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Freeing up Memory

A pile of photographs lie scattered on top of a map.

By Yamila García

If we notice that something in us differs from how it is for others, we tend to analyze it. Among many other things, my memory is one of the different characteristics that I possess in relation to others. I remember vivid images of certain details that I observed or experienced many years ago. My tendency to focus on details rather than the big picture makes my memories more about details. I remember smells, flavors, and textures very clearly. Also, I remember things from a long time ago more than many people. For example, I remember my grandfather entering his house after work, with his blue and gray bag. The interesting thing about this is that at that time, I was more or less 18 months old. So, anyone could say that I have a good memory. My short-term memory doesn’t work the same way. I usually don’t remember things I did or was told the day before or even a few hours ago. I know this may sound like a problem but I actually have some control over this. 

Sometimes, I decide to erase those memories. Sometimes life feels too overwhelming, and I feel like as soon as I solve something, I leave it behind completely to reduce the burden. I try to clear out of my way everything that I should not worry about anymore. It’s as if I reset that space in my internal memory. And I know I’m in control because I do retain other short-term memories. Of incomplete things that I have to do. I just choose what to keep and what to let go. This way, I feel I have more “space” for the things I have to deal with. Maybe this comes because of my way of working. I don’t work well when I have to focus on many things at once. However, I can focus on one thing at a time and only that way I can do a good job. If I were given two assignments at the time, I can’t do a little bit of one and then start the other one. Instead, I start one, I finish it, and then I can move to the other one, leaving behind and erasing the first one. I always realized how different this is from how most people work. That’s the reason I started questioning my way. However, I think I like it as it is; I don’t feel I wouldn’t change it. It feels efficient and it’s been my way for as long as I can remember.

Back in the Pool

A view from above a man swimming with a swim cap on in a large pool.

By Yamila García

For some reason, I stopped doing one of the things I love the most: swimming. Just thinking about it makes me feel relaxed. The serenity of the movement of the water, the peaceful blue color, the chlorine smell, and just looking at the black line at the bottom of the pool give me more peace than anything in this world. Everything feels soft, not too hot or too cold, calm, and quiet. It’s almost as if I were immersed in an ideal world for a neurodivergent, a world without so many stimuli to overwhelm me. That’s my idea of how neurotypicals must feel the world around them. Maybe I’m wrong, or not. I don’t know; I just know that turning off those stimuli for a while feels like a simple life, one where I can have a clean and calm mind. While I swim, my ideas do not overlap; they are ordered. I can think clearly, and my thoughts are free of anxiety. I can also let my thoughts go and focus on what I feel, the silence, and the few things I see at the bottom of the pool. 

It’s not just about what I feel while I swim, but the subsequent effect it has on me. After swimming, I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel happy, and positive, wanting to do more things for myself. Exercising is a great tool to take care of our physical health, as we already know, but it is also one of the most powerful tools to take care of our mental health. Moving at least a few minutes a day, whether going for a walk, doing a sport that we like, or dancing if you are more expressive and artistic, can have an almost instantaneous impact on how we feel. I am happy to have returned to doing what I like so much, and it makes me feel so good that I wish everyone could find an activity that does them good too. I’m sure that way we would all have a little more peace and happiness. I know sometimes it’s hard to go out when we don’t feel well, but that’s when we need it most. Energy is not stable, so if at any time you feel the slightest urge to move, go out and do something for yourself. Don’t think about it. Put on your sneakers and go out! Move for your mental health! Those little moments led me to buy myself a swimsuit, look for my goggles, and finally get back into the pool.

Prioritizing Friendship

A group of friends sits on a blanket in a park surrounded by trees. They have a dog and are enjoying a picnic.

By Yamila García

I have never stopped to think about how important it was to have friends to help me overcome so many things, even without knowing that I was neurodivergent. In my country, friends are like family. Seriously. It’s not just a saying. I knew all the members of my friends’ families, and they knew mine. We attended various events together with our families, and our relatives were acquainted with each other. In my country, your friends are part of your day-to-day life; they know what you’re up to, inquire about your mother, ask when you had a doctor’s appointment, or if you’ve seen another group of friends. In some way, we all feel a little responsible for our friends’ wellbeing. We message each other almost every day. You see your friends at least once a week, share delicious food, express everything you need to say, and continue the round with the others. If a friend is going through a difficult time, we try to accompany them more; almost by inertia, we contact them more often, discussing updates about the affected person, planning more meetings than usual, and trying to engage in their hobbies or support them in some other way.

