Once upon a time when I was three, about thirty years ago (shit), a doctor casually said to my mum,
‘I think your daughter has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’
I’m not sure what made him to come to that conclusion, there’s a good chance I was trying to climb the waiting room walls (I have been told it was quite normal for me to bouncing off walls if not trying to climb them). I’ve also never asked my mum what she thought of this diagnosis or why she was told this. It was just something the doctor mentioned on a routine check-up. To be honest I’m not even positive she took it all that seriously. I can only imagine however, that being told your child has ADHD with no proper diagnosis must surely plant the seed in your mind and you would start looking for signs everywhere. Just remember though, there was no Dr Google back then and certainly no internet. We didn’t even have a computer in the house. My mum may not have done a lot of research or read much about it at the time, but I know she would’ve been on the lookout for more signs of ADHD as I am sure any parent would.
What she could confirm was that I was indeed quite an active little girl. That is probably putting it lightly. It was more like having about four children and she would always say ‘Thank goodness there was only one of you, can you imagine dealing with four of you?’ As an older version of myself, I can safely safe the world does not need any more Avanthis
Let’s fast forward ten years.
I am now thirteen and I have been given my official diagnosis. This vivid memory of having to take the train, bus and tram with my mum to see a psychiatrist who resembled Santa Clause in the fancy part of Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs, keeps popping into my head every time I recall that period of my life. I can easily picture the red brick house constructed with bricks that had these strange bits of dark purple and maroon speckled through it. They were horrendous! I remember the white painted drains and window frames and the concrete drive as we always entered through the second door and never the first. I still have no idea why we did that. The streets were bright, full of vibrant green leafed trees, bustling with trams and cars.
I remember sitting in front of my psychiatrist (whose name I won’t mention for privacy reasons) answering questions about my love of Sailor Moon – it was an obsession actually – , The Backstreet Boys, Winnie the Pooh, video games, books, puzzles and so many other things. We talked about my fascination of dark spaces and with equally light spaces, whether my imaginary friend had a name – it never had a name – and every time I saw him, he would ask me what I had drawn, painted or made. He must have known I enjoyed being creative.
There was also an abundance of tests I had to do. I thought I was quite smart and could figure out when he was trying to ‘test’ me on something during the more subtle tests, but I never figured them out. I also understand now that I was mostly likely being tested every single time I sat in front of him. There were more obvious tests such as having to press the spacebar when the red dot appeared on the computer screen and having to press the enter key when a green dot appeared. He would ask me questions, but this wasn’t often. Most times we just spoke about anything that came to my mind. We spoke about space, time travel, anime and even about the biscuits that were in his waiting room. I remember distinctly asking him why he had so much white hair. My mum would’ve have been mortified. In my defence, all I can say is that…I still ask those awkward questions.
He would, at times, ask if he could keep some of my drawings to which I hesitantly said yes. It gave me a sense of pride that this stranger wanted to keep some of my art but at the same time I didn’t want to let them go because I felt so attached to them.
We spoke about my feelings of anger and he taught me to understand my frustrations. He wanted to know what made me angry or sad and what made me happy. I used to think I was okay, not all that angry at much or frustrated at anything really, however I now see how so wrong this was. Most of my anger was aimed at myself. I felt so different from people and it felt like there were things I couldn’t change that I desperately wanted to change. I felt my parents would no longer care for me or love me if I wasn’t able to change who I was. I told him I didn’t understand my constant desire to want to be left alone. Not to brood….but just….to be.
After quite a few sessions like this my parents were finally given an official diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and to this he added that I also had Asperger’s Syndrome’ which today is better known as high functioning Autism.
At the time I was put on medication for my ADHD, a very low dose of something that I can’t remember the name of. This was to be temporary as he was going to give my parents the tools to help me without the aid of medication in the long term. He also let them know it would take time, a bit of work and a lot of patience. I was told I had a high IQ but severely lacked social and self awareness. If I were not given the right opportunities my ADHD and Asperger’s would hinder my ability to function normally in everyday life. Making friends, holding a conversation with others, showing initiative, and participating in common activities would all become difficult for me. I would struggle to communicate and withdraw more and more into myself. This didn’t mean I would become unintelligent, quite the opposite in fact, however I wouldn’t be able to relate to people or even myself.
I was never kept in the dark about most of what I was diagnosed with, however it wasn’t until I was much older that I learnt the actual ins and outs of it. I didn’t know anything about my IQ or the course of action my parents were to take. I just knew I had ADHD. I’m not even sure I knew about my Asperger’s. My parents were always open about what I had, however I wasn’t the best at listening so there’s a good chance it didn’t sink in.
