“Let me share an example from my life” (neurodivergence in the context of relating)

If I didn’t hold to the mindset above, that core urge to share, I would never have started or made the effort to maintain this blog as you see it today; and I would certainly have given it up at times when my health was at its most demanding yet, still, I continue through thick and thin.

This burning desire to share from my experience is the primary reason why I do it, above all else, driven by the feeling I have something to offer. Whatever I feel this is always seems to arise out of those places where I spot “relative experiences”; as in, places where something I have been through seems to relate to some of the context of what another person or group of people is going through. After all, if there was no sense of relating, why would I share? Why would I even bother to put in the effort? I’m driven by wanting to put forwards whatever might be of value or help shed light on another’s situation, as others have done for me (shedding light being a primary motivator for so much of what I do, which is why I called my original blog over a decade ago Scattering the Light). I know, for instance, that so many other people struggle with the same or similarly bewildering health issues and divergent traits as I do, languishing in that sense of hopelessness, loneliness and frustration that I know all too well.To put forwards whatever I can offer, rough hewn though it may be, feels normal, natural, compassionate, the right thing to do so why wouldn’t I?

Not so in the land of mainstream conversation where, I latterly learned, it is not deemed polite or appropriate to keep offering so many examples from your own life; so that’s what I’ve been doing wrong! This kind of behaviour, in “normality”, is deemed to be stealing the limelight, making it all about you, seeking attention, over-sharing and so on. Honestly, I really didn’t know I was so prone to overstepping the mark until, suddenly, I saw it.

I didn’t realise this for most of my life (nor did I realise I was autistic…the two things come together) but learning about it explains how, without intending to, I have offended and put-off so many people, even aborted so many promising new friendships before they got started (remember that post about the coffee meet-up I initiated three years back, that didn’t go so well for me?) I had no idea until I started to unearth the intensity trait just how often I say too much or make it too personal, too soon and how different or “not normal” this seems from the other person’s perspective. To me, confiding the (often tenderly personal therefore awkward or even painful to expose) “similar situation” I have been through is a symbol of my great compassion and preparedness for reciprocity and intimacy, a measure of just how much I value the other person and want to be of real service (not just give “lip service”) to them or their circumstances and, because I often find I have similar examples I can draw on, it feels natural to reciprocate, perhaps draw comparisons, hunt for universal solutions etc without wasting any time. Making the small talk kind of platitudes…”oh dear, sorry to hear that, hope things get better soon”…seems callous when you have anything more real, relatable or practical to offer or that might help them to gain another perspective (above most things, I value opportunities to gain the bigger perspective, join the dots, spot patterns and pool data; its the way my brain works) and I so like to get proactive, not languish.

However, I have now learned the long-slow-painful way, this is not the accepted way of the world and is not one of my most relationship-enhancing traits. I look back and flinch at all my years of assuming I was being appropriate when I drew on my own examples so freely, making myself vulnerable for a higher cause of making meaningful conversation…when, apparently, I was just meant to listen, keep my personal effects to myself and make appropriate soothing noises or simply join in with feeling victimised by circumstance, grinding an axe and other such group bonding exercises.

This is one of the many pitfalls of realising you are neurodivergent rather too late in life. I may not have wanted or even been able to change this trait if I had known about it sooner but I could have mitigated its worse effects. At best, knowing would have rendered me mute when I might otherwise tend to overshare or take-over a conversation, which also means it might also have rendered me next to useless in a handful of situations where my dive-in approach has actually been helpful and recognised as such (there have been some, usually involving friends who knew me better…or who came to appreciate me more afterwards because I was that person prepared to get real with them). Yet there may have been less collateral, and more friendships left standing.

Instead, I would have tried really hard to curb myself, biting my lip hard and just maybe I would have have made, and then kept, more friends because I would have successfully “normalised” my behaviour instead of putting people off or scaring them away, even blowing things up (if you could but see the graveyard of my friendships). So would modifying my behaviour have been the better outcome for me? Maybe, because (if you are not neurodiverse yourself) you probably have no idea how much this attempt to relate to others through sharing comparative scenarios from your own portfolio of experience turns people off. Even when it is meant (quite innocently) as a kind of friendship offering to show how much you care, also as a way of processing your thoughts outloud in the hope of being of more practical use to the situation (for instance, using real-life examples helps me to get my own abstract thoughts in order as someone who uses visual processing). It matters not…these things are simply “not done” in polite society and I blew it a few times too often.