Looking back, I realize how much my friends supported me and how many times they saved me. I recently watched a documentary that mentioned how having a support group can reduce the chances of getting sick or becoming depressed. I believe everyone could benefit from having a group of people to share life with and laugh with periodically. It’s not that in my country we have plenty of time or that no one works; it’s just that no one there contemplates life without friends. Even with busy schedules, work, and exhaustion, we make time for our friends because we know it is therapeutic. I know my friends made it possible for me to overcome many things, including the idea of “having friends,” even though it might sound redundant. It’s easy there; if you don’t talk, someone will surely talk to you.

Therefore, with my experience benefiting from this way of living, I want this post to serve as motivation to contact that friend you haven’t heard from in a long time, to continue cultivating ties, and to stay as close to people as possible. We live in a society, and as challenging as it is for many to feel like we fit in, it’s even more difficult while being isolated. Having a community or support group is often overlooked when thinking about people’s wellbeing and health; however, for me, it should be at the top of the list.

Opening Up

Photo of an open notebook in a field of grass. The book has a geometric design sketched on the right page and a yellow flower has been placed on the left page.

By Yamila García

I was very quiet as a child. Everyone said I was shy. I didn’t think I was, but I made peace with that because in some way it satisfied others in their need to justify why I was different. So, nothing more needed to be said: I’m shy. That’s all. And so I spent many years of my life trying to go unnoticed with that simple label. It was simple, I didn’t have to explain much, and generally, the majority respected that. And in that distance and calmness from others, which I achieved thanks to “being shy,” I could feel free and let my mind wander. I spent hours imagining things, creating scenarios in my mind where I broke down those barriers that didn’t let me do or say what I really wanted. In my mind, I could express myself how I really felt, and I could see myself being a part of so many things that I missed in real life because I was everything that the word shy hid.

Daydreaming was a refuge for me, a place to escape and paint the world I longed for. A world that allowed me to be who I was, where I didn’t have to excuse myself by saying I was shy to avoid interactions I couldn’t handle simply. For many years, my mind was the only place where I felt comfortable and free. However, while I still appreciate my imagination and its elaborate creations, it is no longer the only place that provides me comfort and security.

I found people and spaces where it wasn’t necessary to hide. I didn’t think that was possible, but contrary to what my mind likes to think, nothing is black or white. Life is full of grays, and in them, open people, different people, and spaces where “different” is received with joy and admiration. But to find them, I had to open up and accept myself first. Acceptance was a bit easier for me than openness because I always understood that my differences were a part of me, and I couldn’t always hide them, only some of them and only sometimes. On the other hand, opening up was challenging. Believing that there are accepting people when everything you have seen was the opposite requires faith and perseverance. But there is always someone, there is always something good in everything, and we are never alone.

Just One Small Step

Photo of a hiker standing on the top of a rocky mountain top.

By Yamila García

I began the most important path of my life at an age that was not ideal, in a country that was not mine, in a language I did not know, and with total ignorance of the system and everything that surrounded me. I started this path without thinking too much, just taking a small step and signing up for English classes at a community college. That small step I took was the beginning of something that almost took me naturally. I always say that sooner or later, life ends up putting you where you need to be, and indeed, it did just that with me!

When I look back, it feels like 20 years have passed since that “first step”. However, it was less than 5 years ago. In an attempt to reduce uncertainty, I always had the impulse to plan everything, from today to the last of my days if possible. However, almost instinctively, on this path, I only focused on completing the next step, nothing more than that. The next homework, the next lab, the next midterm. This is how I completed weeks, months, semesters, and years until I reached this point where I just graduated. This is a goal that I was never able to even set for myself because it seemed too big, too impossible. However, I was able to achieve it because I never looked up to see the top of the mountain; I always kept my eyes on what was closest.

I think this is the first time I’ve done something this way, without letting myself be overwhelmed by the immensity of the great goal. My therapist was the one who helped me incorporate this tool so that things were more manageable for me and anxiety didn’t block me. It seems like a simple concept, but applying it after so many years of operating in an “all or nothing” mode takes a lot of effort and commitment. But everything is possible, we learn from everything, and whenever we believe that we cannot do something, we must remember that maybe we just cannot do it in a certain way, but that does not mean that there are not other ways that do work for us. In my case, it was breaking the big goal into smaller, more manageable tasks, without looking further than a week into the future.