Their love, determination and patience was, and still is, truly inspiring. They were told, to calm me down (the hyperactivity part) I needed activity and lots of it. This came in the form of sport and extracurricular activities. In turn this would force me to interact with other children and adults, giving me the chance to experience social norms and get me out of my own head, helping with my Asperger’s.
Thankfully my parents were financially able to give me all of this. Overnight, I went from casually attending a single gymnastics and swimming class once a week to the addition of playing tennis, doing athletics, ballet and taking part in any school event that took my fancy. I would finish school, have a quick break and then head to the next thing. Everyday. Even on the weekends. Saturdays was tennis and gymnastics and Sundays was gymnastics. If they saw me thrive in gymnastics, they gave me more of that. They knew I loved to be creative so I was kindly pushed to put my hand up for all the arts events at school. There was always the gentle nudge to put myself in situations that I would normally avoid or run away from.
To say my schedule as a teenager was relentless would be such an understatement. Sometimes I would fight it all and my parents would still manage to get me to the next event or activity, and it helped, I knew it helped. I was much calmer afterwards, more open, less agitated and simply more pleasant to be around.
Still with all of this, there were things I just didn’t understand. I used to ask my mum ‘why don’t I feel anything for this person, even when I spend so much time with them?’ or ‘why I am not sad this happened?’ Or, ‘why is that person crying? Why do people cry in these situations? I don’t get it.’ I remember saying all the time ‘I just don’t understand this, what does this or that feel like? Is this what sadness is supposed to feel like? Am I meant to smile now? Or cry now?’ I would get so frustrated at myself for being so unusual and awkward and just plain different. I hated it at times.
It felt like I was drifting through life not really understanding anyone around me or knowing what I was expected to feel. The hardest part was when people cried or were sad. I would just stare blankly at them not knowing how to react, how to feel or even how to help. I only ever cried when I hurt myself and it was due to physical pain and if there was no blood or pain why were they crying? I just didn’t get it.
When I would ask my mum about all of this she would reply ‘sometimes it is okay to not feel anything because that is how you are processing it. For you it might be a little bit harder to understand but that is okay. It is okay to be you. You’re a very special person Avanthi. You just don’t quite understand yourself yet.’ When it came to my dad, I knew I frustrated my him. We both struggled to understand each other when I was young. The older I get the better I can see how hard it must have been for him, for any parent really. We get each other now, kind of.
I also never spoke about it with my friends. No one other than my parents. I was too scared to not be normal. I felt on the outside so much that I thought it would isolate me even more. Though I don’t think you can hide who you are. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was loud and fierce then completely quiet and withdrawn, like flicking a switch really. I didn’t know how to find the balance between being boisterous and calm even with all of my activity. Internally I just didn’t know how to be centred. I think this is more of my ADHD, I was always so fidgety. My favourite thing was to rip up paper into teeny tiny bits. As small as could make them.
Surely if people knew how I thought and all the things I didn’t feel, they would bully me and I didn’t want that. Yet at the same time I didn’t care if I was left out because I wasn’t sure how to grasp all the emotions of being left out. Most times I had a deep longing to withdraw to my world of art, books and video games. To be alone. To want the world to leave me alone.
I struggled to focus. On anything. I couldn’t keep my mind still but on the flip side I could become extremely obsessive. For example, in my nineth year of school, I became obsessed with reading fiction books, as silly as it may sound. Book after book after book, I devoured most of the books in my school library. I spent most of that year in detention because I hardly did any of the schoolwork due to reading. I would do the things I was forced to by my parents but that was it. I didn’t sleep a whole lot, eat a great deal or talk much to anyone. I read. For a full year. I became angry. Angrier than I could remember at that time. I hated everyone, I slashed out for smallest of things and just wanted to be left alone. I fought hard when I had to do the opposite. It consumed me.
At the end of that year however, I snapped out of it. Just like that. I was done with reading; I did not open another book for almost an entire year.
Looking back on it, I’m surprised I even made it to the next year of school. To me there were no consequences because I just did not understand that it was supposed to make me do what I was told to do. I even read in my many detentions.
What I didn’t know was that all this was just the beginning of a lifelong journey to understanding who I am. It hasn’t been until very recently that I have become open to accepting that my brain just isn’t wired the same way as everyone else’s and that’s okay.