In short, anecdotes drawn from your own life are not what most people want to hear so where does that leave me, as someone who draws on them all the time and almost doesn’t know how to think through a situation without using them as a prop? This is how I reason, its how I draw from my stockpile of available data (again, please also bear in mind that, as per many on the spectrum, I am a visual thinker therefore any advice that occurs to me tends to arrive in my head like a series of recollections, projected like small videos in my mind’s eye rather than as reasoned “logic” or “facts”). It’s also a reflection of my deeply subjective experience of life; mine being a dominantly “inside looking outwards” way of being in the world thus all my best offerings appear as examples presented in the first person.

To be clear, its not because I am self-obsessed but, quite the opposite, that I make the effort to offer stories from my life “to help” and, its important to add. I am a natural-born storyteller, its what I do and in the right circumstances can be my gift. However, oversharing is a known autistic pitfall (see this short video on the topic from Asperger’s From the Inside channel on YouTube). It’s a thing we fall into and, if so, I spend a lot of time down that hole. The habit of conducting a messy post mortem following a cringey self-exposing conversation, then living with embarrassment and regret, come with the territory so you have to work on having discernment; not everyone you meet is an appropriate audience for a moment of conversational vulnerability and unbridled openness!

Then there’s my intensity (lets not forget that) and for more on this important topic see my previous post. Fuelled by such eagerness to be of service and in all my enthusiasm to get on with things, to get the words out before I forget them or get in a muddle, I know I sometimes impart information as though pumping it through a firehose. In the fray, I can become a little blunt, perhaps a little too forthright as compared to acceptable standards. That intensity of mine can be daunting face-to-face, I (to quote my husband) get on my soap box and forget to check in with the other person or breathe and this can come across in a poor light in some situations. Its why writing my thoughts down, where I can pace myself, punctuate and edit (!) serves me so well. It’s also why I suggest writing as an outlet to anyone on the spectrum, especially of you have overexcitabilities (again, see that earlier post for Dabrowski’s theory on this and more on living with intensity as a trait). Trying to curb this trait in a social settings can be like trying to get control over a team of charging horses. However (as a point of insight) I have recently experienced this for myself as I’ve been following a whole load of neurodivergent and intensity podcasts and boy can those people talk; I sometimes get burned out just from listening and have to take a long break!

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

But then, why should I have to curb myself if this is my gift and all well-intentioned, the most useful attribute I can offer to a friend since I am no use at small talk? This associative, dot-joining thing is a known trait of neurodiverse thinkers who sometimes “have difficulty stopping endless associations” (Grandin, Temple – Thinking in Pictures). In fact, my mind can wander (what seems like) way off topic and back round again (as I’ve posted about before in my post Non-Linear Thinking), sweeping up all kinds of potentially useful things along the way but at risk of soundingly like a ramble to the uninitiated. My thinking doesn’t run at its best in tightly fenced straight lines and needs to gather information in a manner that more resembles the ins and outs of a flower shape, returning back to the centre many times over, having been on various excursions off to the side at different angles.

This is what I’m best at, in fact its the only way I know how to be, therefore I prefer to offer it up as a gift…my gift, the best I have to offer… not have to apologise for it or keep it checked. Even so, it can be a real obstacle to interacting with other people who don’t follow how I process and, most of the time, I find myself reining my conversation in to meet them where they are at, which is fine…but not all of the time. I really miss the days when I used to lean back in a chair with a very good friend and we would both let free with our conversation, see where it led, but then I suspect more than one such friend was also ND. Since I got chronically ill, I seem to have given up on such face-to-face contact and don’t know how to go about rekindling it. Perhaps it’s true that young adulthood is the most fertile ground for such relationships and they naturally die out or alter their dynamic as most people mature…leaving some of us craving still more.

