Updated: Jan 2, 2022
I always knew that I was different – and not in the cliché “wow, I’m so random and unordinary” angsty renegade way. I have always felt something inside of me that separated me from other people, like I was in a world of my own and I wasn’t able to interact with the other world that I was looking at, through this invisible veil.
I feel that, as a child, I appeared to others as somebody who was quite excitable and extreme. Yet, there was a truth inside of me that deceived that perception of me. What I remember is that I always felt a bundle of emotions, and I didn’t know how to express them. I recall feeling excited one evening, when my siblings and I were being taken to a children’s playhouse with a lot of slides, ball pits and play areas. I was so excited that I didn’t know how to express that feeling so I became upset. That gateway of not knowing how to channel my emotions remains open to this day. Sometimes a certain emotion will bubble up, and I mightn’t know why I feel that way, what could have triggered it and what I’m supposed to do with it in that moment. It becomes something that I will focus on, dare I even say hyper focus on at times.
Growing up, I dealt with speech impediments such as a stutter and articulation barriers – mistaking words for ones that sounded similar, and writing words how they sounded, rather than how we were taught they were spelt in school. Speaking of school – in primary school, I always felt that there was somebody watching over me, and teachers would frequently ask if I was okay and if I understood the work, which made me feel singled out. However, I do recall needing quite a bit of extra support compared to my peers, as I found things difficult to process and fully comprehend.
I’ve always had to go over events that have happened in my mind, to seek out the details of my surroundings, the words that were said, the scents that were familiar to the setting and to also go over my own actions, and I’ve always done this to make sure that things have definitely happened; to ensure that I did what needed to be done, that I said what needed to be said and what I rehearsed in my mind, and I suppose that I could philosophise on rehearsing things in my mind – it’s possible that I have had to mentally go over things to make sure that I don’t just mistake the script that I prepared for the real event. When I have a routine, I need to make sure I’m following it. Because, if something that I forgot to do later becomes apparent, I will fall into a more intense cycle of what I’ve just confessed which will lead to me burning out.
This continuous life experience that made me feel so isolated from others has played a part in how I appear to other people to this day. I have to take time to sit with my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I reminisce in the past, mentally narrate my present, and excessively focus on the future and what I have to do in hours, days and weeks, which is extremely draining if I have plans coming up that I have to set time aside to prepare for – because I have to prepare for what I’m going to prepare for. It’s an exhausting experience. This is all linked to me having to process things. I’ve tried – god, I’ve tried – to adapt to situations, to process things quicker, to be spontaneous and stop focusing on things. I’ve tried to be the person that people expect me to be, but I have only ever burned out from this.
There are two alternates to this…
The first alternate is to mask my way through life; to pretend that I’m okay with doings things one way, to act as if my environment isn’t overstimulating and that I’m not having trouble learning and processing things, and then waiting until I have time alone to burn out, to break down, to finally process things and then beat myself up over it.
The second alternate is to walk away from a situation so I can have time alone to process things, which ends up with me coming off as aloof and as if I’m deliberately distancing myself from people to be stubborn. While the second alternate sounds more appealing for a quieter mind, it actually ends up with me feeling guilty that I have to step back from situations so I can catch up with how I feel and what I’m thinking about something, and a lot of the time I conclude that I’m a bad person for not being who other people want me to be.
I’ve learned that there are things about myself that, no matter how hard I try, I either can’t change them, or they aren’t worth changing due to how much they can mentally exhaust and overstimulate me. I rely on structure, routine, the finer details of the bigger picture and on transparency. There are a lot of things that I won’t do until I’m told to do them, because I just don’t know what my next step should be in certain scenarios. By relying on this and not knowing how to communicate the support that I need with this, I can come off as an ignorant person, as if I’m not a team player.
On the other hand, when I assume that I need to do something, I feel that I’m taking that away from other people, but I won’t stop doing it unless they tell me to. I can easily differentiate right from wrong – that’s not what this is. It’s the obstacle of me needing order, otherwise I can easily become dysfunctional. Mentally, certainly. Visibly, quite likely.
I’m at a time in my life where things are falling into place, and while it’s relieving to know that my neurodivergent mind doesn’t actually mean that I’m a toxic person to be around, it’s still exhausting to learn that so much of my childhood and my adulthood is due to something that is a part of me and that I have to learn to accept on this journey of self-love.
In learning of my neurodivergence, I’ve had to deal with the feeling of being an imposter and I’ve had to unlearn the image of the stereotypical, media-endorsed version of the autistic human who is emotionless, with no imagination, who is non-verbal and who has no empathy for others. Oh, and who is also amazing at maths! That was my absolute worst subject.
What I have learned is that my emotions, my creativity, my love for words and my hyper-empathy for other people and particularly animals are all part of who I am, and that there really is a spectrum of people like me, who experience the world in such similar ways.
We have these images in our minds of what people should look like, and how they should act. This presents us with the grotesque opportunity to set a standard of how a person should present themselves to meet a tainted criteria. If we want to be inclusive in sharing and expressing our truths, then we need to break down the barriers that are preventing people from opening up.
You know, the barriers that we created in the first place…