Are labels all that necessary? This is the question I have found myself asking throughout my journey in exploring what identity means to me.
After being diagnosed with dyspraxia in primary school, I became aware that my difference between the other girls on the playground was not merely that I preferred football to cat’s cradle, or that I would rather talk to the teachers than engage with my peers, but rather there was ‘something wrong with me’. I was given educational assistance tools such as a writing slope and weighted wristband, which only worked to highlight this difference in a class where I was already picked on for my intelligence and ‘tomboyish’ personality.
Once at high school, I began a long journey of self-exploration, especially in relation to neurodivergence. I discovered the misconceptions of ADHD and found I displayed many of the traits related to the female diagnosis – such as hyper-sensitivity to noise, emotional instability, starting but never finishing projects, sleep difficulty and a lack of verbal filter – and was finally informally diagnosed during GCSE study. This meant that I was gifted the comfort of understanding myself more without the long process of testing in order to acquire medication.
Many traits of both conditions overlap and often feature comorbid mental health conditions or tendencies such as addiction, anxiety and depression, all of which are also often much more arduous for women and those assigned female at birth (AFAB) to get diagnosed with or even be taken seriously for. The history of ‘hysteria’ in ‘mad women’ as opposed to the more clinical ‘melancholy’ of men still prevails in attitudes today, where even professionals rush to blame ordinary hormonal shifts or heightened emotional sensitivity. A close AFAB friend, who was recently diagnosed with BPD, described the process as ‘long, complicated and demeaning’ echoing my own experience that ‘as a woman you get dismissed’
I am now confident in my identity and my presence in the world, though I still have struggles to work through, including the everyday battle between gender dysphoria against sensory comfort in tasks such as getting dressed due to fabric texture. When such tasks trigger reactions such as panic attacks, it reminds me how constrained I am in my small section of the Venn diagram of societal and medical labels, and I am becoming better at reminding myself that, as Taylor Swift says, ‘I want to be defined by the things that I love’ not a series of medical terms, symptoms or societal labels.
I am what I do and what I love and do not exist for others to try to make sense of or compartmentalise. I am multifaceted, forever changing and growing and am proud of my progress to self-acceptance. I am also hopeful for system change to help others stuck in an intersection or constrained by labels.