Just as it isn’t so easy now in middle age, it wasn’t so easy in my schooldays either, and I know that my ND underpinned all of my social challenges, had I but realised. If I had known about my neurodivergence early in my life and gained the kind of support that is available these days (at least in certain quarters) then perhaps I might have been guided into making, then keeping, more friendships. Leane Holliday, author of one of my favourite first-hand accounts of discovering you are on the spectrum later in life and as a woman “Pretending to Be Normal”, describes these difficulties observed from her earlier life:

“It was easy for me to give my opinions on things, virtually all the time. I was by far the most blunt and outspoken of our group, even when my friends suggested I had gone too far. I never knew how far was too far. Even now, I cannot find one reliable reason for keeping my thoughts to myself. The world seems fickle on this point. Sometimes people want an opinion, sometimes they do not”.

So yes, it is all so bewildering when neurotypical people (NTs) seem to send out mixed and highly nuanced messages; worse when you have no idea you are even doing anything “wrong” in their eyes or have no grasp of any “rules” you are supposedly transgressing, nobody available to even explain those rules when you are younger since it is assumed you will somehow learn them by osmosis like everybody else. Holliday advises those in support of a ND person as follows: “Help the AS person establish a small group of friends who are educated in AS and able and willing to accept the nuances and intricacies of the syndrome. Be confident that AS people normally enjoy friendships, they simply might be confused in knowing how to begin and maintain them”.

Looking back, I all too clearly see the same things at play in my mother’s life (she was also, clearly, on the spectrum, though she had no idea). She strove tirelessly to be of help to so many people in her indomitable way, always running around offering aid to needy neighbours, taking care of numerous elderly widows living alone, always wanting to reach out and give something truly practical to their situations (though not necessarily nuanced or reserved enough in her manner for everybody’s taste; rather, she was direct, responsive and cut through all the crap) and of course this mostly turned them off, in spite of all she did. Thankfully, being autistic, she didn’t do any of it for popularity or thanks but it still made me so sad to see her lonely and without any reciprocal help in her final years as a widow herself living all alone with cancer.

Friendships, or lack thereof, can be a real problem for everyone, perhaps women “of a certain age” in particular and, for those living with chronic illness and who have thus been somewhat cut off from life for years, as I have, probably the most. So it’s a problem for me and then its not, partly because I have become so used to not having so many people to count as close friends over the years (relative to other women) and also because being relatively alone is not the terror to me that it might be to someone less autistic or introverted; besides, I have my husband and a couple of long-distance friends I can call on for a written note here and there (none of us are fond of the phone). This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel it as an absence or a pain in my life; it simply means I am accustomed and resigned to a solitary kind of existence. I’m not sure I even have the tools or stamina to do anything about it anymore, or if I’m even capable of changing my ways as this would demand of me, having been this insular way for so long that its all I’ve known for decades.

So am I lonely or simply “more alone” than I am meant to be according to normal standards (since when have I ever conformed with those)? I really don’t truly know for sure anymore, though there are times when I undoubtably feel sad over my lack of female companionship and as though life passes me by, with me left on the sidelines of friendships that happen to other people. Again, letting off some emotions by writing them, here or in my journal, keeps things in check.

Besides, even more so than the average school-age female to whom having a “bestie” is a passing phase, it seems (from my reading) that those on the spectrum actively prefer to invest in just one significant other rather than a whole pack of friends throughout all of their life. As in, just one singled out person they can offer their absolute best to would suffice, rather than a “network” or the trend for “social gatherings” that seems to reign supreme as what constitutes a social life for many mature women.Rather, what a ND person tends to crave is someone they can engage in the sort of friendship that is without any of those bizarre social trip wires hidden in place, as so many relationships seem to have (meaning no horrible surprises, sudden changes of tone or gross misunderstandings from intentions being misconstrued since this friend knows and accepts you with all your foibles, as you do them). They want a friendship that can survive the occasional bounce or a prolonged silence (NDs are well known to ebb and flow in the frequency of their contacts with other people) and where grudges are never held. Thus you both feel on a steady footing with each other through thick and thin and such a friendship can be leaned into across the years.

