“My Neurodivergences and Atypical Psychology”; November 11, 2021

Living with neurodivergences and atypical psychology have had a profound impact on my life, most especially in regards to finding employment that I am capable of doing long-term (even more so when combined with certain physical disabilities I have).  I figured I’d write about them, even if for nothing more than my own record-keeping of my experiences.

First off are my slow cognitive processing (SCP) and my auditory processing disorder (APD), which I’m sort of combining here because they are overlapped, and there is a chance that the former may be the cause of the latter.  These notably reduce the kind of employment I can go into and even when I was in school, they impacted what I was capable of doing.  SCP has always come through in my life in various ways, most particularly in the fact that I am very prone to working slower than other people in most areas of my life: I take tests significantly slower, I type slower, I work physically slower, among others.  And the more cognitive power something requires (math being a big one), the slower my brain is capable of processing the information and responding or reacting.  I do, however, have the capability to react quickly in cases where little to no cognitive processing is needed–such as when driving or when my body needs to react to avoid a threat/danger.

When I worked at a vet clinic as a veterinary assistant I came to eventually inform my boss that I did not feel comfortable being the main or sole technician during surgeries or emergency cases–I didn’t elaborate on why, but ultimately it came down to my SCP because my mind is so apt to basically “freeze up” or do the computer-equivalent of “blue screening” during times of high anxiety for me that involve notable amounts of cognitive processing, such as having to carry out orders from the vet (or worse, not being directed to do things specifically by someone and having to figure them out myself, quickly) during a surgery when something goes wrong and a pet’s life is on the line.  Fortunately, I never ended up in a situation in which I had to do that totally on my own–I managed to avoid it during my years there, but there was often that worry in the back of my mind that it *could* happen and that my slow brain could cost the life of a pet.  Eventually I had to leave that job due to various reasons and have had to look for other avenues of employment, but I’m just not capable of working a position that is going to require me to regularly process information and respond quickly because I’m just not capable of that no matter what I do.

When I was in school, I was always slow to take tests in every class and subject, I just never understood why until sometime after graduating college I came across SCP and realized how well that described what I had lived with my whole life.  It continues to annoy me, though, that processing quickly is treated as being “more intelligent” and that processing slowly is treated as “low intelligence”.  It’s seen especially in school tests/exams and in a wide variety of games that are very cognitive-focused.  I remember being part of a team in middle school for “quick recall games” (similar to Jeopardy) which I utterly failed at being any use to the team because that’s not something I can often do: recalling things quickly; so I rarely, if ever, buzzed in to answer a question.  It had nothing to do with my intelligence, it had to do with my processing time–unknown to me back then.

When it came to exams, I was almost always one of, if not the last, to finish them, and sometimes outright ran out of time.  I know when I took the ACT test (3 different times in high school because I did kind of poorly every time) I only managed to get through, on average, half the questions in each subject because they were multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble type tests that were timed, and I just did not have the capability to remotely finish during those times.  The ACT exams did not test my intelligence–they were testing for how quickly a person could recall correct information, to which I could only fail at that or at the least come in under average.  The thing is, though, I almost always, in all subjects, in all schools (including college), got an A or sometimes a B, maybe a C very few times, because when exams were testing what I knew and understood about the class’s subject, I almost always did very well (though I had trouble with a couple of subjects: physics and geometry).  I also graduated from college Summa Cum Laude–the highest distinction of honors.  So I’m not “stupid” nor of “low intelligence” and really if someone wants to test my intellect about something, don’t make me do it in a ‘quick to recall’ kind of way because that’s vastly unfair to me in my odd neuro-wiring.  I’ll also note that, despite being only 35 years old at the time of this writing, I have noticed that my cognitive processing over the years has continued to slow more and more, bit by bit, and it becomes particularly prevalent when I play certain kinds of video games or games on my phone.

In regards to my auditory processing disorder, that’s something I’ve also noticed ever since my early childhood, but didn’t come across the terminology for it until about 10 years ago.  This ‘neurotype’ results in me being incapable or otherwise having a lot of difficulty filtering sounds in noisy environments.  “Normal” people are supposed to be able to filter sounds in such circumstances decently in order to make out a particular conversation, for example: the “cocktail party effect”, as it’s called.  I remember my friends commenting too often about me having trouble understanding them in the noisy lunchroom when they’d be sitting only a few feet away from me, and I would also feel mostly left out of conversations in such places because I couldn’t keep up with what all was being said–I’d typically only ask for people to repeat what they said if they were speaking to me directly, rather than talking to someone else or a group of us.

Outside of school it’s impacted me particularly when it comes to phone calls, which really limits certain jobs I could go into because I have so much trouble regularly in making out what someone is saying over the phone–even more so if there is any background noise (even, for example, a fan) on either end of the phone or if the person has a thicker accent or they speak too quickly.  I get so sick of asking people to repeat what they say 2-3 times (sometimes just giving up and pretending I understood them), asking the same person multiple different times during the call.  It worries me that I won’t be able to have a job that requires a lot of phone work.  But I feel like people on the other line just get increasingly frustrated with me not understanding them (which gets at my anxiety, too).  And there’s not really anything that can be done to treat this deficit other than things that make the person I’m listening to sound louder.  I wonder if eventually I’ll have to have a hearing aid for it, especially if it continues to get worse.  I think I might have to go to an audiologist to be officially diagnosed with it, though I wonder if a hearing aid will be a good idea because it could make *all sounds* louder, which wouldn’t fix the problem, especially since my hearing acuity in general is actually good.

