I’ve been so hard on myself … and confused for so much of my life. All things considered, disabilities and differences included, I may be one of the most resilient humans ever.
I exaggerate, but still. Having had the recent realization that my neurological differences go beyond the symptoms of ADHD, and even those that come with Sensory Processing Disorder, I am set on a quest of reframing my life experiences within the context of Autism.
As I embrace this new revelation of a lifelong reality, I wonder what the first 40 years of my life would have been like with the knowledge and understanding that my way of experiencing and interpreting my existence was impacted greatly by my unique Neuro-cocktail (my term of endearment for my brand of neurodivergence). How might have this knowledge have influenced and assisted me concerning my self-image and overall mental health?
The following are some “wandering wonderings” based on some rough spots in my life.
What if I had I known earlier in life that not only did I feel very differently from those around me, but that my way of feeling was a product of my neurology and it colored everything?
I wonder if I had known that my brain would not reward me for following certain social etiquette, would I still feel guilty for the “Thank You” notes that got written but never got sent to the guests that came to my wedding almost 20 years ago? Would I have beaten myself up so ruthlessly if I had understood that I didn’t have the organizational skills to follow through on social mandates, especially if they included more than one step? Would I have asked for help or found ways to accommodate myself better?
Would I have even tried to take a job as a telephone customer service representative if I would have known that I can’t understand people very well when I can’t read their body language? And that the distortion that phones add to voices hurts my ears? That these things together raise my anxiety to a level that I cannot access information from my brain or process efficiently?
I wonder if I would have known that my executive function affected my ability to memorize music throughout my music education and early career, and when I was under mental and sensory/environmental stress it would be nearly impossible to recall those songs … would I have asked for the accommodation of having my sheet music on stage with me at my recitals and concerts?
Would that– and the ability to skip the protocol of confronting my professor before “going above their head” concerning their abusive treatment of me– have kept me from having a nervous breakdown at age 22 and dropping out of college when I was just credits away from at least two degrees?
I wonder if I would have understood that my intuition about people, along with what I now understand to be a neurologically-enhanced skill for pattern recognition in human behavior, was trustworthy? Would I have been aware that I was vulnerable to abusive people in my interminable assumption that I must be incorrect and that others couldn’t possibly be taking advantage of me? Would I have still found myself in situations where I was repeatedly emotionally and mentally manipulated and sexually abused by my peers?
Would I have known that participating in activities that I didn’t want to participate in and didn’t like, and enduring the abusive behaviors of others, wasn’t a prerequisite for “friendship”? Would I have somehow been informed that “No” is an acceptable answer even if it means that you could lose the one “friend” you sort of have? Would I have been empowered to say “No”? Would the desperate desire for someone to like me even have allowed it?
I wonder if I would have known that my intense desire to ask why the people around me and I were being verbally abused on a daily basis, even though I knew it would result in more abuse, would I have stopped asking? Would my brain have been indefinitely set on reconciling what I had just witnessed with what I was told had or had not just happened? Would I have stopped trying to understand? Would I have given myself permission to call abuse what it was? Would I have told someone? Would I have believed that it wasn’t my fault somehow?
These wonderings are a mixed bag of so many thoughts, but a person’s neurological context matters. It is certainly a thing to wonder about, or if you’re me, pick apart and analyze and evaluate and solve the puzzle that is my brain, my pain, and my relationships.
However, I think it is a good thing that I know now. I see such hope for myself moving forward within the context of acknowledging my autistic brain in regard to making new relationships and examining old ones. Being able to detect harmful patterns of thinking and understanding my inclination toward acquiescing are so important in the building of personal and professional boundaries. The work is hard and feels very counter-intuitive to someone who wants so deeply to give others the benefit of the doubt.
I was willing to absorb the wrongs of others so that I could reconcile, at least within myself, the things that people do to make some moral or logical sense. I have spoken to many Neurodivergent humans lately that know exactly what I am talking about. I think that having found that I am not alone in this pattern of behavior has already helped me to build better boundaries and to understand myself more, to trust myself more, and to take all of that damage I’ve incurred outside of this new understanding and stand on it to advocate for myself, my children, and my people.