Tag Archives: mental

Why it’s good to know if your brain works differently than the usual

What I really liked about my ADHD diagnosis a few years ago is that I finally understood why my brain, thoughts and actions often worked so differently than others. That doesn’t my brain is wrong, or stupid. But I tried, so to speak, to fit into a round shape while being a square figure. Of course that never fits.

Most people don’t even think about why things are the way they are. Because for most people how things work make a lot of sense, because everything connects well to their brain. There is an average, something that most people fit or meet, and that is what the usual school, work and living systems are designed for.

And that can be a problem if what is seen as ‘normal’ doesn’t feel so normal to you at all. Because you bump into things again and again. And you – usually unintentionally – do things differently than how it ‘should go’. And the weird thing is: most people somehow do know what the intention is. As if a great manual of life has been written, but you can’t read it.

For people who recognize themselves in terms like AD(H)D, autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, giftedness and high sensitivity, ‘the common way’ is not always logical, normal or easy. And that is why they – in all degrees – may have more difficulty in functioning well in the field of learning, school, work or everyday affairs. Not because they are dumber, lazy, or unruly, but because their brain really works differently and doesn’t connect well with things like learning methods, rules, workplaces and forms.

Fortunately, more and more attention is being paid to this, and the term neurodiversity fits in nicely with this.

“Neurodiversity simply means that there are differences between people’s brains and thus different ways of thinking and learning. The standard brain does not exist. Just as we have biodiversity, cultural and racial diversity, so too there is diversity in brains and we call that neurodiversity. The neurodiversity approach invites you to look at the overall picture of a person’s capabilities. By approaching all brains as diverse, more equality is created.” (Source: impulsenwoortblind.nl, translated it myself)

So instead of trying to fit everyone into the ‘common box’, and label everyone who doesn’t – quite – fit as a problem, it can help if we are aware of and acknowledge that there are always natural differences people’s brains. And embrace that. Because we need all types and sizes of brains for a healthy, sustainable, fun, productive, pleasant and creative society!

(This is the second column I wrote for the Dutch site about mental awareness ikbenopen.nl. Here you can read this column on that site. )

Plodding my way through life

(I started writing columns for #ikbenOpen, a site about mental health-awareness. It’s in Dutch, so I translate them for this site).

The idea behind the site #ikbenOpen, openness about mental health, really appeals to me. Because I don’t always feel mentally healthy. But until a few years ago, I rarely talked about that with anyone.

The foundation of my life is fine. Two parents, a sister, a nice house. Sometimes things went a little bit different with me than with others. I was a sensitive child and I could experience things intensely. I was super curious and observant. Asked a lot of questions. But at home and at my nice primary school there was enough room for me to be myself.

In high school (for the time frame: that was early nineties) it took me a bit more effort to do what I was ‘meant to do’. After that: HBO study (college) and leaving my parents house to go live in a students house. In terms of studying and my small household, I didn’t handle it all in the best way, but I was young, resilient, creative and managed to do in my own way what was needed. My life was a bit chaotic, with studying, side jobs and a busy social life. I sometimes had melancholic moods. My head was often overflowing. But that was just what my life was like to me.

After graduating I went volunteering in Sweden for a year and then ‘real life’ started. With a job and having your things in order. I found a job, then another, and it went on like this… I couldn’t do it, the ‘normal’ things that seemed ‘normal’ for many people. Full of hope and optimism, a smile and a tear, I plodded through life like this.

For years I was tiptoeing through life, and I didn’t even realize it. Because I thought life was supposed to be that way. Because no one asked. Because I thought it was weak if you shared something like that. Because you only ask for help when something goes ‘really wrong’. Quite a shame. Because to me it seems healthier and more sustainable to pay attention on how someone lives and works best. Not only when things go ‘different’ or ‘wrong’.

Lots of pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me when I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. It helped me with figuring out how I could get my things more in order. And that journey is still in full swing!

Anyway, it would have saved me years of energy loss, uncertainty and hassle if there had been more openness to share doubts and obstacles. Then it would probably have become clear earlier that I have ADHD and then I could have tackled some things differently – with some help. Then maybe I wouldn’t have had countless jobs. Where I kept trying to adapt, or they found me whining when I indicated something, or I didn’t know how to name my concerns, and then I went looking for a new one again….

It would have helped if I, or someone else, sometimes paused with me for a moment: ‘How are you? What doesn’t work? How do come into your own?’. The thing is: I can do so much: I coordinated, organized and did a lot of work, but in the end I always got stuck. Small adjustments in working hours, workplace and slightly different tasks could have made a big difference.

I share all of this because I believe that being open about mental health can make all people feel better. Regardless of whether someone has a ‘mental health label’. As humans we have a lot in common, and we are all slightly different. It would be nice to be more open about that and to give yourself, and each other, the space to be yourself more!