**Content warning: Brief reference to the writer's experiences with severe depression and anxiety.**
It all started with a snowcone shack.
It was my second-ever job, a chill gig two minutes away from my house. Sure, I was the lots-of-book-sense-but-no-common-sense type, but where the application said: "Why Should We Hire You?" I said that I was a hard worker and tried my utmost to learn new things. When I got the job, I put on my required rubber gloves, my big-girl panties, and got down to the dirty work.
.... And it was very, very messy.
Soon after starting work (I worked the register because my hands weren't fast or nimble enough to do the actual work of making snowcones), I found that touching the slick snowcone cups, crisp napkins, and grimy money—Don't worry, I used Germ-x!—in quick succession made me cringe. When I was asked to add new ice to the machine, I winced from the sharp feel of the frigid block.
Not only was the speed debilitating to my slow, careful mind and body, but I literally caught myself flinching away from many of the sounds and feels that gave the cool little place its busy buzz.
And that was before I met the boy.
This part of the story I won't go into much—I've already written and ruminated about it enough—but when I fell head-over-heels for a regular customer, my coming-of-age journey to find myself was kick-started, and not just by your typical first-romance-I-really-know-myself-now feelings.
During the time I spent with him, I realized that there was a very small and select group of people with whom I could truly be .... well, myself. And it wasn't for a lack of "getting out there."
No. In high school and some of college, I was the poster-child social butterfly, incessantly fluttering around many diverse social tribes. By late high school I had realized that I was not just a square-shaped, but a spiral-shaped-peg amidst circle-shaped holes:
Not only was I fundamentally different from most of the other personalities I met, but I was also a chameleon—and not the kind that can easily slide into any habitat.
I could fit in many places while I was there, but I didn't seem to truly fit in anywhere. Not only did I struggle socially, but despite being a straight-A student and sharp as a tack with language, I was almost always the last person in the room to turn in a test, and I spent nearly every school-year evening cloistered in my upstairs room doing my homework until it was time to go to bed, isolating myself from my friends and family because I just couldn't seem to achieve what I wanted and enjoy life at the same time. At least not without tearful episodes of fear and anxiety.
After pulling through a tumultuous high school experience thanks to loads of family and friend support, I was thrilled to be going to my dream college, a big state university. I was excited to start Honors College coursework and to conduct the Freshman Research Scholar project that I knew would just make my career (and maybe my life).
But, although on the surface my eyes gleamed with dreams of academic success and even prowess, inside the lion was a tiny kitten, mewling and desperate for some simple pleasure and companionship. For real life outside this daily grindiest-grind of work that seemed to be the only way, I was able to function in order to reach any sort of a goal.
It wouldn't be until after a second—and even scarier— a bout of severe depression and anxiety had passed that I would start to find the answers that would better explain my up-'til-then seemingly terribly tangled and unruly work and personal life. I worked so hard, but I could never get very far very fast on anything.
I had so much passion and drive for anything I pursued (even boys, for that matter, to my embarrassed demise), but I often stopped working towards my smaller goals and hobbies soon after I started. Why did this happen so consistently? Why did I worry so much? Why did I cut myself down? Why did I set out to do something, only to find myself sabotaging my very own steps as I made my way?
About five months after starting psychiatric treatment for my chronic depression and anxiety, I finally visited the disability center at my college at my advisor's and professor's recommendation. After years of wondering "Why me?", I got an almost immediate answer from a woman with curly black hair and a kind smile—I very likely had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Me, ADHD? Star student? Precocious three-year-old who dictated nearly 100 construction-paper "books" to my mother before I could even write a sentence? Constantly imagining, unrestrainedly restless, easily agitated, successful-but-super-scattered, hair-brained...
With this idea finally came the key. People with ADHD weren't dumb; their brains were just wired a little differently. Wired to think in layers and spirals, to find patterns, to be excitable. To be creative. They weren't untrainable—they were thinkers, artists, innovators, game-changers. I was one of them.
I just had to find a way to harness my own powers.
Better yet, the moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety I had experienced nearly my whole life could be the result of a constantly-active mind. And if I could get the treatment and tools to calm down those whirring wheels, I would likely start to feel life-changingly better.
I mean, still me, because I'll always have depression and anxiety and ADHD, but with the mental health resources available to me I can definitely learn to feel better being me.
Besides learning that I had a decent level of ADHD, I soon learned that I had "traits of Asperger's." Now, I'm still doing my research on this way of knowing the world*, but I find myself strongly identifying with and loving this little word that describes how my brain works—and thus, how I do life.
I'm smart, but I process the world differently, especially when it comes to senses. Inside my mind lives an iridescent and dancing world, but the lights of the outside world are often too bright; I am easily overstimulated by loud crowds and long periods of complicated activity.
I find myself unthinkingly fidgeting with my fingers, my face, my jewelry, and other available objects to calm and ground myself. I've always liked to smell things, and it turns out I can benefit from aromatherapy. I like pressure and find that I can focus better on a task if I am feeling a small amount of pain (this could have to do with my ADHD).
I like to squeeze my shoulder against my bed or hug a pillow to my chest to fall asleep, and I've often used a blanket even during summertime. And all that trouble with those social situations? Don't even get me started on the answers Asperger's has for me in that department. Let's just say my spiral-in-a-circle-world, kooky-chameleon life all started to make sense.
So, these are all things that make me, me: distractible, fussy, often grumpy and restless me; but also dreamy, focused, and on good days gifted and ready-to-change-the-world me. I'm different, but for the first time in my life, I have accepted it, because now I know how.
For we humans, fear is often the result of the unknown: Whether it be a new person, a certain place or experience, or even a way of life, we often feel apprehensive when we don't quite know what is going on. But, knowledge is power—and the difference between being afraid and being a friend.
So go out there. Learn something about yourself, about a friend. Change fear into friendship. Be knowledgeable. Be kind.
*One of my favorite things that my favorite professor, Dr. Katherine Hallemeier, says/writes to refer to the fact that multiple and diverse perspectives are at play in the world we all live in.
You can also check out my article specifically on my experience with depression and anxiety
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