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Different paths

What is it to be neurodivergent? A personal perspective

I live in world so infused with knowledge about what ADHD and autism are, because everyone I spend any time with has lived experience of one or the other, that I forget not everyone understands. And people look or stare, at what to me are normal parenting or relationship or individual behaviours, reactions and dynamics. And I feel judged, and I feel this is rude.

I say I would never judge a neurotypical person on their neurotypical behaviours, and mostly I wouldn’t, and perhaps this isn’t just a neurotypical behaviour – it is also most definitely ‘undiagnosed and resisting knowledge of self’ neurodivergent too. I do judge. I judge those who judge others – and I judge them as being rude. Deep down, and on reflection, taking a step back, I know it isn’t that black and white, and so my judgement passes, because I know that these people only judge because they don’t understand or because they’ve internalised parental or other adult criticism from their own childhoods. My capacity to see all sides and to have compassion can be a curse, because I throw myself into these spiralling kinds of thought experiments all the time, and I risk forgetting where my own needs sit and wait for me.

Is this a neurodivergent thing? I don’t know, because I have no baseline. I don’t believe I grew up with neurotypical people or have ever had any true friends that are neurotypical. I don’t know what parts of me would classify as neurodivergent or not.

What I do know is that when I see someone stop mid-sentence and stare at the sky, distracted by beautiful clouds, or stumble and pause, their mind flitting elsewhere and say “What was I saying?” I know I’ve found someone from my tribe. I know when I see someone with tears in their eyes over something silly on the TV or gets (what society tells us is) ‘overly’ upset over a dead bird, or who stops in the street to move a snail at risk, these are my friends. And when I see someone wince at a sound that most people don’t notice…or shade their eyes from fluorescent lights…or rush in to hold the bleeding head of a drunken man lying on the floor, without thought of consequences, or when someone stands almost imperceptibly stiller or somehow a different shape or colour or pattern to everyone else around them – I know these are my people, and my heart stretches out to them, because I know they’ve been criticised for their compassionately deep feelings, for not showing their feelings enough, for their reactions to overstimulation, maybe for being too loud, too quiet, too talkative, too emotional, not enough emotional enough, not making quite the right amount of eye contact. But whatever it is, for not fitting in, for not doing exactly what the others do.

I didn’t know I knew, long ago, when I was just a teen, but I wrote this in 1997, at age 20, and looking back now at what I’d written, I knew – I just didn’t have the right words or the names or the labels that others put on us. It’s about not belonging, knowing I didn’t belong, longing to belong but also longing to be able to just be me, and starting the find the people with whom I did and do belong, where the acceptance of me as myself is complete and unconditional.

This, to me, is what personal journeys are all about, whether it is a literal journey as a traveller or backpacker, a spiritual journey, some form of personal growth, or a therapeutic journey.

Journey into the mind

your feet are on dry land

secure and firm

you feel the warm welcome

you see the little wooden hut behind you

its arms stretched out to you

you feel yourself being pulled like a magnet

backwards into the safety

the arms are rough, like wood

yet gentle, like a leaf

you feel calm and happy

you allow yourself to be drawn in

you’re inside

you look around

it’s a part of you

you’re inside your soul

you gaze in wonderment at the feelings

you close your eyes in rapture at the colours

you feel the velvet, mossy and green,

brush against you

you let it wash over you

but the tide is coming in

the forest is closing its doors

your time is almost up

you give your soul a kiss

long and lingering

you feel your soul respond…

then you feel the clear water around your feet

washing them, cleansing them

you’re surfing out of there,

out of the hut

out of your soul

back to the mainland

the land of black ties and blank minds

you move among your people

you live in your land

but you cannot connect

your mind searches for a friend

your soul searches for another

you must leave the mainland

you close your eyes

you feel yourself being pulled like a magnet

upwards into the safety

the arms are damp, like clouds

yet gentle, like the breeze

you feel at home

you allow yourself to be drawn up

you arrive

you look around

it’s a part of you that you’ve seen before

you reach backwards and enter the hut

you allow the velvet to cushion you

you open your mind

you reach out your thoughts

you feel a connection

you move your soul along the bond

until it meets another

you embrace the acceptance

you let it wash over you

but the tide is coming in

the forest is closing its doors

your time is almost up

you give your soul a kiss

long and lingering

you feel your soul respond…

then you leave the hut

you feel yourself float downwards

spiralling gently

you land softly, against the velvet

the velvet of the mainland

the land of black ties and blank minds

but stop.

one mind is not blank

one mind is swirling and soaring

you reach out to it

you recognise the connection

you welcome the bond

this is your soul mate

you are home.

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