This kind of friendship becomes much harder to achieve, for everyone ND or not, as we reach adulthood when other factors, such as families, careers and distance, get in the way but they are harder still (a known factor behind increased loneliness for autistic women) when you are on the spectrum. One thing is for sure, group dynamics are the very hardest thing for NDs to deal with since having to deal with more than one person at a time in a social setting scrambles all our wires and leaves us tied up in an unholy mess, wondering how to behave according to the ever-mystifying group “rules”, where and how to interject our contributions, what oh-so-subtle unspoken cues (as NTs use all the time to communicate with each other) to try in vain to look out for, even if we did have any idea how to interpret or act upon them (which we probably don’t). Its why we tend to prefer to invest in one person at a time, so we can focus our attention and hope to get a few things right!

In hindsight, I see it all and its a relief (of sorts) to discern its not only me but “a thing” that curses neurodiverse v neurotypical combined relationships across the board. All the issues seem to arise out of a miscommunication of intention rather than anyone being “in the wrong”. Those on the spectrum are well reported (google it and read some first hand accounts if you don’t believe me) not to be competitive or to possess the kind of mindset that uses nuance, even manipulation, to get to a desired outcome plus we are famously rubbish at being able to tell when we are being lied to because we don’t naturally operate that way ourselves, thus it seldom occurs to us. We are far more direct, black and white if you will, in our thinking and approach and that (by the way) is not always the “bad thing” it’s portrayed as being; it’s just a case of being different to the norm. A hard one for us to learn is that NTs often don’t want honesty so much as sugar-coated or curated honesty. Meanwhile, the same thing doled out to us can really hurt or bewilder us as we don’t know what to trust (see this article on the complexities of ND v NT honesty).

Not being competitive in our motivations, we don’t seek accolades for having the saddest story or try to win win the pity prize therefore we are not doing that thing people think we are when we seem to take over with our example story. Its just simply that we see a situation and try to help, in the most logical way possible…by offering something we can relate to and which might help the other person to see the bigger picture. We want to indicate to the other person that they are not alone (because we know all too well what that feels like!) and we hope to bond over the similarity of our situations. This over-zealousness can come off “all wrong” to a suspicious mind that sees only how we have turned the conversation around by 180 degrees to talk about ourselves yet we are not even capable of the motivation that is hung around our neck for doing this since our brains are simply not wired to be so manipulative, its not how we are made and a true friend will come to see that and stick with us regardless.

Of course, now I know (three years plus of hyperfocusing the topic of late-diagnosed female autism and such has done much for my self-understanding) I am able to see all this in my blindspot, I see also how its all just a matter of different communication styles…yet I still don’t know how to fix it. I can’t be any other way than the way that I am without constantly holding myself back, trimming my own wings, which makes me so much less of myself that I might as well not bother turning up. Its another reason why I need to be able to express through writing, so I get to “be me”, unedited.

It means I am an acquired taste and those friends that remain either accept or put up with me the way that I am; maybe they value some of my input and perhaps there is a sort of truce because I have got better at holding myself back for their sake thus it works at least most of the time and I apologise when I realise I overstepped. I’m better than I used to be at receiving the hints. Thankfully, my husband really gets me and thus knows how to take me, for instance, as I try to be the best support I know how at this point where his mother is in a care-home and in fairly obvious and rapid demise. He “gets” me well enough to realise that the way the conversation so easily turns around, these days, to recollections of my mother and how I coped with this when it was my mother in this situation is my unique way of helping him, though for me it was 26 years ago. Its the best way I know how of showing him just how deeply I care and of indicating that I am with him every inch of the way, empathing his pain and his sense of loss because (as my stories of the past remind both of us) I can truly relate. He also knows (he even said this the other day) that when I am like this with other people who don’t “get” me so well, it freaks them out as they generally don’t want to hear about my stuff in the context of their own situations and are likely to take it as me turning it into being all about me, again…so I have to be careful. If I do it in front of my daughter, she points it out to me, with no frills, but my husband treats me kindly because he knows its just me and not done for any of the “bad” reasons that could be construed.

So, in summary, its all just a simple breakdown of communication because of two completely different ways of processing the same information; and its at the root of so much misunderstanding between NDs and NTs partly because, out of those two different types, only one of them is expected to change in order to conform to the preferences of the majority. Neither of them is wrong, they are just very different and, at times, its a case of never the twain shall meet because they each lack the ability to feel into each other’s shoes from experience, because their neurotype won’t let them.

