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Amplify Blog - Becoming a whole person again

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Amplify Blog - Becoming a whole person again

Amplify Blog

The below is a guest blog by Kit, a QFCC Youth Advocate


I'm going to run through a brief timeline of my mental health journey. I’m going to spoil the ending by telling you now that it is a story of empowerment.

So, starting from the beginning, my mom described me as a wary infant.

And I was an extremely anxious child.

I would cling to my mom and have a meltdown every time I was dropped off at kindy or school up until about grade 2. As a single mother and only child household, I was very much her shadow.

In high school, I became even more anxious, earning an agoraphobia diagnosis and trying to navigate social struggles and falling grades while dealing with depression and self-harm.

At around age 15, I was put on antidepressants by my GP after going through the DAS form.

A year later, my school found out about my self-harm and told my mom, so I started seeing a psychologist.

I started to feel better, but I still struggled in school and essentially came to accept the fact that perhaps I'm just lazy and lack the motivation to apply myself.

I went to uni and dropped out twice, struggling to find the motivation to study and feeling like perhaps academic pursuits aren't really for me.

When I was 17, I came out as non-binary, which I mention as part of my mental health journey because to seek gender-affirming care, I was referred to a sexual health physician and diagnosed with gender dysphoria. When I went on testosterone, this was explained as a medically necessary treatment for my disorder.

Part of this process saw me see a psychiatrist, who, in our brief encounter, asked me many questions about my life and my struggles, and I left the appointment with an autism and ADHD diagnosis as well as a prescription for ADHD medication.

This was life-changing.

Suddenly I had a name for why I had struggled in school.

Suddenly I had a name for why social situations stressed me out and why I've always felt like an outsider.

It felt genuinely empowering!

So, I started taking the medication and realised that if this is what it feels like to have a “normal” brain, no wonder uni and school were so hard for me before.

I also came to understand that my childhood experiences of anxiety and my teenage years of depression could be seen as a result of trying to navigate the normative neurotypical world as a neurodivergent person.

The stimulant medication was like a magic pill that had given me access to true personhood.

If this is what motivation and focus felt like, surely I wouldn't be sleeping on my desk if I tried uni again!

Instead of feeling lazy and incapable, I felt like I could be productive.  

So, I enrolled in uni again.

And I started doing really well.

And it felt so good to realise that not only am I capable of engaging in learning, but I could excel and contribute.

Now we are up to a year and a half ago.

I had come to see my diagnosis of autism and ADHD as parts of my identity, which explained my difference and made me unique. It was not my fault I struggled to participate in the systems that make up our life without being on a stimulant. There was something fundamentally different about me that explained it. I no longer needed excuses; I wasn’t lazy I had ADHD!

And I'm going to pause here because it might be hard to see that I haven't gotten into the good bit yet, because if I recap, it looks like I struggled, saw a professional, got a diagnosis, was prescribed medication, and then started to do better.

But so far, I've been telling a story of pathology, and this is where the paradigm shift comes in.

A year and a half ago, I would have told you that I will have to stay on these medications for the rest of my life because that is what it will take for me to be able to function in this world.

My pathology is not my fault, but it is something that must be addressed. But not by looking at the causes. By medicalising the symptoms and reducing them.

Symptoms that are written up in a book called the DSM that tells me there is something inherently wrong with me.

But the medical model is blind to the psychosocial factors at play.

When I was first prescribed antidepressants by my GP when I was 15, my mom, who was in a rocky relationship, started to pay more attention to me.

When she found out about the self-harm, she realised that I wasn't OK and actively sought help for me and began to talk to me about what I was going through.

And, if you recall, as a young child, my well-being was so incredibly tied to her care for me. Doesn't it make sense that once her attention was elsewhere for a few years, I began to struggle, and when her attention returned, I started to do better?

OK, but what about autism and ADHD?

If we look at my early years, my parents had a dysfunctional relationship and split up when I was two.

My studies tell me how important the early years are, how experiences build brain architecture, and how attachment shapes your inner working models of the world and yourself. Neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology tell me that the impact of stress on a developing child predisposes them to different types of social and cognitive dysfunction.

My degree (a Bachelor of Child, Youth and Family Practice) encourages me to understand the way people are as a result of their experiences and the compounding factors of disadvantage and oppression imposed by the dominant systems.

So, I started reading more, listening to podcasts, and following Instagram accounts that take a decolonial stance towards mental health. Then I realised many of my friends were also engaged in similar journeys of unlearning.

So here is where the actual empowerment comes in. I might even call it liberation.

Because I am not faulty.

I sometimes struggle with social cues or hyperfocus or become distracted easily, but I'm not the result of pathological interference.

How my neurons are wired, and the way my nervous system functions are the result of my upbringing. It may not be optimal for this fast-paced world of productivity and competition, but why is it always the fault of the individual for failing to conform and not the fault of the system for failing to accommodate natural human variation?

You can't take images of my brain and say look, here's the autism, and there's the ADHD.

The difference to a normative neurotypical experience can largely be explained by how safe I felt when I was little. But I am not blaming my parents. 

Children adapt to their circumstances, and how they think and behave arise as adaptations to their social environment, which is mediated by relational and socioeconomic factors. If these behaviours become “maladaptive”, society labels them as disordered, in my opinion. Then we tend to invest in treatments that intend to minimise the symptoms without looking at the causes.

But I have felt the revelation and seen it in my friends, which comes with the understanding that we are the way we are because of our experiences.

I am not a normal person unlucky enough to be afflicted with depression, anxiety, autism, and ADHD. I no longer want to treat my differences as deficits.

I represent one spot in the spectrum of human experience.

Similarly, my partner is not irrevocably afflicted by Borderline Personality Disorder; they have experienced relational trauma as a child, which explains their difficulty believing they are worthy of love.

Our friends’ experiences of trauma and neglect explain behaviours that reveal an expectation of harm and abandonment. Calling this a symptom of an illness does not sufficiently explain it.

These revelations don’t happen alone. They are revealed in relationships and developed in compassionate dialogue.

And it is revolutionary because it is so profoundly healing in a way that, for me, couldn’t be paralleled by medicalisation.

This realisation is empowering because it gives us agency. We can address what we have learned from past experiences and cultivate new experiences of safety and growth.

For so many people who hold their diagnoses like an inescapable and looming death sentence, the realisation of the socially constructed nature of the label and the experientially mediated origins of the symptoms have revolutionary power to liberate us.

It allows us to celebrate the fact that we have overcome adversity and survived.

This liberation feels like becoming a whole person again.