Written by Sarah Colerick (they/them)
My life’s experience is enveloped by disability. Shortly after I was born, I was diagnosed with DiGeorge Syndrome. DiGeorge Syndrome is a rare genetic defect that is tied to a myriad of medical complications. For me, DiGeorge Syndrome resulted in a ventricular septal defect, a cleft palate, a speech impediment, vision and balance issues, learning disabilities, and multiple mental health diagnoses from adolescence through my present life. For others, DiGeorge Syndrome may impact them differently. Though common traits exist, it may be difficult to find two people with DiGeorge Syndrome who are impacted by the genetic defect in the same way.
Coping with disability is not easy. Because of my disability, I have struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. I first attempted to take my own life when I was 12 years old. My last attempt was as recent as 2016. That attempt landed me in an in-patient mental health facility. That was a terrifying experience that saved my life. I still struggle to find the willpower to stay alive, but I can credit my willingness to carry on through the worst days to my loving shithuahua (shih-tzu/chihuahua mix, a very unofficial breed name) Ada. She is a menace who fills my broken heart to the brim with joy.
When I think about my last attempt, I often think about the experiences that led me to my breaking point. I think about the trauma I’ve endured as a survivor of domestic violence. I survived four and a half years with someone who abused me verbally, physically, and financially. I remember how liberated I felt during the first summer after I escaped. It was hot and for the first time in years I could wear short sleeves and tank tops. My arms, back, and neck were still bruised but I didn’t have to hide my body out of fear anymore. I was finally free.
After my last attempt, I was ordered to attend therapy twice a week for six months. My therapist practiced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which I struggled with because I couldn’t say how I felt. Though CBT was not helpful in my recovery, my months in intensive therapy helped me realize that I experienced multiple traumas in my life. It was hard for me to accept that my trauma happened. I was determined to erase those memories.
I got my diagnosis for ADHD in 2019. After talking to friends and colleagues who had the luxury of receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult, I felt comfortable diagnosing myself. In the adult autism community, self-diagnosis is valid. Social, cultural, and financial barriers make it incredibly difficult for folks to get a professional autism diagnosis.
Currently, I work in an environment that is the first place of employment where I feel comfortable being an unmasked autistic. For example, I can ask clarifying questions without feeling ashamed of needing to ask them. I also stim while I am performing job related functions. Coworkers might see me hand flapping, shaking my leg, or playing with one of my stim toys at my desk. I have always felt too ashamed to stim in public.
Savanah’s mental health advocacy has helped remind me that it is okay to be vulnerable. Sometimes the pain from my trauma is like a pebble that I carry with me, small enough for me to slip into a pocket. Sometimes the pain from my trauma is like an ocean. It carries me, taking over my ability to distinguish the past from the present. I know now that the pain I carry isn’t pain that I have to carry alone. I just had to find the courage to let others in.