In my opinion, I am a strong and determined person. I see what looks to be true and right to me, and I go for it.
Is this nature or nurture or both? It’s impossible to know. But I can look back at my feelings. I can explore past reactions to my environment. For example, I cannot remember ever trying to dress for other people. As a child, I didn’t think I should have to blend in or to pretend to be like other people.
Autonomy has been an advantage of my upbringing. My parents had very flexible expectations. Clothing just had to be functional. Food was food. We were allowed to eat outside of mealtimes, in fact the kitchen was stocked with snacks we could choose for ourselves. As for entertainment, we were provided with instruments if we wanted to learn. I felt free to develop an interest in any music genre.
We were not pressured to attend church once we were old enough to stay home alone, nor to be baptized. One could argue that this was not guidance enough for children, but I do aknowledge the privilege of being raised by accepting parents.
Another privilege relates to both family and society. I had the privilege of choosing a lifestyle that was generally understood and accepted. I did not want more directionless schooling. I wanted to work. My boyfriend and I decided to marry and work and travel. We viewed the future as wide open! My parents offered to give us a wedding and made the whole experience very special for us.
I have been negatively impacted by society’s expectations of women at times. But thankfully, wonderfully, my family has never limited me by pressuring me to do the chronologically “normal” things. Although we got married at 20, nobody openly assumed that we would follow the common relationship path (destination parenthood, etc.). Now we’re in our 30s, my husband and I are just as happy and even more excited about our life together!
What I’m trying to say is that I feel grateful. And my gratitude conflicts with the despair I feel as I fail to fit in with a community. Fail. It’s a heavy word, full of trying and wanting and hoping and loss. With each job came a supervisor who looked bemused at my need for clarification. Were my questions so unusual? With each new acquaintance came the rollercoaster: make a plan, open up, answer with too much, answer with too little, go home to collapse from stress, wonder why everything was so hard.
Then, Neurodivergence. (Not the title of a sci-fi film, but the experience of being wired differently from the majority of people.) This was a type, a description, a way of being that fit me. Different forever, from birth to death. And I was not alone! There were adults worldwide living their neurodivergent lives, some with a label and others without. Perpetually anxious, perpetually explaining, often othered, often lonely.
What do you think I did with this realization? I asked myself, what is right and true to me?
No amount of joy in my true self could erase the grief over what could have been had I understood myself sooner. It was unfair! My unintentional mask had sapped my energies, only to barely succeed at appearing normal. And, now what? I had to re-learn what was real and what was forced? I know that many other neurodivergent folks have experienced more pressure and oppression and have much more to grieve than I do. But I am Robyn the Weird so I have to say she deserved much better!
Learning is key to this whole “being alive” experience. The longer we’re alive, the more we relax our expectations. Compare a grandparent’s perspective to how that same person viewed the world as a young parent – time made a big difference! The truth is, we could fasttrack the lessons of time by cultivating acceptance. We would need to unite our families and communities with a shared vision that there is no normal. The goal: to foster communication between people who think differently.
Think what would change if employers were prepared to ask what the new hire needed to succeed. Think of the friendships that could grow from asking each other to be authentic, to share their uniqueness, up front.
When I learned to value my neurodivergent brain, my love for myself extended to others. I wanted to understand how others experience life. It is not enough to hit the local coffee chain wearing a plastic smile and exchange the usual social banter. That shouldn’t be enough for anyone.
Open My Eyes
Every time a neurodivergent voice rings out authentically, our world becomes a brighter place. That is, if the world is listening at all. As with any privilege, the neurotypical experience blinds most people to the dangers of social norms. But a disability points out how the world neglects those who are different. In communicating what they need, the neurodivergent population shines a light on what is wrong with society. However, solutions are not simple by any means.
For example, why are so many jobs dehumanizing? Why are so many laws made to benefit the non-disabled and the two-parent family structure? Whose fault is it that there aren’t flexible living arrangements and careers that accommodate health and wellness? Is poverty the default outcome for those who aren’t attaining full-time work with a spouse, children, and a community that understands them?
A person disadvantaged by society needs creative solutions, yet society makes it even more difficult to put those solutions into practice. (Ranty truth, here we go!)
Don’t you agree that flexible jobs and living arrangements that support mental health and wellness would benefit every human being? How could successful employment and improved health not benefit the entire community, the country, everyone?
(Cue the bemused neurotypical wondering what we just did to their perception of normal!)
A Beautiful Trainwreck
So I’m living in the now, unmasking, and processing old experiences anew to understand my truth. There’s pain and clarity. Privilege and disadvantage. It’s a beautiful trainwreck!
I’m looking with fresh eyes at the messages the world sends reeling through the atmosphere: labels are nothing, labels are everything. Change is crucial, change is dangerous. Corporations care and Capitalism keeps the world afloat. Different is wonderful, but not hirable. I could go on, but the overall message is one you all know intimately.
In my privilege, I write a blog for fun and I write emails full-time for one company or another. I have a loving, happy marriage partnership. I have fought for myself to get where I am now.
In my differences, I find strength, joy, humanity, creativity and a hunger for truth. You can find this, too. 1) Understand your disadvantages and your privilege. 2) Grow an interest in the uniqueness of each human’s experience. See, we all have pain in common. Pain leads to action which leads to bettering the world.
Is the world good enough now? If you answer yes, I might suggest you examine your privilege, too.
Thank you for reading! 💜