Now onto something that I’ve seen termed “highly sensitive person”.  It’s not an official condition or neurotype but I’ve come across it before and there’s a site that gets into more detail about it.  I figure it could be termed a neurotype, though, even if it’s not ‘officially recognized’ as one.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve had sensitivity, mainly emotional sensitivity, issues–I so often seemed to act and feel more sensitively than most of my peers.  It resulted in me basically “taking things to heart” far more than I should have had I been more ‘typical’ of a person.  And I still do it, uncontrollably.  Even to this day, when someone raises their voice angrily, including just on TV, I feel like they are yelling *at* me, despite knowing full-well they aren’t.  The emotional response (which is basically a submissive and upset response) is the same as if they are being angry at me and talking down to me.  My high sensitivity actually contributed a large amount to me quitting my Census taker (enumerator) job last year after just four days in the field because of bad interactions with people at their homes that resulted in me breaking down crying to my supervisor over the phone and having to go home early the last day I worked.  I mean, it wasn’t the only reason I quit, but it played a big part in it.  And I can’t just “thicken my skin”–believe me, after 35 years of life, I’ve *tried* to not be so sensitive, but that’s never changed anything, just like my SCP and APD haven’t been ‘cured’ by me just trying to fight against them and pretend to be neurotypical.

I also, similarly, have physical/sensory sensitivities.  I have sensitivity to touching things of certain textures, most especially if my nails go across those textures–when that happens my mind goes into “bad feeling/touch” mode and I will repeatedly rub the end of my affected finger/nail for a few minutes until the ‘bad sensation’ goes away.  When I’m sitting or laying on something, I can be very sensitive to feeling small things underneath uncomfortably, like a wrinkle in the fabric of a blanket–it’s kind of a “princess and the pea” situation.  I’m also sensitive to lights and generally prefer staying in dimly lit areas and keep my phone/tablet extra dim to not hurt my eyes.  There may also be others but I can’t think of them right now.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with my neuro-wiring or what, but I have noticed over the years that I don’t have the ability to really ‘empathize’ with children (up to a certain age-range, I guess?).  Maybe empathize isn’t the right word for it but it’s hard to explain.  Logically, I can understand what a child wants and I can empathize with them emotionally to an extent, but it’s like when it comes to interacting with children my mind just doesn’t understand *how to*.  My mind just basically goes blank, and the poor child is sitting there probably not understanding why I’m not interacting with them.  I can kind of pretend to act ‘normal’ about it to some extent, though more so if there’s another adult there that I can act similar to.  I also have a lot of difficulty *teaching* people, in part because I can’t seem to quite understand *what*, specifically, they need to learn beyond the most basic of something.  Like, when someone is teaching me something, I love for them to explain the “why” of it to me and let me practice doing it myself (if there is opportunity) because it helps me learn that thing better.  But if I try to teach something to someone, my mind starts drawing a blank as to what I need to do and/or say and I’m apt to totally leave out the “why” explanations because they just literally don’t come to my mind.  It’s like I can’t mentally put myself in their place (empathize) with them, kind of like how I can’t do that with children when interacting with them.  My brain just goes “does not compute”.

When it comes to other psychological issues I have, there are a few.  Main one being dysthymia (chronic depression) that I’ve had since 2009 and have gone through therapy (eventually realizing and admitting it wasn’t helpful for me because I think my depression is just biological) and various medications since then up to my current combination that works well overall but is still lacking in some ways (I’m currently on Pristiq (an SNRI) and Zyprexa (an anti-psychotic), both for my chronic depression).  Depression has been the primary bane of my existence since it started and I’ve only been able to feel decent and well-functional on two medication regimens during this time: first was Zoloft, the very first treatment I had for it, and it worked really well for about a year and half and then I became resistant to it and had to be switched to something else–hence the SNRI, which is supposed to work better long-term, thus for dysthymia, verses the SSRI I had been taking.  I must admit that Zoloft remains the best in how it affected me–I was completely myself and well functional on it.  My current medication combination has allowed me to improve in numerous ways while in other ways I remain unaffected or have gradually gotten worse.

Tying into that last statement is what I call “active” and “passive” forms of depression.  Active depression comes in the form of most typical ideas of having a depressed episode involving an actively depressed mood.  I keep a mood log everyday that rates my level of depression and euthymia and active depression is when I will write down that I was actually depressed on a given day.  Passive depression is a more chronic form of my depressed “mood” that doesn’t really come in the form of my mood itself seeming depressed–I can have strong passive depression on days I stay about mid or higher range euthymic.  It comes in the form, particularly, of things like avolition (strong executive dysfunctioning–lack of motivation or difficulty being able to go through with the steps to complete or even start something) and anhedonia (lack of pleasure).  My passive depression has continued to get worse this year, despite my active depression only occurring anymore maybe 1-3 days a month, and being very mild during those times.  So there’s been good and bad regarding how my current medication regimen has affected my depression this year.

