You always felt a little bit different from your peers, but could never describe exactly why, until one day you were browsing the internet and came across a list of signs and symptoms. You thought, “Am I being spied on? Because this writer just described my life!”
You made an appointment, repeated your medical history to about a dozen people, took a few tests, and finally the doctor came in and gave you your diagnosis. You’ve got confirmation that you are neurodivergent and so many of the things that make you you suddenly make sense.
Take a Breath
Getting a diagnosis of autism, ADHD, OCD, depression, or any of the other conditions that make someone neurodivergent can be overwhelming. You may feel the need to respond to this new information immediately, but it’s important to take a minute to process it.
If you can, take the day off from work. Ask your doctor any follow up questions that are rattling around your brain. Talk through your feelings with your therapist, partner, or a trusted friend.
I didn’t take the time to process my diagnosis, and the next day I jumped right into work. I couldn’t focus and my tics were beyond my control. Knowing I wouldn’t have an immediate solution to my attendance problems, I made an impulsive decision to resign the next day.
While I’ve since come to believe leaving traditional employment is the best path for me, the decision didn’t come from an informed, rational place. Taking more time to process could have helped me better assess my limits, avoid financial struggles, and leave my employer in a better position.
Different types of neurodivergence can make us impulsive, uninhibited, anxious, or emotional. Combined with stress, these traits can create a perfect storm for rash decisions, so it’s best to give the winds a day or two to settle.
Consider Management Options
Once you’ve given yourself a chance to acclimate to this new knowledge about yourself, you’ll want to consider what– if anything– you want to do with this information.
Neurodiversity is a fact of life. There are all different kinds of brains in the world. The neurodiversity paradigm, however, goes one step further and asserts that there is no single type of healthy brain.
What does this mean for you? It means that just because your brain is different, it isn’t bad or defective. If you are happy with the way your brain works and it is not causing you any distress, you are under no obligation to “fix” it, because there is no problem.
However, if you feel your life would be improved by managing or eliminating manifestations of your neurodivergence, you do have options.
For example, I don’t mind my tics when they’re mild. It can be weird when strangers stare, but that’s their issue not mine. If they were always mild, I would probably let them be.
But they’re not always mild. In fact, sometimes they are very frequent and can leave me fatigued and in pain. Decreasing the frequency of these episodes would improve my quality of life, so I am exploring medications and therapies to manage my movements.
The important thing to remember is that strategies for managing your conditions are your choice. You may feel pressure to change behaviors because they aren’t considered socially acceptable or you may encounter stigma regarding the use of medication. Regardless of how others feel, only you can decide what’s right for your health and quality of life.
Evaluate Your Career
What’s right for your health and quality of life may also include decisions about your professional life. Discovering our neurodivergence can be a lightbulb moment, suddenly illuminating the reasons behind our struggles. Do you have difficulty meeting deadlines? Have you been fired for a decline in performance after a change in office layout? Are you considered rude or unprofessional by your coworkers?
It’s possible some of these issues stem from an incompatibility between the job and your neurodivergence. Whether you are unemployed, underemployed, or struggling, adjusting your work environment to better suit your brain’s wiring could be beneficial to you and your employers.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t regret resigning from my position after my diagnosis. In the aftermath, I’ve accepted that I’m better suited to working from home.
I burn out quickly in traditional work environments. Because of my ADHD, I hyperfocus on the exciting tasks and ignore everything else to the point of neglect. Then I’m subjected to intrusive thoughts that I’m going to be fired for poor performance despite reassurances from my supervisors. I also struggle with attendance policies because the unpredictable waning and waxing of each of my conditions means I often need more sick leave than employers provide. (Just typing this paragraph has made me anxious.)
Freelancing gives me the freedom to work when my brain is amenable. Sometimes I write during traditional hours, but more often I’m typing away at 4 AM. I worry less about getting fired because a mistake may lose me a client, but it won’t eliminate my entire income. If I’m crying and ticcing all day I can work in my pajamas in bed instead of dragging myself into a building and having to mask my feelings for eight hours to make my coworkers comfortable.
This change worked for me, but something else may work for you. If you feel comfortable disclosing to your employer, you may be able to adapt your position to your needs through reasonable accommodations. If you’ve been unemployed or underemployed, you may develop an employment plan with a job coach or vocational rehabilitation center center. It’s also possible that you will decide that working is too damaging to your mental or physical health. With your diagnosis, you’ll have better evidence to support that claim if you apply for benefits.
Few workplaces were designed with us in mind, so no matter your decision, it’s important to remember that none of these choices make you any less valid or valuable.
Explore the Community
Sometimes it takes finding someone who has been where you are to feel that validity. Fortunately, neurodivergent people are being vocal about their experiences.
You might not feel the need to join the movement or put your neurodivergence at the forefront of your identity, but hearing the voices of those who have can still be empowering. Check out some other neurodivergent bloggers, attend a conference, or join a local support group. You may not need these influences everyday, but it’s important to know where to find them.
The revelation of our neurodivergence affects each of us differently, but it does affect all of us. Whether you’re reconfiguring your life around your condition or simply adding another line to your medical history, we’re all in this together. Welcome to the club!
Need advice and want it answered in a blog post? Ask your question using our Ask Sam contact form. You can also ask questions in the comments below or just tell us what your first steps were when you found out about your neurodivergence.