’m already on a lifelong medication. Also, we’re from the same graduating class from the same university. We were in different programs so we were never classmates.

Well, we’ll see what happens next. I’m not sure what, if any, accommodations I will need since I haven’t had major struggles in school and my current job due to my neurodivergent self.

Mental Health · Rant

Rage! Families Not Accepting Neurodivergent Family Members

Warning: I will be mentioning stuff relating to mental health, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt, and suicide. Do not read this blog if mental health issues or suicide is your trigger. I want all of my readers to be safe.

If you have a mental illness or a learning disability, you probably have faced issues with your neurotypical family members. For me, my parents don’t seem accepting, though mom seems to try.

In November 2014, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Thinking back, I’ve been having anxiety issues since I was a child. I feel like I have other mental illnesses (like depression, BPD, possibly autism), but no one has diagnosed me yet. I have seen three therapists and I am not fixed (therapists one and three were just talk therapists and my mom forced me to see therapist one. Therapist two was who diagnosed me and did effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but has said a few negative things that kind of seemed harmful). I feel like I am beyond help. My parents not accepting me is not helping me. Despite my parents thinking that I may need to be put on medication, I don’t want to be medicated because that will mean that I have succumbed to my illness.

This blog post is inspired by an episode of My 600-Lb Life that I am currently watching. Steven Jr. has “severe psychological issues” and instead of his dad helping him, he’s verbally abusing his son and is not being supportive of his need for psychiatric help. To the people with a mentally ill family member: THIS IS NOT HOW YOU HELP! THIS IS HOW YOU HURT!

I’m the only one in my family (both sides) with a mental illness. It’s like a big family secret. It’s not the only thing that makes me different from my family (will talk about this in later blogs). My mom does her best, but she can sometimes say things that you never say to a mentally ill person. My dad, he’s a lot worse. He tells me I’m worrying too much whenever my anxiety goes up (and a lot of things make my anxiety go up. I don’t have a specific trigger). I try explaining to him about my anxiety disorder and that my brain isn’t wired differently, but I will not explain it anymore. He tells me to snap out of it whenever I have a breakdown. I almost threw something ceramic at his head. I have threatened suicide many times, but my parents only took me seriously once (never went to the hospital because of it, since I was 21. I’d permanently hate my parents again if they involuntarily committed me). My dad says that people who get off the bridge instead of jumping to kill themselves didn’t really want to kill themselves. YES THEY FUCKING DID! MY BROTHER SAVED SOMEONE FROM SUICIDE THE NIGHT BEFORE MY COLLEGE GRADUATION! DOES MY DAD NOT CARE THAT MY BROTHER GAVE A FUCK ABOUT A SUICIDAL PERSON WHILE HE GIVES NO FUCKS ABOUT SUICIDAL PEOPLE?! HUH?! My dad is also a victim blamer.

PEOPLE! LACK OF ACCEPTANCE LEADS TO SUICIDE!

I know my mental health will improve when I finally move out of my parents’ house, but dad said it will get worse. I am bullied into staying with my parents. I feel like will likely never get out. I even told my dad that I know that I’m not the perfect child that he wanted. Sometimes, I think he wanted another son. I feel like I’m trapped. I feel like people are about to give up on me. I kind of already gave up on myself.

Remember, lack of acceptance leads to suicide, and it would suck for a family member to be what breaks you in the end.