Words by Anjelica (she/her) 23, NSW
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As a child, I was attracted to people, colours, patterns, and sounds. I was deeply empathetic, always labelled the ‘artist.’ My mother used to say I was singing before I could talk and dancing before I could walk. At school, I found myself doing the older year’s work on the side of my already busy schedule. I was a multitasker, but not a very good one. No matter where my teachers put me, I chatted with my peers. Eventually, I was deemed too distracting and forced to sit alone in a corner beside a plant.
I remember this because it was the first time I felt isolated and abnormal.
Years of this abnormality, isolation, and confusion lead me to become a fiery, bitter, angry teenager. I forced myself to learn how to perform “well” and “normal”. These years ate me alive and destroyed my confidence. I ran wild because I could not run a straight path. I drank and sedated myself with anything to survive.
In 2019, I carried my trauma in a suitcase. I moved to Melbourne at nineteen – alone, hurt and terrified. My time in the city felt like I was living in a giant circus tent – bright lights, costumes, masks, clowns, and all. I felt dizzy, swinging endlessly on a trapeze. Balancing over the depressive void in slippery socks.
In 2020, I escaped the city to heal. I started university, but found I was more confused than I was learning. What I defined as a structured essay was a jumbled collection of many conflicting statements and ideas. Everything was technically “right,” but not in order.
In 2021, I hit an emotional wall of confusion and panic. After my inevitable procrastination, I hesitantly visited a psychiatrist’s office. I held my breath and tapped my feet, scared of the whiteness of the walls. I couldn’t look the psychiatrist in the eye – it felt too personal – yet I was happy to ramble on about my life, from one trauma to the next.
The psychiatrist half smiled, which concerned me. He put down his clipboard and, bluntly – as if everything hadn’t led to that moment – he explained. I was on the ADHD and ASD spectrum.
I was in complete shock. Tears poured out from me, rage and sadness broke through, bubbling from the depths of my belly. He added his spiritual take on my diagnosis – it was just a label; it did not define me. But I knew it did. Holding the script in my hands, I knew this was only the beginning. Before I left, his parting words haunted me; they still do.
“Don’t be shocked if you experience a lot of grief after being medicated.”
On my first day of medication, I sat outside in the harsh morning sun. My neural pathways produced a symphony of fear. Once the sour pill slipped down my throat, I waited. The blinding sun on my face became soft and gentle. The birds sang softly, and the wind slowed. My heart stopped beating out of my chest and my eyes cleared like wiping down a dusty window.
I could isolate all the noises around me. My clothes didn’t bother my skin. I broke down with my mother when I asked her; “Is it always this quiet?”
I felt calm. My unhinged, constant inner monologue went silent. I realised this is how “normal” people think and feel every day. Clear, calm, and quiet. I had been living in a completely chaotic world compared to everyone else. I finished my university notes – I coloured-coded them. I listened at dinner, stayed quiet. I didn’t fidget all day.
The success of the medication was bitter-sweet. I was free of some of the debilitating symptoms. Yet, I now had to heal years of confusion and its emotional toll. A late diagnosis, like many women, made me fantasise on What could have been?
The psychiatrist was right; I wasn’t prepared for the grief, mourning the life I should have been given. My life improved dramatically, seemingly overnight, but eventually my supressed emotions surfaced. Grief placed a dark hand on my shoulder and carried me into the next few months.
I grieved heavily for my struggles because they were unnecessary. I shouldn’t have had to fight so hard just to survive the day. No wonder I couldn’t connect – everything I was taught about these labels was wrong. We’re depicted as the comic relief in sitcoms, the nerds, or manic pixie dreams girls. There aren’t enough books, studies and places to seek help.
Society failed me; by not validating my existence and by creating stereotypes and stigmas to simplify and dehumanise complex women.
Now, I find peace in the small mediocrities of life. Being focused at work, conversations I can finally hear and understand at the pub, going food shopping and not losing it in the milk aisle.
These things, small parts of someone else’s life, became massive victories for me. I swallowed the hardest pill, and befriended my grief because it was my time live. Exactly, as I am.
Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio