By Sally Nilsson
Beginning My Neurodivergent Journey
My name is Sally Nilsson and I am a Human Givens Psychotherapist and Mentor for the Neurodivergent Community. I am autistic/ADHD and was diagnosed in March 2021, aged 56. I live in Surrey, South East England with my Swedish husband and two grown up sons
Like many late diagnosed women it was quite a shock. I had spent my life believing I was mentally ill at times. Counsellors, friends and family certainly reacted as if I was. I said so myself as I didn’t understand why I behaved the way I did. Sometimes it felt like I was being gaslighted and I suffered imposter syndrome and had identity issues. I was unintentionally ableist as my only knowledge of autism was Rainman and my idea of ADHD was young lads racing around and having behavioral problems.
I trained first as a Hypnotherapist and then as a Psychotherapist. This was the result of two outcomes. I wrote a book called the Man Who Sank Titanic about my great grandfather, Robert Hichens, who was the helmsman on the Titanic when she hit the iceberg. He had all sorts of mental health difficulties including what we now call PTSD. I have always been fascinated by people and the way they behave to the point where I’m researching paleoanthropology at present. Secondly I wanted to know why I did the things I did, felt the way I felt and believed myself to be an alien, living in a bubble with the world going on around me.
Having conducted my own hyper focused research and now with my special interest of being Neurodivergence I feel whole and I understand so much more. This has its pros and cons. I realize that my husband and two sons are neurodivergent. For me to start “therapizing” them and telling them what they are I would be at great risk of losing the people I adore. Same with other family members and friends. Neurotypical people, unless they are in the Neurodivergent Community just don’t understand and I can see their eyes glazing over rather quickly if I start sharing my special interest with them.
Discovering My Tribe
Social media has been incredible for meeting my new Tribe and I like the boundaries and space I have to move about and choose when I want to connect and when I want to be alone. As soon as I was diagnosed I ‘came out’ almost immediately to everyone and it felt great. I am full of paradoxes and my coming out was mixed with feelings of grief for the little girl who had gone through her childhood often scared and misunderstood. I still had to come to terms with my new identity as now I needed to rewrite my life story. This I am doing in the form of my new book, The Alien Within, a rollercoaster ride of an undiagnosed human from 1965-2021. Anyone living in this era will enjoy the journey through this incredibly nostalgic time.
What to do about work? Same thing. I came out straight away and had my website changed to reflect the new work I was offering. I have gone niche and it’s the best thing I could have done. I love my Neurodivergent clients and feel so much reward in working with them. Some clients come to me with anxiety. They have seen my website and believe that there is something about them that is different. I also work with diagnosed and self-diagnosed clients.
Something that has helped me enormously in my work has been the creation of an acronym M.A.C.C.
Not changing the way a client is (like some models of therapy) as they are not broken and do not need fixing. We look at the traits which can be most problematic and find ways to overcome day to day issues using therapeutic techniques and sometimes hypnosis.
Validating my clients’ experiences and really, REALLY listening, helps my clients to accept themselves for who they are so that they can be authentic and find their own niche in a Society which for many has eluded them.
Challenges – good and not so good
There are different spectrums and many traits to pick through. I like the word ’challenge’ as it can be used in a positive way – “I love a challenge” or “I’m going through a really challenging time” when things are not working out so well.
Neurodivergent people often live with stress throughout their lives. Stress in their minds and ailments from the ongoing stress in their bodies. cPTSD (complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is common for us folk. I have a very beneficial tool called the Rewind Technique which I can use multiple times if necessary and clients can recover and go on to live as healthy and happy neurodivergent people.
My life has changed so much since my diagnosis and my career has flourished in this new direction. It’s not all a bed of roses. As time goes by I learn ever more terms that I find confusing and things about myself to add to the spectrums and traits I already have. Nevertheless I am no longer such a confused and anxious human. I still call myself an alien and am happy to live my life wired differently in a world where the neurotypical folks sometimes seem like the odd ones and I am actually completely ‘normal’.