Growing up, I had a brother with ADHD. He spent his life being labelled as the difficult child/pupil/person because of it. I was constantly hearing my parents tell him he can’t use it as an excuse, meanwhile telling me not to copy him in things because ‘he can’t help it’. Finding a school to help him was a constant struggle, most labelled him as too bright to receive any help. Any private schools my parents looked in to decided that a child with ADHD would be too ‘difficult’. This was a shame as the hope was that smaller classes would help my brother to focus. In essence, I was always led to believe that have a formal diagnosis was a hindrance to life.
I have always struggled with friendships and fitting in. Part of me felt it was because I didn’t have anyone to learn from. My parents expected me to act like the older sibling to my brother, despite being younger, and not follow his example.
A decision was made to change the school I was attending at the age of 11. I went to a private all girls school instead of the state co-ed. The bullies I had encountered up till now were mostly boys. I assumed because of this that an all girls school would be ideal. Boy was I wrong, I didn’t realise at the time how bitchy and backstabbing girls could be, but it didn’t take long. I started to think maybe there was something wrong with me. Being corrected and getting in to trouble was commonplace for me. Everybody else seemed to find it easy to fit in and stay out of trouble. This made me think the problem was just me and not just the fact I had always been seen as my brother’s sister. These people didn’t know my brother, so they were only judging me on my actions.
As a teenager I struggled with English and writing. I was assessed by a neuropsychologist because dyslexia and learning difficulties were suspected. The results of the assessment showed comprehension problems. The school issued me academic help and I was allowed extra time in exams. This seemed like a real positive but it ultimately wasn’t the help I needed. Yes I was getting help academically, but I was still struggling socially and emotionally. This began to take a toll on me.
At the age of 14 I started self harming, and this is yet to stop. I was in and out of therapy and CAMHS for the next 4 years. I applied for DSA (disabled student allowance) while applying to university, this would give me extra time in exams and extra help. For this it required a post-16 assessment so off I went again to the neuropsychologist. I got to see the new report, and also the old one this time around. The report stated I was very likely on the spectrum due to autistic traits as well the comprehension issues. This explained to me why I had more difficulties at understanding social cues than others and so was a relief to hear. However, I was annoyed that the old report had said the same and I’d never been informed.
Now before you go off saying what multiple people have said to me, “But what good will having the diagnosis do if you already think you have it anyway?”.
Well, emotionally, A LOT. There might be a reason for me struggling. It isn’t just can’t do it and should be able to. It means that the internal struggle of blaming myself can die down a bit, I can give myself a bit of a break. The fact I find things difficult is not entirely my fault. I can move the goalposts a little now I know I have autism. I can’t be expected to achieve the same goals socially as ‘normal’ people, right? Yes, this diagnosis brought a bit of stigma, and I’ve even had people say to me, “oh, but don’t we all basically have autistic traits?”. But to me having the formal diagnosis would mean a lot.
I was never formally diagnosed back in university so when a counsellor briefly mentioned personality disorders it didn’t mean anything to me. 7 years on from this, I’m starting to find out about Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), otherwise known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It seems to fit me pretty well upon reading up on it.
I’m finally getting more help than just a GP and basic services now. I’ve had a couple of appointments with a psychologist. These have led to a diagnosis of EUPD and a referral for an ASD assessment. Others are realising it’s not just my ‘quirks’, or my inability to cope and I can’t tell you how pleased I am to feel like I’m being taken seriously. Unfortunately, people often think the official diagnosis shouldn’t matter to me if I already think I have ASD. When informed I was being referred for an assessment my mum responded with, “But what good will it do?”.
Diagnoses can open a whole new door for help and therapies. Therapies that have been proven to be more successful at treating that illness. Yes they can come with their own problems. EUPD and BPD get a lot of stigma for attention seeking. They can also be seen as, “Just the diagnosis they give you when nothing else fits” (as my mum proudly told me one day). To the people receiving the diagnosis though, they could be life changing. A diagnosis could be the difference between somebody blaming themselves for everything going wrong for the rest of their lives and them seeking the help the need so they can live a relatively ‘normal’ life.