A decade ago, I was a very different person. My confidence was nonexistant, I had almost-daily meltdowns, I self-harmed daily, I spent days without saying a word, I had no real friends, and I hated myself, my life, my family, and the world at large. I was a ball of anger and hatred and fear and hurt.
Now, I’m not in that place. What changed? Two things.
Firstly, I got out of an abusive situation. I went away to university, and so got away from my emotionally abusive parents and my physically and emotionally abusive classmates. Secondly, I started accommodating and accepting myself as who I am, rather than trying to force myself into the mold of what others want me to be.
The first is pretty obvious how it would improve my life – fancy that, when you’re not being told you’re dog shit on the bottom of someone’s boot all the time, you’re not as likely to think of yourself that way.
How did the second work? Well, a few things: After it became impossible to ignore anymore, I admitted to myself that I do actually have asthma and I do actually need to take care of it. Then I learned how to take care of it and learned how to do so in a way that works for me. My lung function tripled over the course of about two years as a result of this action. When you feel better physically, you tend to feel better mentally.
Second, I stopped pretending I can fight my handwriting issue. When I was in high school, my English teacher single-handedly saved my education by arranging accommodations for my undiagnosed handwriting problem (I suspect motor-type dysgraphia, as I know a few people with it, and their handwriting and issues with handwriting are similar to mine – and, like me, they tend to have a lot more problem expressing themselves in handwriting than they do in typing). I sincerely believe that if it weren’t for her, I would have flunked high school, as I can’t do neat handwriting, and I can either write legibly for a short time or write for a long time, but can’t write legibly for a long time. After about a page, the quality of my handwriting drops off considerably.
In university, I fell back into trying to do assignments in handwriting because that was what was done. This made me miserable for my first term of uni, until I asked my TAs whether I could type up my pre-labs and lab reports, if I attach a handwritten copy of my data so they’d know I didn’t copy from anyone. They knew how bad my handwriting was and how long it took me to handwrite anything and since nothing in the syllabus said the assignments had to be handwritten, they agreed. Note to those with disabilities who don’t have formal diagnoses: Sometimes you can bypass the diagnosis requirement by asking the TA and using a bit of syllabus rules-lawyering. Doesn’t work all the time, I admit (my math prof refused), but it might work sometimes.
Around the same time as I started typing my assignments where possible (and thus freeing up the 20-or-so hours a week I had been spending on trying to copy stuff legibly. No, I’m not exaggerating.), I started taking notes on my laptop instead of with a notebook. I only had one prof give me trouble for it – said prof felt students weren’t paying attention when they had a laptop and prohibited computers in his lecture theatre. When I explained that my handwriting is bad and I can’t take notes if I don’t use my laptop, the prof refused to make an exception unless I spoke with the accessibility centre (which I couldn’t, since I had no formal diagnosis), so for that prof’s class, I’d borrow a friend’s notes and type them up after the lecture. Since I would email my typed versions to my friend, they didn’t mind having a backup of their notes.
Shortly after I stopped trying to fight my handwriting, I stopped trying to make myself look like everyone else in class. I let myself fidget in non-disruptive ways – jiggling my leg, shifting around in my chair, twirling my hair, etc. This helped me focus on the lecture and absorb more from lecture, which in turn let me spend less time on studying and more time relaxing, lowering my stress level further.
Lastly, I quit trying to force myself in to the mold of the girly-girl social butterfly my parents had wanted. I let myself explore my interests and be enthusiastic about them. I quit buying clothes I hated because I thought it was what I was “supposed” to like. If I didn’t have the energy for an outing, I’d call it off rather than forcing myself along and dealing with the ensuing meltdown and aftermath.