Definition of Neurotypical: not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior. “Neurotypical individuals often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one or the only correct one”
Definition of Neurodiverse: The displaying of or being characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior; not neurotypical.
I have lived a life as a neurodiverse person, suffering from the effects of a traumatic childhood which left me with several mental disorders. In my observation, the divide between the neurotypical and the neurodiverse is similar to the disconnect between political parties, people of different religions or ethnicities, the young versus old, man versus woman, sexual preference, perhaps you can add your own.
At the very core of any disconnect is a stance that is rooted so deep in the molecules and makeup of a person and is so emotional to the touch, that the old saying was coined “never talk politics or religion at the dinner table.”
I, however, going against the grain, do just that. I do bring up topics of religion and politics at the dinner table. What I am actually saying is, I have a perverse fascination in acknowledging and verbalizing the things we as humans use to separate ourselves from each other. I am curious as to walls we build in our lives that are larger than any wall President Trump could even imagine. These human walls cause hate and discord in our society to the point of physically acting out our positions at times in such things as riots and Wars. Yes, we are even willing to die for our stance on a thought our position held so firmly. My, some would call rudeness, in bringing up unspeakable topics, is my own fascination to see if the two factions that are at War in opinion and belief, have any way or hope of connection whatsoever.
Some engage in this exercise in hopes of changing a person’s mind. This is typically an impossibility unless a situation occurs in a person’s life that forces them head-on into seeing things from another’s perspective. In keeping with my topic of neurotypical vs neurodiverse, an example of this would be parents giving birth to a child with a mental disorder. If the parents choose to receive the child into their life and have a relationship, they are forced to learn how to cope with the fallout of symptoms the child exhibits. What ensues is a very mandated education and submergence into a lifestyle and mindset they may have never owned. The advocacy that is needed to raise a child with mental illness is all-encompassing and never-ending. That assumes the parent chooses to embark on such a journey for the health and well-being of the child.
My parents did not choose that path. Instead, I was given over to the custody of the State of New York as a foster child. This was necessitated as neither of my parents were capable of coping or dealing with me and the mental disorder(s) I suffer from. I label this as the path of neglect and denial. It can occur for various reasons, in a multitude of situations, that can cause one person and their mindset to completely dissociate themselves from the other and their differences. The person(s) in denial are so entrenched in their own way of thinking, there is no possibility to shed light on a subject they refuse to even acknowledge.
There are times when one parent will and one parent will not choose to do what is necessary to learn how to care for such a child, as in my example with a mental disorder. This causes a vast chasm to grow in the relationship between the married couple that is usually never bridged once it exists. This could be said for any of the above examples. Unfortunately, I have also observed it is very rare that both parents partner to learn the new skill set of coping, or whatever might be necessary to raise the child. Where much can be gained from having a dual alliance and sharing of responsibilities in regard to caretaking and emotional output, typically one parent is left to bear 100% of the burden.
As my parents avoided this journey, I was left to be my own advocate. It meant acquiring the skills, which I have used for a lifetime as I am now in my 50s, to try to ingratiate myself and fit into a world that has always seemed foreign in my eyes. The biggest mistake I have always made and unfortunately continue to make is in believing I will be understood as a neurodiverse person in a neurotypical world. When I embarked on the journey to be understood in this lifetime, I incorrectly held the belief I could be understood by those different than me. What I have concluded at this point in my life, is that will never occur.
Just as a man can be in the room while his wife is giving birth to their child, he can hold her hand and be with her throughout the labor pains and delivery… Yet a man will never know the true essence of having a human growing inside of his body and giving birth to another life. A man will never understand childbirth, although they will engage in the parenting of that child and hopefully love that child. The bond between mother and child, however, is unlike no other and is unexplainable to a male.
At least our society has acquiesced to this knowledge. I submit to you, the case of having a disordered mind, and therefore being neurodiverse, causes a person to view things from an entirely different perspective throughout life. This perspective will never be understood by a person with an ordered mind. Just as a man can witness a woman’s birth pains and never feel them, an ordered mind can never truly experience the anguish and heartbreak of a disordered mind. The very fact that those of us that do suffer symptoms of mental disorders are not able to leave ourselves and get a break, such as a caregiver might be able to do, serves to substantiate that difference. The neurodiverse are left with the knowledge that any break we might choose would be the ultimate one. That being the taking of our own life. The neurotypical label suicide as the “easy way out”. They would say it is the way of a “coward” or a “selfish person”. The neurodiverse see it as the only way to rid those they love of the intense suffering and sacrifice of our symptoms as they wreak havoc in their lives. We want the pain to end for us as much as we want it to end for them.
As we were never given a choice as to acquiring our disorder or symptoms, there is a huge disconnect in trying to explain our symptoms, or, justifying our need to be understood by a neurotypical. We would give our proverbial right arm to be like you. I have been accused, however, of acting out via my symptoms as a way to draw attention to myself. I am called selfish and seen as a liar or someone who betrays another when my symptoms bring me to places in an attempt to soothe the beast inside of me. Most of us are incapable of soothing ourselves (due to a damaged amygdala from trauma) and resort to things such as self-harm and mutilation, hurting others, or impulsive acts like shopping binges, overuse of alcohol, drugs, addiction to sex or gambling. Yes, we may hide or outright lie to a neurotypical as they judge our behavior and are unable to realize we are handcuffed to pain, emotional and physical, 24/7. The judgment, verbal and/or physical abuse we endure and the accusations toward our methodology of self-soothing, only serves to add to our pain with shame, guilt, condemnation, remorse, and thus the cycle of addiction continues.
