Open Doors

A silhouette of four graduates is framed in front of a late afternoon or early evening sky.

By Yamila García

Last week, I walked at my Commencement ceremony, and I couldn’t help but think about the path I’ve come from. Coming from such a different place, the campus not only felt scary but also impressive. The schools in my country are very different from those here and, of course, much smaller than UConn. The idea of studying at UConn seemed like a dream when I visited the Avery Point campus in Groton with my conversational English teacher. However, my first semester at UConn in Fall 2021, those feelings began to change. It was no longer a dream; it was now reality, and I felt privileged to be there, to be able to study at the alma mater of my childhood hero and to have the possibility of training academically in this country. The first semester was significant not only because it was my first at UConn but also because it was the first time I started something knowing that I am neurodivergent. I had received my diagnosis a few months earlier and had registered for the Neurodiversity in Engineering class (UNIV 1810). Without knowing it, thanks to that, I had opened a door to know myself more and better explore and use my abilities. The road was long and often frustrating, but I always found people willing to help me. I even had a peer-mentor from the School of Engineering to whom I ran every time despair drowned me, and he always managed to advise me and calm me down with patience. Before finding him, I had tried more than 5 other resources at school without success until I finally signed up for his program. Pure empathy, the best peer mentor ever!

There were many fears, doubts, and frustrations, but I was always able to move forward. Nothing worthwhile is easy, but everything is possible. I think the most important thing of all for this to go well was knowing myself and knowing what I need to make it work. As a neurodivergent navigating a world that was not designed for me, I am eternally grateful to those who made my path easier, but I also know that I worked hard to make it happen. I believed and learned a lot about who I am, how I can better exploit my abilities, and how to navigate difficulties in a healthier way. I am grateful to have taken that class the first semester, to be part of Include, and to continue writing for this blog. I am grateful to the people I surrounded myself with and from whom I learned so much. There is always someone we can count on; if you haven’t found them, keep looking. I know what it feels like to knock on doors and not receive the help we need, but it is not just one door that we will have to knock on to find the help we need. Being constant and persistent is the only thing that will make us find the right doors.


Puzzling Feelings

Two plush emojis smile inside a box covered with emojis.

By Yamila García

Feelings are a puzzle for me. Love, especially, is quite the enigma when you pause to ponder it. What does it feel like to love? How does it shape our connections? And how do we even know when it’s there? And just to be clear, when I talk about feelings, I’m not just talking about romantic stuff. Feelings cover a wide range, from pain and sadness to anger, fear, and frustration.

The thing about feelings is, they’re hard to figure out; they don’t follow any logical rules. And logic? Well, logic is my compass. I’m used to examining everything, trying to find the rational path through it all. But when feelings don’t fit into that logic, I feel lost. It’s like using a map that suddenly stops making sense. How do I make sense of being hurt by the opinion of someone I barely know?

I get it. Feelings don’t always make sense. In fact, they often defy logic altogether. But the unpredictability can be maddening! It’s tough to feel something that your brain tells you is silly. Feelings leave us vulnerable, which is probably why I’ve caught myself shutting down, blocking out emotions without even realizing it. My need for control and predictability has often kept me from feeling what I should. I’ve learned to recognize when this happens, but mastering it is still a work in progress. It’s all about self-awareness, though; knowing yourself gives you the tools to navigate to live a fuller life. A life in which feelings are not something that you prefer to ignore, but something that when handled correctly can make you learn from whatever experience you go through and ultimately drive your next steps.


Multiple Deadlines

Open textbooks stacked on top of one another.

By Yamila García

I have no memory of ever arriving in enough time for a homework due date. There are several reasons for this to happen, but I think the main one is my difficulty in working on several projects simultaneously. Until I finish one, it is very difficult for me to start another. The homework or the work I am doing completely absorbs me and every time I take focus away from it, I feel like I have to start from scratch. It’s as if there is a fear of forgetting everything I’ve done so far and losing progress… Almost as if the computer has no memory and doesn’t save what I’ve done. But yes, both the computer and I remember. So I don’t understand it, I don’t know why that happens like that. But it makes me angry, overwhelmed and frustrated that I can’t work little by little on several simultaneous projects.