Another psychological disorder I have is social anxiety disorder.  I believe it developed for me back around 13 to 14 years old.  Honestly, I think it mainly came from chronic exposure to people (at home and at school) criticizing me and bullying me, combined with my high sensitivity emotionally to how people treated me.  Ironically, though, around that same time I developed social anxiety, I became much more confident, bold, and comfortable with myself and how other people saw me–it became much easier to not consciously care what people thought of me and I felt free to dress and express myself in ways I hadn’t previously done.  However, subconsciously, I had mild to moderate anxiety over people noticing me, or me doing anything that may cause me to become embarrassed.  My social anxiety, thankfully, has never been really bad and I have managed to live with it fairly well (though also in part because of avoiding certain situations that would make it flare-up worse), but it does restrict my job opportunities because I can’t really stand being in the face of the public for the most part–working with the public in smaller portions, like one or a few people at once in a private space is alright for the most part, but any more than that and I start being overwhelmed by my anxiety and sometimes panic.

I also think I have a partial or mild form of dyslexia or something similar that I don’t know what it’s called, that has gotten worse over time.  I used to, back in high school and before, not have this kind of trouble much if at all, but anymore, I notice these symptoms regularly.  When I read things, I am prone to misreading–often reading things, even multiple times for the same thing, in the wrong order and wondering why it doesn’t make sense.  It happens in short phrases (2-3 words), as well as in full sentences, even sometimes reading words in a given sentence that are below it in the next sentence or line.  I get numbers jumbled up, too, far too often, so it makes me wary of working with money or some other job that involves a lot of number-work (as well as, especially the potential of working as a cashier, my SCP causes me to be too slow working out and believing I have correct the money I would need to return to someone).

Lastly, I’ve wondered for a couple of years if I might have an inattentive form of ADHD, though I recently spoke to my psych doctor about it and they let me know that it’s very likely not ADHD but instead my other psych disorders (mainly depression) causing similar symptoms to inattentive ADHD.  Regardless of whether it’s actually ADHD or not, I still experience notable issues that are similar to it and aren’t being helped by the psych meds I’m on.  I have a lot of difficulty maintaining attention on things except those few things that are really interesting to me, or alternatively, like when reading stuff, being given information in small amounts–such as short posts online or short episodes of TV shows verses movies or long TV episodes.  Plus, if something does really interest me, I can hyperfixate on it for hours upon hours, doing nothing but that other than an occasional five to ten minute break every few-plus hours into it–my mind becomes solely focused on that one thing.  That doesn’t occur often though.

I also have trouble maintaining attention during in-person conversations with my partner and family and the more mental effort that is needed from me for something, often times the more difficult it is to do that thing (except for those hyperfixation times, of course).  I can’t even read novels because I can’t focus long enough to even get a chapter into them, let alone through the whole thing, despite the fact that in my childhood I read a lot–I used to read all the time when riding the bus up to sometime in late middle school (though granted, it was also text that was easier and thus took less effort to read than the novels I want to read now as an adult, so maybe the problem *was* always there, I just couldn’t see it then).  Plus combine this with the SCP, which means I have to read slower and often times typically read things multiple times before I can actually process it, and I’m stuck not being able to read novels anymore nor for a long time.  Though following along with a text version of a novel while listening to an audiobook actually works best for me, but I can’t afford right now to buy audiobooks of the novels I have (and don’t think they are probably available through my library, though that’s something I need to check into).  I also have a lot of trouble focusing on reading something when there is other noise in the environment I can’t filter out easily (like talking, such as on TV, since my partner usually has it on for background noise), which ties into my APD–I often have to read something over and over, trying hard to hear myself read it in my head or basically whispering it aloud in order to process what I’m reading.

Other related attention issues are: getting easily distracted and forgetfulness in daily activities.  The forgetfulness I’ve learned to manage by *writing things down* as I think of them and making reminders in Google Calendar on my phone, which has been very useful to me so that I can thankfully remember things like all the bills I have to pay every month and when, and adding slowly to my shopping list every week as I think of stuff to get.  As for the easy distractions, I’ve noticed that when reading whatever, my mind is prone to wander off to a different subject while I’m still reading and then realize after a minute or two that I don’t remember anything I just read because I wasn’t actually processing it into my mind–I was off thinking about something else instead.  Heck, even when I’m thinking about something, far too often my mind segways off into something usually unrelated and then I’m like “what was I just thinking about before this?” and have to sit there trying to backtrack to what I was previously thinking about.  My psych meds have had no noticeable effect on any of this stuff, unfortunately.

So that covers the variety of neuro- and psychological-atypicalities I experience and some of the ways they affect my life, usually negatively.  They aren’t all *disorders* but they do all reduce my functionality and/or well-being in some significant way.