In some ways it is like I am re-introducing myself to others, people in my life who have for so long not witnessed any bizarre tendencies. They do not see how much I struggle to understand them, their normalcy, and their behaviours. They do not understand that I may cry because they cry but I don’t know why. I don’t know why my body reacts in that way not because I can’t put it into words. I simply see it as an odd reaction that I am having. They will never understand what it is like to feel nothing during rare life occasions such as when my children were born. This is not a negative thing and of course I love them now in my own awkward way. It just takes me time to learn it and express it. When they were born, I was neither happy or sad or jumping for joy. I just was there, experiencing it all but not allocating any feelings to it.
Looking back, I now understand my obsession with books, they were devoured with such a deep hunger and urgency to get as much knowledge about how people behaved. As I got older I watched more movies and tv shows to get visual examples of every day interactions. I absolutely love to observe people. Their gestures, speech, use of language are all fascinating to me. I could sit and people watch all day and yet at the end of the day I would still not quite understand why they said the things they did or behaved in those peculiar ways that humans do but I would know how to respond to certain situations because I would just copy what I had witnessed. To deal with my lack of understanding of human behaviour and the ‘whys’ I mimic a person’s behaviour that I think would be fitting in any given situation. I mimic their words, body language and even tone of voice. It allows me to have a comfortable interaction with someone even though I may not be able to grasp completely how they feel or why. Most of the time I don’t even know if I’m doing all this human communication stuff correctly, but I assume I must be. At least no one has wanted to punch me yet.
Love is a foreign concept to me. I have been showered with it my entire life and so I know that if someone is patient with me, kind to me, respectful, generous with their time and allows me to be awkward then that is love, however I’m not sure I necessarily know how to give it all that well. I’m still working this one out. I do know that when I am with my children my love is very child-like as I am learning from them and mimicking their behaviour towards me. On this flipside of this when they are angry or frustrated, then I can get equally as angry. In these moments, my partner steps in to help. My parents are incredible examples of how to be loving, caring, generous and patient as a parent. I mimic their behaviours with my children with the added bonus of being like one big kid. From what I can tell my girls love it.
Children, I am finding, are the most exquisite human beings. They shower me with endless hugs, cuddles, giggles and kisses that I am now learning from them! When I am with my partner, I love him the same way he loves me because that is what I see and am given from him. Thank goodness he loves me beautifully.
I have spent so long not wanting to accept what I was given, what the world gave me. I was furious with it and myself. I wanted to change desperately, I yearned for it! Why couldn’t I be like everyone else? Why did I have to try so bloody hard all the time. I used to wonder why society wasn’t designed for people like me. Why do they want people to fit into this basic cookie cutter shape when I just didn’t – and still don’t – fit?
These days however, I am a lot less frustrated with it all, I tend to just roll with it. I am still quick to bite, a bit hot head and feisty. The people around me, who know me well are kind and patient with me. Including my children. They know when mummy needs space. I am selfish, impatient, and unfocused. I get stressed easily and it is normal for me to disappear for some quiet. To shut the world out. I still don’t know why people feel certain things, they make no sense to me. At thirty-three my feelings are still childlike and simple. However, for all my lack of feelings, I am quite practical as the emotions that plague most people just don’t come into play. Not for all situations but most times. I have zero sentimentality and attachment to things which means I do not need much in my life to make it a good one. I see this as a gift actually. This lack of attachment extends to people as well, they are no different to objects to me. I can’t change this and I don’t try to anymore. What I do instead is to remind myself to keep in contact with the people I treasure the most because I have the knowledge that this love and appreciation for them is somewhere inside me regardless of whether I am able to bring it forth all the time. I also know what they give me in return is helping me to be a better human being.
I also accept that my brain is simply wired differently to most people, yes I have days (most days in fact) that are quite hard to get through, for example if I have a day where I am forced to be social such as for work gatherings, catch ups or parties with lots of people I get mentally exhausted. I find them unbelievably draining and sometimes it can take me days or even weeks to recover. I need A LOT of space afterwards to just be alone or with my closest of family and even that is too much sometimes.
If you were to ever meet me, I am pretty confident that you would not be able to tell what I have or the internal workings of my mind. It isn’t that I am trying to hide anything, it is simply that I have learnt to work with my ADHD and Asperger’s. I am so proud of where I am today and the small techniques I use be at peace with myself and lead a normal life. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments almost every day when I want to run and hide but for the most part I’m good.