I do my work, I do deliver it on time, although with the minimum amount of time before the due date. However, I know I could do much better. I know that by starting early and not just working on a single task until exhaustion, I could use my time more effectively and get better results. Many times I know the most efficient way to do something, I know how to do a better job but my brain works differently. And as much as I wish it weren’t like that in that case, that’s how I am and I can only work little by little to improve. The frustration that always comes is of no use. It also makes me wonder if this is one more of the frustrations that we neurodivergents face when inhabiting a world that was not designed for us. I’m definitely not the only one who works like this, but I know we’re not the majority either. Many of these situations make us angry with ourselves even though we know we shouldn’t. The world around us doesn’t understand us and we blame ourselves for being unable to handle it.

Asking for Help

A hand holds a belay rope as a climber scale a cliff face.

By Yamila García

When I need help the most is when I am least able to ask for it. In those moments when everything around me overwhelms me, I lack the ability to request what I need to emerge from that state. The accumulation of stimuli, sudden changes, or scenery shifts can stress me to the point of losing my abilities. Many times, when this reaches a deep level, I lose the ability to identify my feelings, articulate words, or perform even the simplest tasks that I can normally do without issue. I have automatic responses I can use just to shield myself in these situations, where I simply say: ‘I’m a little tired,’ so no one questions my withdrawal or unusual behavior; this is my ‘unmasked’ self. I’ve noticed how some are labeled as spoiled for struggling with tasks they once handled effortlessly. The misinformation and lack of empathy from those who haven’t experienced it firsthand are evident. It truly saddens me to realize that, in addition to the typical challenges many of us have grown accustomed to, we also have to endure scrutiny in these situations.

I hope everyone has someone close whom they can inform in advance of how to assist them in these moments when we cannot ask for help but need it more than ever. I hope you don’t refrain from requesting what you need just because you encounter those who still view us as difficult. You can even write down simple instructions on your phone for how to help you and show it at such times. Asking for help isn’t easy, I understand. Especially when, for many years, we’ve been labeled as difficult, problematic, or simply strange. However, none of that is true, and there’s always someone willing to help, even when it feels like there isn’t. But more importantly, we deserve to get the help we need.

Truth and Lies

Wooden tiles with letters spell out the words "SPEAK TRUTH."

By Yamila García

One of the things that has been most difficult for me to understand about social conventions is how pervasive lies are. People lie to avoid looking bad, so that others don’t see things that are not socially acceptable, or to appear as someone different. People lie all the time about small, even insignificant things. People lie when they are late, as if the excuse they invented could turn back time. But I can’t help thinking, “You are already late! Don’t make it worse!” People also lie to justify their attitudes. They lie about things that don’t even need to be discussed. Silence is often better. Understanding the world around me is a challenge, especially when I consider how many lies are present in the interactions we have with others. Lies have been a great barrier to understanding how society works and how I should act. For me, lies are not the easy choice; I don’t see the need, and I don’t understand how anyone can consider them a better option than the truth. With this, I am not saying that we should go through life without a filter, or tell the truth in the crudest way. However, after spending so many years trying to learn how to communicate in a socially acceptable way, I believe that many of us can find kind and thoughtful ways to express ourselves without lying.

I’m not going to tell you that my life was full of activities if what really happened was that it was difficult for me to organize myself for a few days and I couldn’t find the time to plan something with you. I won’t say that others organized my birthday for me and that’s why you didn’t receive an invitation. I’ll tell you that I didn’t really want to mix groups because you didn’t know any of my other friends and I was worried that it would make you feel uncomfortable. I’ll tell you that I hope we can celebrate it together another day. Behind lies, there is an underestimation of the other that I do not consider respectful. Whether I like you or not, you’re not going to get that from me. Perhaps, it is a consequence of having been underestimated so many times. Sometimes, other people’s mistakes are so hurtful that they help us learn.

Gratitude, Respect, and Empathy

Two hands meet in the center of this image, in a fist bump. The hand on the left has a light skin tone and the hand on the right has a brown skin tone.

