Making a Life I Wasn’t Given

By Noor Samee

I am an agent of chaos or creativity depending on which way you want to look at it. 

I was in Kindergarten. Ms. Smaglis handed me a piece of thick paper and a black sharpie. I didn’t know what was going on, so I looked over at my neighbors papers to see what they were drawing. Oh, our families. Okay yeah I can do that.

One by one, kids would go up to Ms. Smaglis’ table with their papers and continue their picture. I wasn’t sure why they kept going up to her desk, so I pretended to get a tissue so I could hover around the teacher’s desk and figure out what was going on. They were adding paint to their drawings. Ooooo I want to add paint to mine too. I finished outlining as quickly as I could and walked over to Ms. Smaglis’ desk. Even though I drew my picture as fast as I could, I still somehow managed to be one of the last kids to come to the painting table. But I was excited that I finished my outline in time, and I was about to bring my drawing to life. Ms. Smaglis asked me why I colored in my mom’s hair, “Remember I told you not to color in with the sharpie? Remember I said you’re going to use black paint for that?” I didn’t remember her saying that at all. I made whatever excuse I could come up with so she wouldn’t get mad at me, but I knew I wasn’t fooling her.

And just like I would for the next five years of elementary school, I did well on every portion of my report card except, “Listening and following directions”.

As school went on, work only got harder. I graduated high school with a GPA so low my counselor didn’t think I would get into a university. No matter how hard I worked, how many holidays I skipped, and how many all nighters I pulled– I couldn’t make good grades. And it was frustrating. I was trying so so hard. But nothing I did could make me function the way neurotypical people do.

So I stopped trying. All that time I used to spend mad at myself for not finishing assignments, I started to spend learning why I couldn’t do them. I journaled every day to identify what habits help me feel happy, focused, energetic, etc. I researched my disabilities and mental illnesses in depth, as well as coping mechanisms other people use. I still couldnt get my assignments done, but I stopped blaming myself for it.

Every day I wake up not knowing what my mind and body will let me do. Sometimes, I can cook meals for an entire week in one day, but I can’t leave my house. Other times, I can socialize nonstop without issue, but I can’t sit down and write a paper. So every day I listen for the creaks and feel for the pulls and watch for the lighthouse beam inside me. I let how I feel lead me to a destiny I have very little control over. 

Is it enough to say that not knowing what I am doing is exactly what brought me here? When the aunties ask me how I got into this college and I tell them it was an accident? Because I have never been good at making deadlines. I can’t memorize information. And I can barely pay attention in class. As long as something feels boring, my brain will refuse to do it. So even if it means taking risks, I have to make my work feel interesting. I stopped trying to follow directions. Now I just make my own.

Last year, I asked my professor if I could turn in an album of original songs instead of writing her 30 page capstone research paper. It was an idea just wild enough that only someone really desperate could think of it. I knew I couldn’t write that paper. But I also knew I couldn’t graduate without her class. I don’t know how or why she let me do it, but 3 months later, I turned in six songs and an interlude. My professor loved it.

Growing up disabled has made me have to learn how I think and function, as well as how neurotypicals think and function all at the same time. It has forced me to be creative enough to do what neurotypicals expect of me, while also finding my own way of getting there. Although struggling with school is a large part of my neurodivergence, there is so much more to it that I couldn’t mention in this blog. From the way I socialize, to the way I process information, to the way I experience sound, light, and texture– my disability is a huge part of who I am. And while my peers, professors, and employers continue to be ableist, I know that I see and understand the world in a way no one else can. I’m proud of all the chaos and all the creativity I bring into my life, just by being me.

Noor Samee is a fourth-year in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Global Development Studies. She’s interested in food sovereignty work, creative journalism and both singing and songwriting. Noor is also very passionate about nature and currently helps facilitate a spirituality series at UVA.

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