Different, Not Less

Worth Living Ambassador Niko Colletti


Hey there! I’m Niko, 20 years old, from Southern Ontario.  I’m on a journey to find myself and discover what truly makes me happy, while continuing to learn how to function in this complicated world around me.  I was diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at a very young age, and it’s been a long haul living with a brain wired so differently.  I intend to continue bettering myself while sharing my experiences with those who are feeling overwhelmed in their struggles, showing that with enough determination and patience, you will persevere no matter what demons share your company.

As long as I could remember, fitting in was not an option for me.  I was always the outcast, the “strange” one.  The one who preferred to stay indoors at recess, drew in math class, and did his work on the floor under desks in elementary school.  Quiet and shy yet loud and outgoing all at the same time, and constantly focussed on anything and everything but what was being taught in class.  This is what it is like to live with Autism and ADHD.

I was diagnosed in first grade, when I was just six years old.  When my parents told me, I was too young to fully understand. I knew already that I didn’t fit in, and that the same things that came natural to others; socialization, executive functions like planning and prioritizing did not go well with me.  I didn’t know anything about ADHD and only slightly more than nothing about Autism.  All I knew was that I had no concept of time. I had to take a little yellow pill every morning with breakfast and that I would much rather spend recess on the hallway floor than put my snow pants on.

As I grew older, the more I stood out from other kids.  I kept to myself and only socialized with the same two or three people at any time.  I worked hard to build social skills and was often regarded by my teachers as well-spoken when presenting projects in class.  The problem wasn’t with socializing, however.  The problem was with how kids treat someone who is noticeably different.

Having Autism contributed to my lack of understanding of social cues, despite my efforts to improve social skills.  This got better over time as I aged, but I was always behind.  ADHD meant that I was inattentive, impulsive and had a difficult time getting work done at all, let alone on time.  I was always full of ideas and a creative thinker but working at my full potential was a struggle and I was often singled out in front of others which started to destroy my self-esteem.  This coupled with the frustrations of always falling short of expectations, both socially and educationally, started to get to me. This was only the beginning of where I started to truly struggle.

I was medicated for more of my life than I was not.  The little yellow pill I was prescribed is known as Concerta.  This extended-release variant of Adderall is an amphetamine designed to treat those with ADHD, primarily, young children.  I started with 18mg (“Alza 18”)  and as I grew older, my dosage was upped to 27, then later to 36, until I would decide to stop taking it just before turning twenty.  It was great for curbing impulsive behaviour, and while it helped me many ways at school, I still struggled, and the longer I took it, the worse I felt when it wore off, or I forgot to take it.  I would often feel paranoid, irritable or extremely sad, and started to almost become two different people; one of which was the inadequate version of myself I called “Non-Alza Me”.  I began to feel like the “Alza Me” was how everyone’s brain was supposed to work and that I would only have the chance to be accepted in society if I was Alza Me all the time.  This thought terrified me to no end and I began to hate the fact that I took medication just to be “normal”.

I really started to feel like an alien towards the end of Grade 7.  With the exception of a few teachers, I was singled out and humiliated in front of peers by all others.

I was bullied for all of Grade 8 and by June, I’d finally had enough.  No matter how hard I tried to act and talk like everyone else who was considered to be “normal”, I just couldn’t seem to do it.  I was struggling in school even though I had the potential to do well.  I knew I could do great things in school when by some miracle I could manage my time but I couldn’t. I was so fed up with the world I didn’t feel I belonged in that on the week-long graduation field trip for Grade 8, I tried to take my own life.  As you can tell, I thankfully failed.  I sat on the cabin floor for a moment, and thought about what my mom would say, my dad.  How would they feel after everything they did for me to help me succeed in a world that they brought me into?  Even though I truly believed I didn’t belong there, they hadn’t given up on me and so I would NOT give up on them.

High school was much better than elementary for me.  The newfound freedom allowed me to avoid people who made me feel inadequate and the sense of a fresh start motivated me to work on socializing again.  I hung on grade wise, and once I started driving in Grade 12, I felt like I was on top of the world.  I had been working through high school and I was saving up some money and had high hopes for what was next.