Embracing Differences

By Yamila García

Growing up without having a name for my differences was definitely a challenge. However, at many times along that path, I often identified with other people. For example, I have seen someone separating their food on a plate so it does not touch, just as I have always done. That made me feel that it wasn’t just me. Knowing that there were more people like me was helpful, even if I didn’t fully understand what that meant. Other times, I have met very introverted children like me, who contained their curiosity and desire to explore. I could see it and understand it because they looked like me: quiet, distant, but with an active gaze, visualizing themselves doing what they wanted so much but didn’t dare.

When I was little, I hardly ever expressed what I felt. However, when I saw children overwhelmed by stimuli, my heart would break because I knew what they were feeling. Many times, I saw children labeled as strange or complicated, and I identified with them. This brought relief in knowing that I was not alone. I think this somehow helped me understand that a portion of society was simply different from the rest, and that it was important not to fight my differences, but to accept them. Accepting what causes you pain, what segregates you, and brings you problems is not easy at all. However, by seeing others go through the same thing, I realized that things could be done to avoid it and that our differences are not the main reason for the consequences we face, but rather the lack of knowledge and understanding from others.

I appreciate the chance to write about my experiences because I see it as an opportunity for others to relate to me. I know it’s something small, but it helps me more than I could imagine. For a long time, I thought that several things happening to me were just my imagination. Seeing them in someone else helped me trust what I felt and not think that I was making something up just because I couldn’t explain it. I am grateful for all those people I have met since my childhood, who showed me that I was part of something not often talked about, much less understood.

 

Navigating Senses

By Yamila García

Last night, around 8 pm, I felt a significant discomfort in my body. I instantly knew that I had once again forgotten to drink water during the day. When I feel like this, I desperately drink water as if I have just spent 30 days in the desert. Sometimes, the desperation is so intense that I choke, and then I feel like a bubble full of water from drinking so much in such a short time. You would think that if this was such a common experience, at some point, I would remember to do it, but I don’t. I really don’t realize until my body experiences great pain or discomfort that somehow manages to “wake me up.” I have realized that I have little sensitivity to pain, and only when it is very extreme do I realize it. That’s why I don’t realize that I’m thirsty, that I’m hot, or that I’m feeling a certain way until the sensations are very deep and unmanageable. As you can imagine, this is a great barrier to being able to manage and face what I feel at more opportune moments. It would be much easier to work on what I’m feeling at the moment; however, it’s like I don’t know what’s happening to me until everything is overwhelming and chaotic.

This not only happens with physical sensations but also with emotional ones. Many times I find it difficult to identify how I feel in different situations. I think my confusion is mostly because either I don’t feel anything or I feel a terrible panicky feeling when I can’t take it anymore. Those are my most usual states, which I have been trying to “correct” simply because it is very extreme and exhausting to live like this. So, I have gotten into the habit of asking myself several times a day: How am I? What am I feeling? (I have notes on my iPad and my cell phone that remind me to ask myself this). With that, I force myself to connect with my body and my mind. I still have a hard time identifying what I feel, but at least I try to stop and listen to myself. This has allowed me to make some changes, and gives me the possibility of identifying anxiety before it takes total control over me.

Knowing how you feel may seem obvious to many people, but for many neurodivergents, it can be a challenge. Not everything has a “solution,” but we can use some techniques to help us remember that we must do periodic scans of the physical and emotional sensations that we are perceiving.

 

Choose Empathy

Small strips of white paper with phrases like "are you ok," "be kind," and "awareness" are scattered across a brown cardboard background.

By Yamila García

People only see the result of the processes we go through. These experiences can be extremely good or bad, but people will only notice when those feelings make their way out and alter our behavior. We cannot see more than what the other does or says in their interaction with us. However, many of us go through the same difficulties throughout life; we face illness, economic problems, family problems, work conflicts, etc. We all know that when there is a serious problem, it is difficult not to think about it and focus on something else. We also know that when someone we love is going through a health problem, for example, life begins to revolve around that. Sometimes, it happens that the concern comes from not being able to cover expenses, or in other cases because we had an argument with someone important to us, and one really feels stuck until the problem is solved. 

