I compare my brain to a bookshelf. Sometimes it’s a nice selection of color-coded and alphabetically sorted books. Everything brand new, legible and descriptive. Sometimes it’s like the books have been tossed on the shelves at random. Some of the books have no titles, others have missing pages or are even back to front. How should I find the book I want?
I’ve dug through my brain and saved a few volumes that I want to share. If you find the illogical order of these volumes frustrating, it’s a snippet of what it’s like in my brain.
Volume 6: Seeking Help
I was sitting in my local doctor’s office at the age of 17. My doctor explained that while employers are not designed to discriminate against those of us who are struggling with our mental health, they do it anyway. That was why he didn’t want to prescribe medication for me.
He thought I had generalized fear. Although I knew this did not fully summarize my struggles, I could not find words to describe the problem at hand. Over the years my brain’s shelves have filled with advice from other people, including “Everyone finds university difficult” and “Everyone struggles with focus and procrastination”. I knew all of this was true, but why did I feel like I was drowning while everyone else stayed afloat – and having fun while they did?
Volume 12: Representation
When you’re young, you just want to adapt. When I realized that I wasn’t the same color as most of the kids in my school, I realized that there were other things involved. I was embarrassed when my mother sent me to school with chapatti in my lunch box. All the other kids had sandwiches. I didn’t want any other reason to stand out so I usually threw them away. I was too embarrassed to eat them. As I got older, the racial differences between me and my peers became more and more apparent, with cases of discrimination being the main focus. I also found little interest in boys, but they were the talk of the town. I found a lot of comfort in study and in books.
I was privileged and fortunate to have a South Asian science teacher at a school where we didn’t have many of us. Miss Hanif was the epitome of a strong, confident, and independent woman of color. Just because she existed and was visible, Miss Hanif had a profound influence on my life. But she did more. It gave me the opportunity to take a short Open University science module on Drugs and Drugs.
This course, along with encouragement from my older brother, is the reason I kept studying chemistry. If you had told me at the time that I would work for Pfizer in future chapters of my life during my bachelor’s degree and then pursue a PhD, which is partially funded by AstraZeneca, I would not have believed you!
For all of my success, I still knew something was wrong. But if I did this well, how could something be wrong?
Volume 14: The Epiphany
The day I got my diagnosis was one of the best days of my life because everything started to make more sense. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD. Controversially named because those of us who have it aren’t attention deficit and not everyone who has it is hyperactive. I could write a book about the misunderstandings of ADHD – as long as I can find the right book in my head first.
I finally understood why I struggled with things that others found so easy, but also why I excel in areas that others struggled with. I am not the only one. Bill Gates, Emma Watson, Richard Branson: The list of neurodivergent people who have made an extraordinary impact on our world goes on.
Volume 42: Another View
In the fight year 2020, I called my brother angrily. As a young, queer, neurodivergent Indian in science, I felt alone. I had no representation. I realized that I had to be the proxy I needed. I had to speak up. I had a flashback of what my doctor was telling me and I felt worried again.
But I couldn’t be a spectator anymore. If I didn’t say anything, what would happen to the next generation of mini-nishas who would fight just like me?
I am different. With the difference comes the variety of thought, expression, and research. Differences lead to innovation and the pursuit of a more inclusive and united society. I hope that my visibility will give the minorities optimism and confidence of a voice. Finally having an explanation for the literary chaos that is my brain means that I can begin to see my mindset with curiosity, as an asset rather than a problem. Because when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.