I rarely have solace or peace in my life. I am reprimanded for this also. I am told to find my identity in God, practice mindfulness, do yoga, eat a different diet, perhaps a vitamin regimen. There are various ways a neurotypical may suggest to omit my pain and suffering.
After many years of intensive counseling and psychotherapy, and ingesting countless medications to treat my symptoms and ‘cure’ me, I am left with the knowledge that no cure exists. They have come up with a name for this. It is taught through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and is known as the term “Radical Acceptance”. We, the neurodiverse, are to radically accept the fact that our symptoms are a part of our life. Typically they exist throughout our lifetime, in varying degrees.
I acknowledge the fact that symptoms can be curbed or held at bay through the knowledge of how to cope and deal with them, or, use of psychiatric medication. That is not my point, however. My point is The Great Divide between the two bodies of thought between the neurotypical and the neurodiverse. What to do about this conundrum? Is there such a thing as bridging this divide or a solution to two radically opposed methods of thought? If so, what is the price? What is the hybrid of blending the two together?
I have thought perhaps I had found others, who are neurotypical, that held neurodiverse thoughts or aspects to their personality. I have often hoped and begged God for a melding of thought between my husband of 30+ years and I. I have imagined certain friends, who are neurotypical, have an inclination to understand me as a neurodiverse.
Sadly, I have yet to see a connection made between the two parties that is sustainable and helpful. A connection that would surely serve to the betterment of life for each side. A meeting of the minds that could heal not hurt a relationship. An understanding of what the opposite side needs, without finger-pointing or blame toward the other. A way to communicate without having to minimize, discount or eliminate the feelings and thoughts of the other party.
I will state again, those of us who are neurodiverse never did or will ask for the rendering of this condition upon us. We do good to understand what we must deal with, being us, on a daily basis. Am I left with the thought that I will only be accepted and not judged by those like me? Will there ever come a time I do not have to spend inordinate amounts of effort to explain myself as a person? Will there always exist a relentless necessity to justify my actions, thoughts and deeds, or reactions to things in life that differ from those who are neurotypical?
Will I always be seen by neurotypicals as a “consumer” and therefore needing to be sold to by the neurotypical community in terms of psychiatric care and services? Is it a fact that I can never effectuate change in my environment as a ‘consumer’, due to the fact that I am not to be taken seriously if my symptoms leak out? If I try in my way in thought or deed, to give to the system that exists in society to control and manage me, in an attempt of the betterment of that system for those like me… am I just spitting in the wind? Are the neurotypicals I am forced to work with in an attempt to better this system negating me for what I am, neurodiverse, and therefore are they indifferent to my ideas or propositions?
I write this at Holiday time. A time of joyous celebration and family reunions, decorations and heartfelt music that is participated in by most neurotypicals. They are not able to understand the suffering this time of year brings to the neurodiverse. We feel it in forms of PTSD of holidays passed spent in trauma as a child. It is displayed as we suffer the loneliness of rejection from family and friends. We feel the disparity of not being able to hold a job and gift others with grandiose gestures, due to lack of funds. Some of us are indigent, homeless, without hope and therefore with nothing to celebrate. You might glimpse at us and even catch our eye, then quickly look away, as the pain is too great. You may laugh at our attempts or be disgusted as we try to make others feel better, by giving too many gifts if we have an ability to do so… or worse yet, racking up credit card charges as we try to validate our right to participate in the joy of the holiday season. All of it stemming from a need to feel included, or, as a way to douse the deep pain we feel this time of year.
I have done all of the above, year after year, only to be scolded for purchasing items I do not have money for. For trying to people please with gifts that embarrass neurotypicals. I have been told I purchase things that I like for myself, not for them and have been asked to return them. I have handed gifts to people, neurotypicals, who have not thanked me or acknowledged the receipt, even to my face. I have fought relentlessly with my husband over spontaneous splurges in my attempt to buy my way into the joy of the season.
I know I’ve been looked upon with pity and yes, disgust, at my inability to know how to celebrate this time of year. No, I don’t find solace in repetitive watching of movies or childhood cartoons that resurrect memories of neglect and abuse for me. I do not hold to treasured traditions of others on my husband’s side that I never knew or were not inducted into in my life. I am tired of getting looks of disbelief because I don’t like the movie “Home Alone”. I spent many years Home Alone and they were never fun or rambunctious. They were hell.
On behalf of the neurodiverse community, I would ask the neurotypical to stop for one second from your celebratory gyrations. I would ask us neurodiverse to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and isolating. Stop drugging and drinking ourselves into a place where suicide is easy because we are numb. If we can both stop pointing fingers at each other and blaming the other for not understanding. If both parties could try to radically accept the fact that we are quite different. Now, take a deep breath, and ask the other, looking into each other’s eyes, not as strangers… What do you need from me to help make this holiday season better for you?
With you on the journey,