Grade 12 came with some hard-learned lessons.  My lack of boundaries, both with myself and others allowed me to be taken advantage of often.  People started hanging out with me for my car to drive them around and I was often guilted into lending people money they never paid back.  My self- worth took a huge hit when I started to realize that the many friends I thought I had, really weren’t my friends at all, but were all using me for what I had.  Despite this, I put it all behind me in an effort to focus on what was next.

This was the second point in my life when I truly began spiralling downward.  I had no long-term goals, and after working two jobs for a year, I settled for a Design Fundamentals college program, hoping to get into graphic design.  Up until this point, my only efforts to socialize were at work and I had isolated myself into depression.  I was lonely and began to hate myself for the way I lived.  If I wasn’t at work, I was getting high.  I was starting to question the point of even trying and was beginning to give up again.  The only way I knew to cope was to just work more and try to numb myself as  best I could until I became occupied by school.

I hit what I thought was rock bottom shortly after starting school.  I got into an accident, completely totalling my car and after outstanding citations, I could no longer afford to insure a vehicle, so I stopped driving and quit working to focus on school.  I began to lose my mind because school was now my life as I could no longer go anywhere on my own.  Once again, I had further isolated myself and fell further into depression.

Shortly before I quit working, I had entered a relationship.  It coloured my world.  Finally, in a world where no one took the time to appreciate and understand me, someone wanted me, even with all of my flaws and mistakes!  Because I was depressed and lonely, I didn’t know I was not in the right frame of mind to be with a person.  I was hurting, and I latched myself to the first person to show me interest because I didn’t want to be on my own.  Not even a year later, the relationship had become toxic and hurtful.  There were many signs from the beginning that should have been enough for me to know that we weren’t right for each other, but I didn’t want to be without her.  I was afraid of losing her because I had never loved someone this way before, and despite how bad things were, I felt that being alone again was still far worse.  I was in a terrible place that I hadn’t really gotten out of when the relationship began. Because of this, that was exactly where I picked up from when we both decided to go our separate ways.

In September of 2016, I entered self-destruct mode.  I had stopped eating, looking out for my own physical health or well-being by any means. I was back at school but I often skipped class.  Even preoccupied with a new job, I was struggling to keep my head together. Every night I was a victim of my own thoughts and feelings, debating on ending it right there and then. I despised the person I had let myself become. I didn’t want to live the way I did when I used to be single.  I had nothing to revert back to because of this, so I felt as if rebuilding was impossible and living felt pointless.
I have never sunken lower than I had three months ago, and November was finally when I decided that I couldn’t climb out by myself.  I wasn’t strong enough this time and if I hadn’t reached out to family and friends when I did, I am absolutely certain that I would not be here writing this right now. I was a shell of a person, with all the anger I had for the world and hatred I had for myself.  My immediate family has been very supportive, along with my therapist and a childhood friend who has been by my side nearly as long as my parents have.  I can’t thank them enough.

I have recently learned what I wish someone had told me a long time ago.  I am different, not less.  I have neglected my mental health for too much of my life because rather than learning how my brain works and how to get the most out of it, I hated it for not being able to adhere the same learning strategies that worked for neuro-typical people.  Having Autism is a great thing!! There is so much I owe it for who I am as a person.  Same goes for my ADHD brain; its capable of so much that it wouldn’t be if I WAS neuro-typical.  And after learning how many of my struggles stemmed from my ADHD, I can tackle them better knowing that there are resources out there to help people just like me succeed.

About half a month ago, I reached out to Keith Anderson, founder of Worth Living, and I fell in love with what this community all about.  Mental health is such an overlooked contribution to our well- being, and if I can help even a little bit by sharing what I know about myself, Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and Depression, than I’ve won.

No one deserves to feel how I have in the past. If you are feeling like you’re not good enough for this world, please know that everyone has a place in life, and while it may be hard to find at first, know that you are never alone. As long as you remain true to and care for yourself, you can do amazing things that will redefine what the world considers “normal.”

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” -Karim Seddiki

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