I'm Grateful For How My Brain Works

I have dealt with all the ways I was different my whole life.

In kindergarten, my classroom performance had already gotten me labelled as the “rowdy delinquent.” One week short of my tenth birthday, I was stuck in a tree. And to pass the time, I started having a conversation with myself. I assigned my brain a larger-than-life nickname when it became obvious that I had inherited a brain that was the embodiment of slapstick: Charlie Chaplin.

When I was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, treatments were long, frustrating and full of setbacks: special ed, failed exams and detentions that had me reciting the rosary during recess. My patience and faith were stretched to the limit by the time I was thirteen. I had frizzy hair, acne, and a retainer; the burden of caring for a brain that was disorganized and socially anxious was wearing me thin. I completed therapy, mediation—everything my counsellors suggested. But no matter how many calendars I bought, my brain was the way it was, and it was not going to change.

I know a lot of neurodiverse women shy away from praising their brains—and they likely don’t name them—but mine is incredibly mischievous, and I love this about myself. A combination of bright ideas and quirky luck, my insatiable curiosity to try new things is the reason my mother had to call the fire department to fetch me out of a sixty-foot Oakwood. And through it all, my brain never let me fall.

It didn’t happen overnight. But with adversity comes confidence and growth. Achievements themselves didn’t make me a confident person—it was the mountains I had to climb that did.

It was the tenacity I learned to muster from having to retake well over fifty failed exams. It was the compassion I showed myself when my best wasn’t good enough. It was the courage I learned to draw on the first time I asked for accommodations. The more I had to speak on my behalf, the better I got at embracing the parts of me that I used to believe were flawed.

I also leveraged self-compassion. At first, I wasn’t very kind to myself: What’s the point in trying? Just quit! I would say. The trick I used was to focus on growth. I stopped thinking about the outcome. Each time I got back up; I was better at something. “You scored a bit higher on the exam the second time around!” I told myself. “Looks like we managed to finish it on attempt number three.” “I felt calmer and more collected,” I said after number four. And by attempt number five my bounce back rate was so quick that I didn’t even flinch—I just put my head down and kept studying.

I learned to never be afraid of making mistakes—because making mistakes is how I grow. I cultivated reading with a bit more confidence and spelling with a lot more grace. I have perfected the art of regrouping when my rocket ship doesn’t land. That’s the gift dyslexia has given me; it’s an, “Oops, my bad, let me try something different,” way to live life. That’s why I’m not afraid to shoot for the moon. I’m not afraid to take that next shot. I’m not afraid to try again. I know how to embrace my mistakes and I see the opportunities they hold.

I learned to stop comparing myself to other peoples’ end results—because nobody is an expert from the get-go. Expertise is a journey that’s achieved after mistakes, failures, and disappointment. I don’t look at someone’s gourmet fondue and conclude I can’t cook. Instead, I just start stirring. I remind myself that a hundred burnt risottos went up in flames before that person found their flow. I don’t look at a published novel and conclude I’m an incompetent writer. I tell myself that the first draft is a crapshoot. Then I sit. And I write. And I stir. And I write.

And I practice.

And I practice.

And then I practice some more.

But the best lesson I learned is one I will never forget: what appeared to be my weakness was in fact a true strength. I used to resent having dyslexia and ADHD. Now, am grateful for it. They have made me creative, empathic, light-hearted, and endearingly weird. They have made me strong. And bold. And resilient. They have forced me to stand up for myself. The challenges I faced as a dyslexic student with ADHD taught me more about myself than any success ever could have. Overcoming these obstacles felt better than achieving a victory with no hurdles.

Without the bright ideas, the mischievous charm, and the insatiable curiosity, my life course would have been completely different. My Charlie Chaplin brain carried me from college, to medical school, to life has a successful doctor. I wouldn’t give up being who I am for anything or anyone because everything I’ve done, everything I am, and everything I have is a result of my neurodiverse brain. Charlie and I are a team, and we don’t let each other fall.

I am grateful for how my brain works.