So many of the non-computes that occur between NDs and NTs come down to this basic difference of intention behind the next action taken; what motives, what is the sentiment behind it. My feelings inform everything I do; you could say, I am feeling-led, very highly empathic. Its often my feelings of acute empathy that lead me to behave in a particular way around other people (more so than “logic”) as my mirror neurones are particularly active (this can be a thing on the spectrum, contrary to faulty beliefs that we “lack” empathy) so its hard not to offer what you “feel” could be of help when you sense someone is in pain. The very last thing on my mind is the unfathomable idea of dragging attention away from that person in order to square it on myself. Really, this is me striving to join the person I care about in their pain by saying “I know, I’ve been there, I got through it” and thus make it less daunting, perhaps less lonely to be sat where they are. I can’t speak for everyone on the spectrum but this is where I am coming from when I do this kind of thing.

It applies both ways, as in, when I go into a friendship I do so as an exercise in directness, honesty and authenticity, grasping an opportunity to make ourselves vulnerable together in celebration of our shared humanity, not seeing the point in anything less than this since shallow or fake friendships are an abject waste of time and energy, in my view. In relationship, I hold space for that person to be as fully themselves as I want them to allow me to be. Therefore I want that person to feel as open to pouring out all their existential processing to me as I am with them and, if I sense that they are not doing so, it saddens me and holds me back because I feel the reluctance in them.

In such cases, I bite back half or more of what I might otherwise share, guided by my sense that they are not comfortable with going where I might otherwise go. Here, I stop myself mostly because of my intuition alerting me to their discomfort but this doesn’t mean I feel happy about it. In fact, I can feel desperately short-changed in such a relationship. After all, I’m here for authenticity and want to feel at liberty to share all of who I am; anything less feels inauthentic but it can feel like a one-sided conversation if that other person isn’t there with you and that’s not good. Especially so if you still carry around the wounds of so many other relationships where people made fun of you or called you weird for expressing the way that you do. So I can seem pretty even-keeled and reasonable in some of my mature relationships, nothing much going on to alert anyone I’m as deep or discontented as I am, yet that person may only be getting a small portion of what I’m all about and, meanwhile, my internal frustration builds up and up. Again, writing is my outlet, without which I think I would burst.

Added to which, many years of highly limiting (yet hardly mainstream) chronic illness, plus a whole lifetime of neurodiversity (without having realised the latter for most of those troublesome years), do not make for an easy background from which to forge new friendships. Most friendships rely heavily on assimilation and, being so bereft of similarities with most people’s recent experiences or “mode” of thinking does not make for a good start, especially now I no longer have “being the parent of a school-age child” as the main topic in common that I seemed to rely on for a good many years’ worth of conversation with people I met, facile though that popular point of interest always seemed to be.

Most people seem to lean heavily on comparison, in search of reassuring “sameness”, as the very starting point for relationship; finding their comfort in finding similar benchmarks of experience whereas, for me, the fascination is often in whatever is most different and how we can use those points of diversity to expand our collective viewpoint into something we never even considered before. Surely here lies the perfect opportunity for growth: NDs and NTs are poles apart but imagine if we could just try to meet on some common ground whilst accepting those differences (that last part is key…nobody should be required to change themselves). Isn’t this exactly where the best hopes of humanity lie, as in, meeting across the so-called impossible divide?

However, when you are completely oddity in the presence of one or more NTs your differences are more likely (my typical experience) to threaten their viewpoint and make them feel ill-at-ease or band closer together, to your further exclusion. Its why I find face-to-face meetings with all but the tried and time tested friends so difficult these days and with groups of women nigh on impossible. By writing down my experiences like this, talking though I am to quite a few of you at once, I am far less likely to provoke whilst also much more likely to cross paths with those who are prepared to relate or at least meet me half way (thanks to the way that search engines work), which is one of the chief benefits of the internet to all of us belonging to a diversity subset. We are much more likely to “find our tribe”, trite as that phrase always sounds. Meanwhile, people can take me in small doses here, or simply turn me off!

