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Obligatory Autism Awareness Month post

[Post I made on previous social media platforms in previous years, so some bits may be a bit outdated]

It’s April so I suppose I need to make some obligatory post about my experiences as a neurodivergent individual, either about how proud I am that it makes me so super special or how awful everyone treats me. I can’t 100% give either of those, so I’ll just go into my experiences more generally. It’s hard to say when the signs that I was “different” showed up. I had a tendency towards all-encompassing interests very young, but that’s normal even for neurotypical children. I was very particular about food, but once again, I can’t say that I did that more often than neurotypical children of other ages. I suppose the first sign was that whenever adults would ask me questions, they would get frustrated when I didn’t answer, thinking I wasn’t listening, when really I was just thinking about a proper response. The idea of answering right away when I couldn’t provide them with the best possible answer just didn’t make sense to me. As I got a bit older, I suppose I had the opposite problem. I would talk too much, interrupting my friends and giving them an earful about ferrets or spiders or whatever my current big interest was. My mother kindly informed me of what I was doing and how it wasn’t polite. This I actually understood the reasoning behind and I tried then and still try now to avoid doing this. I found an outlet to go on as long as I wanted about my special interests uninterrupted in the form of fiction writing, a hobby I have to this day. I was incredibly uncoordinated and bad at sports, which led to the little boys making fun of me quite a bit during PE. I was advised by well-meaning adults to practice so I would get better or stand up for myself, but my skills did not improve and, whenever I tried to say something in response, I just froze up. Unfortunately, as I moved on to middle school, the fact that something about me was unmistakably “off” was still quite obvious, which led to me being pretty severely bullied, albeit by my neighbors in the classroom rather than sports field. I acted weird, I talked weird, I dressed weird on free dress days, I listened to music that the other kids hadn’t heard of while finding theirs unbearable. I wouldn’t learn until much later the extent of my issues with auditory processing, which have played a big role in my taste in music. One of my long-term friends, whose taste in music I have long shared, also has issues with auditory processing. I find it very interesting that many figures of the new wave scene, one of the few music genres I like - Danny Elfman, Gary Numan, the guy from Tears for Fears, and more - are neurodivergent, as are many members of the music scenes that I have become involved in. Writing and music were a big escape for the unpleasantness of my adolescence, between bullying, the fact that my other mental health problems were starting to become more apparent (namely, my OCD, which maybe I’ll write a big spiel about during OCD Awareness Week in October if I’m in the mood), as well as some other puberty-induced self-realizations. I suppose that brings me to the statistic about the prevalence of LGBT+ identities in the neurodivergent community. People have tried to present all sorts of hypotheses about this, usually in a way that derides at least one of those, but I will provide a few of my own: first off, aside from the fact that the numbers are not that much higher, these statistics refer to out-LGBT and diagnosed neurodivergent people, neither of which represents the entirety of either community. Secondly, consider that someone in therapy for one of those things is likely to uncover other things. Lastly, and this is the one that I think is the most significant to me personally, it is harder for neurodivergent people to hide parts of who we are. While it is a myth that neurodivergent people cannot lie (my apologies to any neurodivergent people who have been using this myth to their advantage with their parents, bosses, et al), fact is, when you don’t internalize social norms the same way, you don’t see a need to pretend or, in some cases, you just can’t. My mom noticed pretty early on that I seemed “obsessed with gay people.” I was always talking about LGBT-related things in the news or celebrities. I got incredibly excited whenever I met adults that were in some way LGBT, flapping my hands and giggling like a maniac. I wonder if some of them thought I was laughing at them. She likely also noticed a pattern among the pictures I chose to decorate the wall by my bed with. Unfortunately, I underestimated the bigotry that still existed and I may have come out a bit too young. Between my social awkwardness and initially referring to myself as “pansexuelle” (I still don’t know what that was supposed to mean), it is no wonder that so many people in high school wrongly thought I had crushes on them. I always struggled making and maintaining friendships, so sometimes the ways I would attempt to pursue friendships came off as overly enthusiastic. I see now why people thought that, but at the time, it genuinely hurt my feelings when people thought that I was trying to romantically pursue them when I just wanted friendship and “people who thought I had crushes on them” became a whole new genre of villains in my adolescent writings. It was very hard for me to make friends and my strangeness pushed people away further. I won’t say that I or anyone is entitled to friendship, but it was hard. Some people complimented me for “not caring what other people thought,” but that didn’t feel right either. I acted the way I did because I literally did not know how to act differently, but I still cared a great deal about how people thought about me. As a result of the various issues I was dealing with, I struggled academically. I