Labelling The Different

I don’t exactly know since when I was “forced” to go to a psychologist, it all started somewhere during primary school. For some reason, I was an odd duckling. I hated doing anything that had something to do with the Dutch language or Math/Calculus. And when I hated something, it was with some kind of passion. That was when I disturbed the classes. During this time, I still had normal friendships like anyone else. I was more sensitive to pretty much everything, whether it be things like social feedback and jokes aimed at me, or something from the environment such as sounds, smells, etc. Being asthmatic and allergic to things like cats, dogs, cheese, milk, grass and tree pollen made things even worse. I wasn’t exactly a fast learner, unlike now, surprisingly. I guess they had reasons enough to get me checked on ADHD, Autism, dyslexia, and the like.

As it was a long time ago, I don’t really remember a lot of the times I went to a child psychologist. I didn’t like going there either, I preferred spending my time gaming. Pokémon on my DS was more exciting than a child psychologist giving you play exercises and observing you along the way. I would do these things in an absent-minded way. I seemed to be cooperative, but distant. The fact that my primary school didn’t communicate with the psychologists probably helped with building a picture of the absent-minded child. It was like two different worlds, at school I could be the super active, very warm, affective and rebellious child and at the other end my introvert side was taking over. That doesn’t take away the fact that I didn’t daydream at school. Oh no, it was a lot of that as well.

Those were the years when I was 4 to 13 years old. During secondary school, I barely had to visit the psychologist any more. Then suddenly, on one of those days, I got the message that they finally had the answer. The result? PDD-NOS (Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified), part of the autism spectrum. At age 15, they told me I was mildly autistic. It was very strange to believe, my parents didn’t understand it either. They gave little information about it, just some brochures and the psychologist’s report. Then they left me to my fate. It’s just awkward how your identity can swing in such a short time period. I didn’t know if this was positive or negative, whatever I should tell about this or keep it a secret (spoiler: up until now I’ve only talked about it with psychologists and people I trust, besides my direct family, only 5 people or so know about this). They finally found a box to put me in, a stamp they could use on my forehead.

In the beginning, I didn’t do much with it. I was too busy playing vidya games, which was my way of numbing the pains and hurts from other people. I didn’t have to think, I went to school, came home, ate something, played those damned games and repeat. Only when I was 20-21 years old and cutting down on gaming, then I started to think and explore who I am. That was the first time I started to doubt the autism diagnosis. I couldn’t see how I fit into the box, as I only had a couple of the ‘disadvantages’ of PDD-NOS. For those not informed on the autism spectrum, PDD-NOS used to be a diagnosis in the DSM-IV manual (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It is like a category where people get thrown in when they don’t fit the signs and symptoms of other autism spectrum ‘disorders’. With the introduction of DSM-V, PDD-NOS ‘ceased to exist’. When I went into therapy for depression a couple of years later, during the second year of my current BSc programme, they turned the diagnosis around to ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ (ASD).

Throughout those years, I’ve had a lot of moments of ‘yes, this is like me!’ and ‘no, I’m definitely not autistic’. I’m capable of being very obsessed, I’ve spent lots and lots of hours into Runescape and League of Legends for example. When I stopped playing Runescape somewhere around 2012, which I played for about 5 years, I racked up somewhere around 150-200 days of playing time. Can you imagine? 3.600 to 4.800 hours in one game? League was something different, but still. I managed to reach the top 1-2% of Europe in about 2-3 years. I also have the eye for details people often say autists have. At the same time, these things are also what nerds seem to have in general. I can recognize myself in a couple of signs/symptoms from PDD-NOS:

  • Communication difficulties (e.g., using and understanding language)
  • Difficulty with social behavior
  • Uneven skill development (strengths in some areas and delays in others)

And that’s about it, three out of seven. If you’ve read a thing or two about nerds, you’ll probably notice that these bullet points seem to overlap. For whatever reason, we like to put people in boxes just to make sure we can understand them. I can think of a million labels that would ‘fit’ me. In Myers-Briggs terms I could be an INFJ/INFP, on paper I’m an autist, some people will call me gentle, others intense. When I started reading about Highly Sensitve Persons (HSP), it was like I found a good label that explained what was going on. And apparently HSP’s get labelled as autists all the time. That was when I started going to a HSP coach.

Meanwhile, all those labels don’t define who someone is. How often does someone completely fit the label they’ve been given? At a recent session with my psychologist, she told me I shouldn’t focus too much on the good and bad points of the labels. The thing is, you should be looking at who you are, and what your strengths are. Look outside the box instead of trying your best to fit in that box you’ve been given. Explore your life instead of living the life someone else expects you to live.

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