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Dear Neurotypical

The things I've held off telling you...

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
Dear Neurotypical
Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

I had never said it out loud before.

Sitting there with my NT friend, it just popped out. He complimented me on some piece of original thinking and I replied, "Yup, it's great to be me when it's not terrifying." With no prompting, I went on to talk about the internal challenges of being neurodiverse, the every day confusion of living so far from the box. I talked in torrents, without considering where or how my words fell, as if a dam had broken.

It was never intentionally a secret. However, when so much of my life consists of people telling me how great my imagination is, how unique my way of seeing the world, how do I then bum them out by telling them it can also suck balls? I imagine them thinking, "It can't be that hard--she pays bills, has her own apartment, and holds down a job." How do I steal from their hope that a few magical people still exist? How do I do it in a way that doesn't lead to them saying, "Well yeah, but isn't it like that for most people to some extent?"

Though I have strong suspicions and many hours of research to suggest that I am high functioning on the spectrum, I've never been diagnosed with autism, or anything else that would allow me to medically claim neurodiversity. As far as I know, I am just one of those weird kids who never grew out of being a weird kid. Don't get me wrong, I tried real hard to hide it for a real long time, something I now realize was mostly futile (most people knew I was strange but me). Then I hit my early 30's, and it was like I ran out of steam for lying. The facade didn't explode as much as it sprung tiny leaks everywhere, as if Bruce Banner very slowly metamorphosed into the Hulk, slowly enough that you could hear the stitches pop one at a time.

It has been the hardest and most amazing decade of my life.

I now recognize more and more the role that my neurodiversity has played in my life, and claim it as part of my true self with fewer and fewer inhibitions. And now that I've told someone about how hard it can be, I want to do a lot more of that. Though I cannot pretend to speak for and to the many, many shades of neurodiverse humans, and how their wiring intersects their other identities, to start sharing has lessened the load for me.

Thus, here's most everything I've ever wanted to say, but haven't quite gotten around to saying, to the neurotypicals in my life. I know that few people in this world are 100% neurotypical, but if general norms and expectations make sense to you, or you can fake it without a huge toll to your system, this is for you.

Dear Neurotypical,

It really sucks that I have to try and explain all of this in your language. Maybe you'd still get a small sliver of it if I danced it for you, painted a picture, sung a song with no lyrics, or took you to a spot in the forrest and pointed to a tree. Maybe you'd say, "Okay, so this is your lived experience? I kinda get it...I think?" No, we're going to get much closer if I translate, so here we are. Do you know how long and intensely I've studied the NT ways and people, even before I knew that's what I was doing, in order to survive, to fit? I broke my brain and reassembled it, in order to gain the writing skills to reach you, so please listen.

This course of study has been exhausting. Neurotypical may take up more syllables than neurodiverse, but I resent how much space your way of seeing takes up in the world. I don't resent you, just your spaciousness and how you take it for granted. You I find beautiful. When I'm around you, I feel your joys and pains as if they were my own, as I do with everyone. I'm just jealous of how easy it all seems for you. Logically, I know this isn't true. You have your own real and pressing challenges. It's just that they seem so much more predictable, and easier to put up defenses or coping mechanisms for.

But how do you defend against the everyday? I wake up every morning knowing that there may be a sound, sight, smell, taste, or touch that may register in me as physical pain, totally derailing and confounding the rest of my day. I've learned the usual triggers, and can prepare for them to some degree, but that doesn't keep new ones from capturing me on the regular. And yes, it makes me an artist, a thinker, a human more in touch with being than with doing, but it's also lonely and scary and some days I do all I can just to turn it off, turn down the volume for one second. Sometimes I think you only understand us when you go through some form of grief--a death, a break up, a national or global tragedy. In mourning, life becomes as unpredictable for everyone, as it is for us on the daily.

Because of this, everything takes me longer. I want to know my task, my audience, my friends, my art, my work, my response, inside out before I trust it--it's part of how I establish my safety in this world. I need to gather all the shoulds and weigh them against my own needs. My constant question, sometimes a roar and sometimes barely perceptible beneath the surface is, "How inconvenient will my true self be in this context? Can I afford to lose a connection over it?" And while I'm proud to say that I've reached the point of self-acceptance where I put my needs first most of the time, I still ask the questions as I survey each new scene. I ask them every goddamn time.