always had trouble asking for help until it was way too late. I started to pick up on the whole concept of “don’t be yourself, people don’t like that person,” but rather than doing the whole social-blending thing that neurotypical people can, I invented entire new personas. I had a massive inferiority complex and felt that I was just bad at everything. A lot of the people who I became naturally attracted to just so happened to be much more academically inclined and often had some special talent and I joked that I had a “genius fetish.” Though people were attracted to me, no one seemed to want me on an emotional level and I understood why. I honestly became convinced that no one even wanted me as a friend. I went into a spiral of self-isolation. One of my early relationships was with a status-obsessed narcissist who simultaneously told me how cute and interesting I was, but also fed into my inferiority complex. They would deride me about my awkward social behavior around their friends or if I dressed in a way they didn’t deem acceptable. I hear it is a common thing among neurodivergent people deemed “cute,” people like you because you’re adorably “quirky,” but don’t understand that your “quirkiness” comes at a cost. They were among the first people that I liked who I didn’t put on a pedestal and yet they seemed disappointed by that. On the other hand, I remember asking them if they’d had crushes on a few people who they seemed to talk about in a way that was, well, reminiscent of the way that I spoke about my crushes. Rather than saying, “no, they aren’t my type,” or even “yes,” they often said something along the lines of, “no, I couldn’t, they’re too wonderful and amazing.” This both confused me, as someone who had been attracted to many people who I had considered too wonderful and amazing for me, but also didn’t do much for my self esteem, for being attracted to someone seemed to be a form of debasement in this person’s opinion. I sort of let it slide because I had similar admiring feelings towards one of these people - they were smart, nice, and accomplished, but I wasn’t attracted to them, though that had more to do with them not being my type then them being too wonderful for me to allow myself to feel attraction to. Had they been more of a dark-eyed waif, perhaps I would have felt that way (maybe the fact that they were the only one of these people that my then-significant other would gush about this way that I never felt jealous of is telling). This was perhaps a preview of some more unfortunate things that would happen as that relationship continued that I won’t detail here. The most confusing thing, however, was the aforementioned status obsession. For all the concern about how I behaved around their friends, they didn’t even seem to like some of these friends. Whenever they talked about these friends to me privately, they always seemed to be complaining about them or even making fun of them. I didn’t understand why someone would be friends with people for any reason other than simply enjoying their company. This partner of mine was very into the idea of gaining some sort of status from these people, an abstract concept that my neurodiverse brain simply could not grasp. I won’t go much further into this particular relationship, which could be another several pages on its own, but I will say that that story has a happy ending and that, after we broke up, that person went to therapy, uncovered the Freudian source of all of their problems, and the world has one less unkind person as a result. Of course, the PTSD I developed as a result of that relationship was not a fun thing to add on to my existing problems, especially considering that I decided to move to another part of the state and go to “real college” after that. For the many emotional struggles that I had during college, I am glad that I finally had a therapist that I was honest with (as opposed to the one I had as a teenager who I simply told I was “stressed about homework”) and received formal diagnoses. Now as an adult in the real world, diagnoses and all, I can’t say if things are better or worse. I remember being told that all the issues I had in high school, with people thinking I had crushes on them and telling a significant other of mine (people I barely knew, mind you) not to date me because I was “weird” would end once I was out of high school. Come college years, people still found my enthusiastic attempts to befriend them odd and someone else was warned to avoid me because of my “weirdness.” Now, being twice as old, I still have to deal with some of those things, but I think I have navigated it. I don’t like the taste of coffee or alcohol, but that’s alright because my brain wiring means caffeine and alcohol don’t affect me the way they do other people anyways. I don’t like most pop music, but the genres that I do like have close-knit subcultures of interesting people. I still sometimes have to deal with grown adults acting like they don’t want me sitting at their cool kid table. At this point, when I hear that some family-adjacent person thinks I have some especial dislike for them, somehow different from the rest of the family, when I’m the one who probably defends them the most when they aren’t around and the person they think is their True Ally is the person I’m usually doing the defending against, I just laugh. What else can you do? My life isn’t perfect and, in the society we live in, it would probably be a lot easier for me if I were neurotypical, but why would I want that? If neurotypical society means answering questions quickly instead of meaningfully, bullying people who aren’t like you, listening to music you don’t actually like, hiding your excitement, basing friendship off of abstract concepts rather than mutual enjoyment of each other’s company, and a lot of buying into each other’s lies, I don’t see the appeal.

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