What will people think?
I was playing an Authentic Relating Game, called “Curiosity”, on Zoom, with a man I feel a delightful connection to. He got to ask me questions about myself. I gave him permission to ask about anything he was genuinely curious about (not ordinary “small talk” questions – but deep probing questions). It turns out he was most curious about a comment I made playing with him when we first met, over a year ago.
“I feel like everyone got a user manual and I didn’t.” This resonated with him strongly and he wanted me to elaborate.
I told him my most simplified take on neurodiversity. That we humans are born with certain features or instincts. They, of course, vary in variety and intensity from person to person but there are a few fundamentals the model-of-me seems to be missing completely: like a sense of direction, difficulty (embarrassing delays) processing language and no facial recognition. And there are a few features that are turned up in volume so loud as to be debilitating in modern life (sound, smells, textures, emotions).
After a few questions and answers about what it was like to grow up this way he revealed his own difficulties with focus, the pain that caused him and the brilliant compensations he made.
At the end of the game he was instructed to give me a gift. His gift was that I live comfortably in the knowledge that my differences are “not apparent to the general public.”
That didn’t feel like a very special gift. I wanted to discuss it with my friend but I don’t think I was supposed to (as per the guidelines of the game) so I just gave him my friendly smile and said, “Thank you.”
But, dear friend, I do want to discuss it. I want to tell you why that didn’t feel like a gift to me. You see, I live in the world I spent decades creating around myself. In this world, it doesn’t matter to me if people know about my neurodiversity.
Ever since I survived middle school, (let’s take a moment of silence to thank the universe for allowing us to survive middle school) I mostly don’t care what the people around me think of my differences. There is little consequence for me as I get to choose who I spend my time with and I spend it with people who would never choose to hurt me no matter what my differences are.
Bottom line, if there is someone who would use my neurodiversity against me, I have the freedom to stay far away from them.
The ability to hide my differences is not a gift. I accidentally did that for the first 45 years of my life, but the last 15 years I chose to celebrate it. I tell anyone I want to be close with.
What would be the point of my hiding it now? I hid it (for the first 45 years) because I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was just defective and needed to try harder to be normal. The first 45 years were devoted to trying to figure out why and how. But the last 15 years I have been learning to love myself the way I think others should have loved me all along.
The people who loved me early on knew I was different and the truly loving ones listened patiently while I told them all about whatever my latest theory was and what steps I was taking to overcome it, like:
- I was an addict,
- I was codependent,
- I was a victim of early childhood abuse,
- I was mildly bipolar.
- I suffered from generalized anxiety and depression.
If there was ever a self-help book that touted even one of my symptoms I read it, shoehorned myself into the diagnosis and tried to follow the instructions to cure myself. Inevitably, the diagnosis didn’t really fit…until… I learned about sensory processing disorder, and (even more recently) about being an autistic female (which is quite a bit different from being an autistic male).
Actually the gift I would have preferred from my gaming friend was, “I wish for you a world where neurodiversity is understood and treated with the kindness and respect all humans should bestow upon each other.”