I’ve spent a lifetime (40 next year!) observing others discreetly. Analysing situations and the people within them, from social to work environments, while interpreting the results and applying them to myself. I emulated others dress, style, interests, taste in music, hobbies, habits, expressions, mannerisms, work personas, phone voices the list goes on. While I believe every human is influenced by those they surround themselves with, mine was strategic, the end goal was to get through life with minimal pain and exposure. Exposure for the fraud I was. There was (and sometimes it creeps back in) an unrelenting anxiousness, to not be found out. If others knew how different I was, if they understood the depth of how much I truly didn’t get in conversation or which laugh of mine was my fake one surely they would do the worst possible thing I could imagine, to laugh, ridicule and exclude me. The thought of this now still brings that familiar knot to my stomach. The one that won’t let go until I feel safe again, when I’m in my own environment.
Being labeled “academically gifted” in school, I walked a line between the accepted and rejected smart kid. In high school, I was a fringer. I had friends across a variety of social groups but only 1 or 2 close friends at a time. Being on the fringe of many groups served as an advantage for me as I got through high school with minimal bullying and no major embarrassing or painful experiences. However, the anxiety and effort of the everyday was exhausting. It was a lot of mental work dodging all of the potential social pitfalls followed by hours upon hours of overthinking scenarios in my head to try and understand what had transpired.
As I grew up, this social-shape-shifting habit led me to do this in relationships I had. I would meet someone, start dating them or hanging out with a new friend and I would become interested in their interests. Thankfully I had boundaries and certain principles I would not violate, but everything else was pretty much fair game. In a way, it was like trying on different character costumes. I’d play the role of the girlfriend or friend who liked xyz. I’d fully be immersed in the experience; I’d dress the part, participate in the activities and go to the concerts or festivals. Eventually though, that relationship wouldn’t last. Sustaining that role was impossible unless it reflected a part of the real me. The same pattern of anxiety, effort, dodging, exhaustion and overanalysing plagued my day to day.
It wasn’t until I met my husband that my social-shape-shifting practice was called out and I began to realise my pattern. Safe in knowing that he was with me for all of it, the good, bad, ugly and the confused, I’ve been able to explore and try things that I was genuinely interested in . It has been through this process that I have discovered the real me. The cloak of uncertainty and fear has been shed and I tread less cautiously and more confidently along my path. The point of critical mass came with my diagnoses. That process freed me from the weight of societies expectations. It was a cathartic process which provided me with the structure and tangibleness I needed, for me to just be me. Not everyone will need the formalised label as I did, but for me, it has been an integral part of my personal growth.
I’m not here to paint a picture that diagnoses leads to happiness. No, I’m here to share my experience and journey in the hopes that one person who is in that negative, spiraling space finds a thread of hope, of understanding and connection in here and is able to hold on as they fight their way out of the fog. The current road I am on, is not one that has been newly graded and paved, rather it is an abandoned railway line, that mother nature has begun to take back and I’m riding a skateboard on it. Despite it’s bumps, missing tracks and overgrowth it’s been and continues to be an adventure. One where I’m finding my place in this world again through my new lens. My new lens of true self-understanding, self-acceptance and forgiveness.
Along my way, my greatest source of knowledge, inspiration, hope and acceptance have been from fellow Neurodivergents. Others Autistics and ADHDers who share my labels and truly get it, because they too live it. I have found a community of like minded individuals and I don’t mean people who share my interests, I mean people whose minds or brains are wired like mine and who are divergent in relation to the statistical neuro norm.
Finding my community began online but since then it has led me to find a small group of mums who like me are Neurodivergent and are raising Neurodiverse children. We had a meet up recently with all our children for the first time and it was by far, hands-down the BEST play-date any of us have ever had (and yes, I discussed it with them). For multiple reasons I arrived nearly an hour late, and as I tried to apologise and explain it away, they reassured me it made no difference. I calmed immediately and my children must have picked up on the vibe of the house (and me) as they were comfortable straight away going and play with kids they weren’t familiar with. In the past, both have had trouble transitioning away from me into a new play/social environment. I found myself truly being me, and enjoying watching others being true to themselves. There was no masking, no shape-shifting. We were all sharing parts of ourselves the good, bad, ugly and confused, sharing our passions and connecting them to each other’s interests. It flowed seamlessly and was comfortable.
The concept of time was different. I wasn’t concerned with overstaying or trying to read the cues of when I should leave. When a kid screamed and sounded upset, it wasn’t automatically assumed it was mine. I saw similar parenting tactics to mine and we were all discussing things openly, asking questions and answering directly.
It is hard for me to articulate the ease with which I felt with the other women and their children in such a short amount of time. There was a much faster process of connection and an innate understanding. Instead of them talking to me about how challenging it must be for me at home, or how amazing it is how I “manage my kids”, we were sharing stories of similar experiences from childhood & parenting, swapping sensory self-regulation strategies & resources and discussing the ease of the time together for both us & our children.
Now please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am blessed with some amazing allistic (neurotypical) friends in my life whom I have a deep bond and connection with. I am also blessed for the support I have received from these women and I wouldn’t change that for the world. What was unexpected was the instant level of comfort and acceptance I felt with my fellow, Neurdivergent mummas.
We have found a short-cut to deep connection and friendship through our Neurodivergence; it is by far been the most pleasant surprise of my journey thus far.
Light & Love,