So, if we are all similar in that way, why can’t we understand each other more? Why, if I see someone who suddenly changes their behavior or way of acting, can’t I think that they are going through a similar situation? One of those that I’m sure I also experienced and had similar effects on me? I think we all know a lot about what human beings feel and that we have many tools to understand each other, but that is not enough to do it. At the first change, it is easy to observe rejection, not compassion. Precisely, this is something more added to someone who already has a lot on their plate. 

Perhaps my own experiences and my analytical way of being made me much more aware that behind every action there is a cause, something that is affecting the person and that they are not being able to handle. I just want to say, pay more attention, don’t react with rejection. Try to put understanding and empathy above all. Everything would be much easier that way. I know it’s not easy, but once you start doing it, it becomes easier. And many times you can be the one who gives the only kind word that the person in front of you has heard for weeks. You never know the battles others are fighting, but you don’t need to know. You just have to be kind, and you could be saving someone else’s day.

Power-Saving Mode

A person holds a cell phone showing a low battery.

By Yamila García

I blocked my emotions, and that’s why this post is taking me longer than usual. When my emotions are raw, writing becomes an extension of them—something that almost comes naturally, a new habit and a new way of channeling what happens inside me through words. It’s been new since I started writing for Include and discovered its therapeutic effect. I realized that what I often couldn’t express verbally, I could let out in writing. However, when writing, talking, and anything else aren’t enough to manage my emotions, I sometimes end up shutting down—turning off those emotions that make me so uncomfortable. I have this false feeling of being able to continue “functioning,” but the cost is high.

When everything feels impossible to handle, and I find myself drowning in emotions I don’t know how to deal with, I completely disconnect from what I feel. I uproot what I can’t modify and continue functioning in a kind of “power-saving” mode. However, as with electronic devices, the “power-saving” mode implies losing capabilities. I “function” and do what I have to do, but deep beneath the surface, a storm is raging that I have tried to contain with a Band-Aid. Of course, whenever emotions remain in the background and are not channeled in a healthy way, they magnify and seem to agree to come together, destroying everything in their path as a form of protest for having been ignored. They unleash an explosion that, in opposition to the “power-saving” mode, consumes every last drop of energy in minutes.

I’m trying to learn to reconnect before the chaos. Writing helps me. I may not be able to talk about what I feel yet, but I can talk about what I know I’m doing. I know that I am hiding from my own emotions and that I want to learn to navigate them differently. I don’t believe in magic solutions, but I do know that when I manage to reconnect this time, nothing will be the same. I am close to achieving something that I have dreamed of all my life, and while for others, it may not be so big, my life took many turns before reaching this point. I wrote this last sentence two days after I wrote the rest of this post.

 

Celebrate Yourself

A hand holds a sparkler that is sending out a halo of sparks in front of a dark background.

By Yamila García

Self-pressure is something you learned, not something you were born with. The obvious differences I’ve had since childhood and the subsequent reactions from people made me keenly aware of how others perceive me. That’s how I learned to demand and pressure myself to be “enough” in the eyes of others, as if there were a way to measure what “enough” truly means. However, nothing I did was ever sufficient in my own critical view. Thus, I spent all my years trying to compensate for the negative perceptions I knew my differences caused in others. I fought hard to reverse that, but the more I struggled, the farther I moved from achieving it. The more I learned and accomplished, the more distant I felt from that approving look that I so desired.

The reality was that the first person who disapproved of me and didn’t consider me enough was myself. I know that the gaze of others influenced the way I saw myself too. Although I allowed myself to be authentic in many aspects of my life, on the other hand I sought approval by trying to be as efficient and capable as possible. And in that search I trampled my feelings and denied the importance of who I am. I lost the battle when I gave others the power to define my value. I stopped loving myself for thinking that I had to be efficient so that others would think: well, she may be weird but at least she’s useful. Because I learned that people are often kind when you are useful to them. But I am much more than useful! How sad to be like this really. Measuring how much you respect the other according to how much they can contribute to you.

I was always enough but I lived many years without knowing it. I was enough even the times I felt like I was nothing. I am enough, beyond the gaze of others, beyond my fears, my differences and my skills. I am enough and valuable because I exist, live and fight day by day. Don’t let anyone interfere with your own thoughts about you. I don’t do it anymore. We all have a lot to celebrate about ourselves even if others don’t see it. Only you can give yourself the value you have. No person, achievement, goal, or event can increase your inherent worth; what you are, you already have within you. Celebrate yourself!