Of course, I have often wondered whether, if I had more friends to meet up with, perhaps I would not be so mired in this state of chronic illness at all or perhaps I would forget all about my health issues, at least for a while and so the practice of this might form a healthier habit. The question is how to even begin. Finding others that have your chronic illness experience or neurodiversity in common is not as easy as it sounds, not least because of meeting-up limitations that come with the territory. Yet without these points in common, most relationships are at risk of floundering before they even get off the ground because you are back into the territory of having the quite different set of drivers behind your behaviours and communication style, right from the start. Plus you tend to carry around all your old wounds from previous rejections and misconstrued gestures and this nigh-on forces you to seek others who can relate rather better to the way you are likely to come across in a social setting. Speaking personally, and after all this water under the bridge of my less-than-straightforward life, I just can’t bear to go back to the way things were when I used to bend myself into a pretzel shape to try to fit in. Even though, in principle, I have nothing against being friends with NTs…if only they would take me exactly the way that I am. This is a much reported conundrum amongst NDs.

Noah Britton, who makes up one-fourth of the comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us, is quoted in this article as saying “You spend your whole life showing people various parts of yourself, [and] they get disappointed or confused or make fun of you. That can be really hard.” As a result, he finds it really difficult to open up to people any more and, as is often the case, aims to forge most of his friendships with other people on the spectrum, stating “This is the group with whom we are most connected and similar, and so we are drawn together” How people with autism forge friendships | Spectrum | Autism Research News. If we don’t find our group, and we don’t have the stamina or desire to modify ourselves in order to fit in, are we really condemned to a lifetime of loneliness? Here are the facts:

Although most of the studies seem to relate to children and young adults, the trend towards loneliness and exclusion is fairly compelling. One study found that approximately 40% of adults with autism do not experience reciprocal friendships (Kobayashi R, Murata T. Behavioral characteristics of 187 young adults with autismPsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences). Another found that adults with ASD often exprience social isolation (Orsmond GI, Krauss MW, Seltzer MM. Peer relationships and social and recreational activities among adolescents and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders). Another reports that it was found that “almost 40% of youth with an ASD never got together with friends” and “almost 50% of young adults with an ASD never received phone calls from friends and were never invited to activities by friends”, rates that are on average double or more compared to those of their age peers (Social Participation Among Young Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Orsmond et al). I can certainly confirm that I saw my singular teenage friend a lot less often than the considerable amount of time spent “hanging out” together by the rest of my classmates and it was unknown for anyone else to phone or invite me to anything though I tagged along if my friend saw other people. At other times of my life, I have also tended to rely on a singular friend and have never felt confident to lean on friendships too hard in case I lose them.

A study by Simon Baron-Cohen used a friendship questionnaire where a high score depended on factors such as the participant “reporting that they enjoy close, empathic, supportive, caring friendships that are important to them” and those that had either Asperger or high-functioning autism scored significantly lower than all the controls. In fact, there are dozens of studies throwing up this kind of data yet “autistic people overwhelmingly report that they want friends”, latest research is showing (How people with autism forge friendships), so how can this be? What goes wrong in the attempt? Does it look something like those things I have described; a break-down in communication styles, misconstrued intentions, alternate methods of relating, the best of intentions sometimes interpreted as the very worst and the constant unspoken expectation that the NDs modify their behaviour or be excluded?

Perhaps this pattern of social isolation (or the expectation of it!) gets ingrained early in life, such that (having struggled along with your various differences and all the assorted faux pas all your life) you have probably ceased to even question it by the time you are starting to dread the lonely old-age coming up ahead, as oft-quotes studies continue to drum home how essential to health and longevity it is that you maintain an active social network throughout life. So then you start worrying about how you would ever cope if widowed or forced, by worsened health and dependency, to move into a care home where you would find yourself surrounded by so many other people, noises and bustle, social expectations and other sources of sensory overwhelm, sending your entire nervous system into a later-life shock; a terrifying scenario.