How did I come to accept myself, you ask? How did I get to embracing me, after so many years of looking the other way while my life was happening? It started by getting out of my head, and into my body. That however is a topic for another letter, and perhaps a book. Then I had to take my inner five year old by the hand, and put her down for a much needed nap. She knows her place now, and is a healthy member of the team, but for a while she was running the whole show as all the grown up members of Team Chelsea were hiding. They hated to burst my five year old illusions--the most painful being: someone else will figure out my life if I just keep following the rules. But she was grateful once they did. Everyone shares the work now, and staff meetings are way less contentious.

After that? I just got stubborn, I mean really fucking stubborn about following myself and preserving what is good and unique and brilliant in me, no matter the cost. Most of my neurodiverse kin are equally stubborn. We're constantly pissing others off by doing things in the least efficient, most illogical way possible (believe me, it makes sense to us). Please stop trying to make us do it your way. Even if it is objectively better, we don't want to be told what to do. People sense that we need help and so are quite literally trying to help us all the time. Even if we're chronologically children, it's condescending and insulting. Stop it! If your way is actually the best way, we will eventually get to it. Don't let us be unsafe as we make our way there (we don't always think ahead to the consequences), but be patient as long as we're not unsafe.

I don't mean to be obnoxious in my stubbornness, it's just that I get SO BORED when I'm not choosing my own path. Ten years ago I would've never admitted it, but I am bored to a level that feels unsafe to admit sometimes. I could entertain myself for hours staring at this tree above my head as I sit on the porch and write right now, but put me in a conversation outside my interests, and I'd be perfectly happy to just walk away. But I can't--that's not what people do who want to have friends.

Friends are a real sticky wicket for the neurodiverse. We crave them just as much as anyone, and we need them to be healthy and involved in the world, but the rules of friendship, like most rules, are head scratchers. Are we separate people--i.e., can you read my thoughts and feelings because we're friends? Should I put the time into being friends with anyone who is friendly to me? Should conversation always be fifty-fifty, speak and listen? Or should it average fifty-fifty over the course of a year, and who is responsible for doing the tallying? Can I redo a conversation if I don't understand my feelings about the subject until twelve days later? If they say they're going to call or let's do lunch, do they know that I'm actually expecting that to happen? If someone laughs after something I've said, are they laughing with me or at me (I genuinely don't know)? When I've said something serious and they laugh, do they know I'm being serious and not just 'quirky'? Do I have to buy presents for every holiday, or just the ones I actually feel like it? How often can I ask for help? How often can I change or cancel plans? Is my face arranged correctly for the moment? Can I wander off mid-sentence or mid-activity if something else calls my attention? How honest can I be?

The list of genuine queries about friendship rules goes on. This is why a lot of us spend A LOT of time listening--it's just easier and more acceptable to listen when you don't know what to do or say. There's always a spot in the group for the listener, and people will talk about themselves nearly non-stop if you ask enough questions. This isn't to say we're never interested or are in some way manipulating you. The neurodiverse in your life genuinely love you, and are usually highly empathic people. However, listening is also a really easy out when we don't know what's happening in a situation, or we do know what's happening but cannot give the response that is called for or the response that we want. Listening when you're stuck like that is suffocating. Dear neurotypical, sometimes I want to tell you to just shut up. Can we sit on the couch together and stare out the window? Between your small talk, which I really don't get, and the non-stop chatter in my head, having friends can be a really loud proposition.

Despite all that, we still really need you to help translate the world to us in gentle, loving, and explicit ways. Learn from our creativity, value our voice, follow our example when you can, and we'll even be a lot more open to your offerings of help. If we're with you in whatever capacity, it's because we trust you, which means you must already be pretty unique. Thank you for seeing us as whole, and reminding us that we're not a burden or an inconvenience. We like being friends with you, married to you, getting our teeth cleaned by you. When our worlds overlap, we feel like interesting things might happen. Maybe they'll be the miracles this world so desperately needs.

Thanks, and see ya next time,



About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

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