Following the Neuro[divergent] Pathways

By Klaudia Tokarska
PhD student at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, University of Copenhagen.

Image generated by OpenAI’s DALL-E, used with permission.

Did I need to get a mental disorder to study Neuroscience? Of course not. But I did. And that has led me to where I am now.

For a long time, I used to think I was broken on the inside. I was an overambitious child who developed depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and sleep problems at a rather young age. Struggling with difficult emotions and mental states, it always felt like it was something “soul-related” – out of reach for me and, basically, out of control. It was nothing like a headache or a broken arm where the cause and cure always seemed so obvious and simple.

Those who have experienced one of the above-mentioned conditions or one of the thousands of other brain-related disorders might be able to relate to my experience or at least sympathize with the pain any of these conditions cause in those affected by them. I cannot even describe how many nights I have spent wishing I was “normal” and asking “Why?”.

1 in 8 (or, very likely, more) people around the world are going through these types of struggles*. But most of us do push through. I did. But I never stopped asking “Why?”. As the curious person that I am, the thought of not understanding what was happening inside of me never left me.

When I was in my first year of college, I was studying Math, but at the same time, I was lucky enough to be able to explore other fields as well. Again, the curious mind that I am, I tried such various fields as Politics or Geography, but thankfully, two fields got my special attention: Psychology and Neuroscience. In my very first Neuroscience class, when my teacher was explaining how this one relatively small organ called the brain dictates every single aspect of our lives via the work of neurons, I got the feeling that maybe this class was able to at least help me start answering the question I had been asking for so long.

Honestly? I still don’t have my answers. If anything, ever since that class, I have only come up with more questions and continue to do so. But that’s okay. I am a young neuroscientist and it is very much a big part of my job to never stop asking “Why?” and “How?”. I might not have my answers, but I have found something better than that. I have found my purpose. Having the privilege to attempt to answer questions related to such debilitating conditions which remain so poorly understood is the biggest accomplishment of my life. Every day, I get a chance to contribute, even if it is a millionth of a grain of sand in the whole science, to us better understanding of why we need sleep and why some people (people like me) can’t get it as easily as others.

Did I need to get a mental disorder to study Neuroscience? Of course not. But I did. And that has led me to where I am now. And that is the perspective I apply to my experience. Trying to find meaning where it is difficult to find one might be the one thing that pushes many of those 1 in 8 people through life. For me, it has been science, and I will be forever grateful for having been offered a place in this community.

* World Health Organization, 2022 (

Author Bio
Klaudia is a first-year PhD Fellow at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Copenhagen. She has always had a strong interest in translational Neuroscience and learning more about why and how “things go wrong” at the brain level and how it translates to our human experience.