Having come to know the territory of “aloneness” and so easily “being misconstrued” when I do meet people, I find I expect relatively little from the realm of face-to-face friendships these days, as in, I have grown to cope without anyone in close or regular proximity with whom to share my innermosts and offer my best support other than one key long-distant friend and a couple of female members of my family that I keep in regular touch with. Internet friendships are often the ND way, I hear. My husband is truly my closest friend in this world and I use writing as my main outlet; the one where I feel I can safely offer something from my experience without being curbed and thus feel like I am in a “relationship” of offering support through comparative stories from my life that might possibly be helpful to someone (the very word “relationship” arises from the concept “to relate”), In fact, I know from feedback that some of the people who read my words do get something from what I put forth, even though their numbers may be low. Its such an important ingredient of my life, to offer whatever may be of help, from those few areas I can profess to have any expertise at all, because they come directly from my life. I’ve generally found it far too precarious to offer anything from that same pool of hard-earned wisdom face to face; it is far too often misunderstood, dismissed as unscientific or deemed inappropriate for one reason or another thus I prefer to keep my two worlds fairly separate these days.

This is exactly why I write, my writing being a relationship of sorts, especially my journal which is a very true friend to me through thick and thin, so here’s a pertinent point. We are all in relationship with something: it doesn’t have to be human but could equally be a relationship with our garden, with our dog or the birds in our garden, with a favourite collection of books, with a podcaster, a hobby, a place. The key is to recognise it, to value and notice it, then to prioritise and nurture it. Some of us get the same kicks from being around trees and out in nature as we would meeting over coffee and these things are just so important to recognise about ourselves. Such relationships allow us to be fully ourselves when we are engaged in them and this is the key; because, without having some context or other in which we are able to embrace all aspects of ourselves, and be unconditionally embraced in return, we quickly lose our sense of wholeness. Conversely, once we identify those particular relationships that hold space for our wholeness we naturally incline towards spending more time engaged in them and this anchors us more deeply into ourselves, reminding and accentuating the fact we are already complete, and perfectly formed, just as we are.

NOTE: Though I use the term “we” a great deal in the blog for the purposes of conveying my thoughts on these topics, I cannot claim to speak to anyone else, whether neurodivergent or otherwise, since we are all entirely unique!

4 thoughts on ““Let me share an example from my life” (neurodivergence in the context of relating)

  1. I know! I was also shocked to discover this! I love conversations where I share, then the other person shares, then we look at similarities and differences and share some more! But that is off-putting to most or many, and without being able to use my native style, I’m often at a loss for what to say that doesn’t feel too much like masking. I usually try to ask vertical questions, and sometimes that works! But I still never know when it’s my turn to share.

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    1. Yes, me too, its all like a badly choreographed dance and, even when I get it somewhat “right” (apart from feeling exhausted and needing loads of time to recover myself) I come away never truly feeling like I have been “me” so much as performed some required social function adequately. Frequently, a feeling of nagging dissatisfaction haunts me afterwards as most conversations lack the level of authenticity that is always my benchmark.

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  2. Hi Helen, ‘Let Me Share an Example from my Life’ is a trait I have. I have always thought that sharing a personal experience with a friend is supportive and shows empathy with their problem and didn’t consider that it could be seen as trying to shift the attention towards me. Your writing hit me like a bolt out of the blue and I really resonated with your experience. I have a son who is severely autistic and non-verbal. Since his diagnosis (25 years ago) I have studied the subject and worked with people with autism and often thought that I have some traits which I have (or so I thought) managed to cope with. Your writing has made me realise that the way I operate is not neurotypical even though I have tried hard to pretend that I am. Upon reflection I actually like who I am and if I am neurodivergent I am quite happy to be so. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

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    1. Hi Jan, I do so appreciate your comment! Responses like this make it worth the while sharing and I really do think it helps to ‘know’ when you have these traits. You’re right, I am ‘just me’ and you are ‘just you’, the challenges come when others don’t know how to take that and when we think we need to modify to be accepted. I do think it’s worth looking into the intensity trait as I suspect a lot of us have one or more of those five areas outlined by Dabrowki (that was another bolt from the blue for me but massively accelerated my self-awareness), perhaps especially females. My linked post on that topic has links to resources you can explore if not familiar with it. In fact I find any adult females offering insight and resources on adult autism, especially late-diagnosed, can help us to explore ourselves in a much accelerated way and it can even be quite thrilling to make headway. For instance, I just found a podcast called Oh, That’s Just My Autism and am finding bits of myself in almost every word she utters. It all helps and can be such a blessing to hear about others’ experiences as you build the picture of how YOU are uniquely wired (and spot all the areas where you have repeatedly struggled). Thank you again for taking the time to feed back to me, it makes all the difference.

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