By Yamila García

I have come to realize that I am deeply grateful to people, sometimes even more than necessary. It’s not that gratitude is wrong; what feels off to me is being grateful without acknowledging one’s own worth.

As many might understand or relate, being neurodivergent means encountering a lot of rejection and negative attitudes from others. Whether due to ignorance, lack of empathy, or any other reason, many of us have faced rejection, mockery, mistreatment, and prejudice throughout our lives. That’s why, whenever I’ve encountered people who treat me with respect, kindness, and empathy, my gratitude knows no bounds. I find myself unable to stop expressing my thanks, demonstrating how much I appreciate their attitude towards me, and making a commitment to give back even more, to do better, and so on. In those moments when all I could see was them giving to me, I failed to recognize myself as an active participant in the interaction. It hadn’t occurred to me to consider that perhaps I had earned that opportunity or that respect. It’s as if after enduring so many “hits,” one becomes accustomed to it and even starts to believe that it’s normal. However, the mistreatment of those who are different can never be considered normal.

It’s challenging to reconcile with oneself and recognize one’s own value when we’re constantly being told what we’re doing wrong, how strange our behavior is, or how different we appear from others. Nevertheless, and with absolute conviction, I now believe that there is no reason or excuse for the times when we haven’t been treated with respect or empathy. The times when I have received opportunities, respect, and empathy are because I deserve them. I work diligently and approach my tasks with dedication. I value those who collaborate with me, respect their work and ideas, and treat everyone with equal levels of respect. And above all, I understand what it’s like to be denied objective and respectful treatment simply because you are different.


Predictability Makes Everything Easier

Three shiny black spoons are placed in a row on a light beige background.

By Yamila García

Every time I lose something in my life, I go through grief. No matter how small what I lose is, and although for many it does not matter, for me it means that my routine is altered. I don’t care about material possessions; I’m not interested in having a lot of things or that my things are expensive. However, losing something that long ago belonged to my daily life and having to adapt to a new routine is what makes the loss hurt. It has happened to me with school supplies, clothes, or any element or person that in one way or another was part of my routine, even for a second a day. After losing something, my routine would be different, and that upsets me. It’s not about wanting to have control over everything; it’s that predictability makes everything easier for me.

Today it is totally clear to me that I do not perceive the world like many other people. I so wish I could make neurotypicals see and feel what day-to-day life feels like for me. It is as if I am receiving a hundred calls at once all wanting my attention to give me different information. One tells me: “Look at this place; we don’t know it! Pay attention to where you are going. Why is it so big?” Another tells me: “Do you smell that? We don’t know that smell. It’s annoying! What could it be?” Another might tell me: “There is something shining above us; what is that? A light? Why does it shine so much?” Then another might say: “There are voices! Are they talking to us? What do they say? I can’t listen with so many voices in my head, with so many things shooting information at me, with so much discomfort.”

To this, you would have to add many more “calls,” and even then from the outside, you would only see a person entering a place being shy and looking a little confused. Many of these things are avoided when we know the place beforehand, when we are accustomed to its smell, its colors, the brightness of its lights, its locations, etc. Seeking predictability is just silencing several of those “calls” or voices in my head, receiving less input, and simply having fewer things to handle. As you can imagine, this facilitates interactions, avoids overwhelm and allows me to live more easily.

Ready for Whatever

A photo of a runner on a track. The runner has a light skin tone and is wearing black socks and gray sneakers. The runner is shown only from the knees down.

By Yamila García

A few days ago, very early in the morning, the alarm went off in the building where I live. It was very loud and in the pauses, a voice said to please stay calm and wait for instructions. I was sleeping and contrary to what I could have predicted, I didn’t get overwhelmed. I woke up and almost automatically knew everything I had to do. I took a bag that I had nearby, I put my wallet and an envelope that I had with important documents. I put on clothes and sneakers instantly, without thinking for a second about anything. I am trying to figure out how I did it; everything seemed simple, as simple as if I had written instructions that I was following.

Normally, very loud and sudden noises paralyze me, leaving me unable to think about what to do or what step to take next. However, this was more extreme. There was not only the noise of the alarm but also the fact that it was that noise that brought me out of a deep sleep. Perhaps, this was what caused me to go into an alert mode which, instead of paralyzing me, allowed me to be efficient and do exactly what I needed to do. Perhaps, almost instinctively, my alertness was guarding me against whatever might be happening in the building. It really surprises me how this differs from how I would otherwise respond to loud, repetitive noise.

This particular experience showed me once again that I can function well under pressure and in fact, sometimes I even function better that way. Of course, this state of alert requires significant spending of energy, but it feels good to know that in those extreme moments, I will not paralyze myself. After I was ready for whatever was next, with all my important documents and other important things with me, the alarm stopped. Nothing had happened; the alarm had been activated accidentally.

Feeling Exposed

A man's face is visible behind a camera lens.

By Yamila García

Recently, I had my first photo session for a yearbook. I had never had to take one since, in my country, school photos are only in groups. I don’t like photos; they make me feel exposed. As a child, I really liked them, but at some point over the years, I became very self-conscious, and now photos generate the same level of anxiety that an oral presentation in front of a lot of people would cause me. Days before my turn for the session, I was worrying and even dreaming about it. I had nightmares that it would be in a giant place, full of people and that while they were taking my photos, everyone would be there, judging me with their eyes. On the day of the session, I arrived early, and there was no one there. I stayed waiting for the photographer at the door, and when he returned, I entered a small room. Small spaces help me feel more in control of the situation. The photographer was extremely friendly, so I felt free to tell him that I suck at taking photos and that I don’t like them at all. He was extremely kind and really helped a lot to make it more bearable.

In any case, the anxiety inside doesn’t stop even with a miracle. I sweated the entire session, which was probably 10 minutes but felt like 10 hours. I don’t even sweat in the summer, just because of anxiety. I felt like I had a kind of rash on my face; I knew I was probably red. I was totally overwhelmed. I would like to describe the million thoughts that came to my head while the kind photographer stood behind his camera, but it is impossible. It was like a stream of hurtful things, things I would never think or say to anyone. I was out of breath because my thoughts were drowning me. When I finally finished, already turning on my automatic mode, I thanked the kindness and left. A meeting I had was canceled, and nothing gave me more relief, not because I didn’t want to have it, but because I didn’t have a drop of energy left. I drove home, and as soon as I got there, I sat on the couch and fell asleep. Consumed as if instead of a photo session I had run a marathon! Anxiety is like 5 marathons put together, all at the speed of 100 flat meters, with a backpack full of weights and no shoes. A complete nightmare that not only remains in your head, but you feel it with your entire body and it exhausts you like the most extreme physical activity.


Thoughts vs. Reality

A young woman with long brown hair is blurred out in the background behind a game of chess.

By Yamila García

When my mind is filled with self-doubt and insecurity, I silence it with facts. As if it were an investigation that I am carrying out, I search my memories for information that will help me prove that those thoughts are a lie. If my mind tells me that I am not enough, I search my memories for moments when I was able to do great things, people who have told me how much they admired what I had done, memories with friends who showed me that my presence was important in their lives. I contradict each of those thoughts with facts. I prove to myself that none of that is true. When my mind describes myself with some hateful adjective, I say to myself: okay, let’s see if this is true. What evidence do I have? Has anyone ever told me this? And if they did, what were their intentions? Has anyone ever told me otherwise? Likewise, when I think I won’t be able to do something, I ask myself: Have there been other moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to? And what happened then? How many times out of all the times that this voice told me I was incapable of achieving it, did I not achieve it?

I learned that my thoughts are not going to be actually silent, but that I can contradict them with facts and concrete evidence. I learned to use my curiosity and ability to logically argue everything so that my way of seeing life is not conditioned by that voice. I know that many have this voice torturing them. I have talked about it with friends and many feel that they could only live better if they got rid of this voice. The truth is that it is not like that and I don’t even know if that could be possible. Many times when we listen to this voice and let ourselves be guided by it, our gaze is very narrow. If we can talk to ourselves to take weight away from that voice, we can broaden our vision. Most of us have already achieved much more than we believe, we are loved and valued much more than we think, and we have much more capacity than we ever thought we would have. We just need to look back and be objective with ourselves as if it were someone else we are rooting for.