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On Being Different

How do you know you’re different? Is it because someone tells you that you are? Is it that you watch people get upset and do not know what to do? Is it that the things they say they think about are not the things you think about?

How do you know that you see the world differently? Again, is it because someone has said to you: people don’t think this way. Or: why are you they way you are? No one tells you the way to think and act, most people learn these things as they grow up. They learn what secrets to keep, what secrets tell people, what to talk about and what to keep in their heads.

As I said in the first blog, I have always been considered odd. Maybe people thought my humour was off or that I was awkward around people. They considered this behaviour to be eccentric or quirky. They wondered what went on in my head. They wondered what it was “like in” my “world”. They considered me to be apart.

And that is the key here, I think. They work as the operative word in these statements. “They” mention that you’re different and “they” want to know whether the sky is blue in my world. They, they, they. The pressure “they” put on a person to conform and to operate in prescribed ways effects every area of our lives. A person needs to behave in a certain way in the office, they don’t have ideas – intrusive or not – stuck in their minds for weeks at a time. The links they make are linear and logical. A flows to B with a beautiful predictability. The links I make start of at A and may get to B at some point. But it would be via many detours and false starts. “They” know when a person is happy or sad or bored and “they” react accordingly. “They” follow rules of conversation (Grice’s Maxims for all my A Level English Language people out there) and follow them. “They” know these things. “They” know when to ask for help and when to keep plugging away, hoping for the best. And the expectation is that these things are followed by everyone.

However, “they” want these things and it is “they” who call me different. The crux is do I feel different to them. Am I different breed to everyone else or is that just not the case?

I knew that my mind worked like a tennis ball in a washing machine and that I occasionally felt out of place. I never felt that I belonged in a group or a that my membership of any groups provided any benefit at all. I had thought that this was because of my own self image and solely that. I felt uncomfortable with emotions, and I wanted to have books and other collectables in order, and I thought that this was because it made sense. If you wanted to find a book or whatever then there it was in its place. But this does not make me any different from anyone else. It may make me a little more neurotic or anal than others.

Focusing on the main aspects of “how do I know I am different” and the honest answer is simply: I don’t. Until I received the diagnosis and was confirmed that I would benefit from a full assessment I was not sure that I was different to everyone else. I would look at other people and what they did and said wasn’t too far from what I did. I was sure that I was kinda eccentric in a “eccentric Englishman” way. I liked what I liked, and I attributed passing interests to a quick mind and being quite clever.

Without being overly self-fellating, I am quite smart. Not the smartest in the world but I would say my general knowledge and subject knowledge is very strong and, through a lifetime of varied reading, I can hold my own in most conversations. This would not make me any different to any other erudite, university graduate.

I would bet that a lot of people find work boring. It is being in a certain place for eight or more hours a day, completing repetitive tasks and making money which you rarely see. Work can be boring, and you have to remember that a small percentage of people actually do what that love. Few people’s passions can be monetised into a living wage. So far, so normal. The beauty of this is that you can completely stop thinking about work when you clock off. In the office or site or shop or wherever you are Mr (or Mrs) Professional and when you are home you are whoever it is you are. I would find that the feeling of “this isn’t for me” would follow me home.

Another part of life where I would be called different is in relationships. But, once again, I would proscribe any issues that I had with talking to my preferred gender down to my lack of self-confidence and almost pathological desire not to be told to “fuck off”. I am aware, painfully so, that this topic is frequently mentioned but it is a large part of life and even though I have been with the same lady for nearly seventeen years it is something worth investigating. I thought my failure to meet or to bring home, the right lady was solely down to two factors. My personality and how I looked. That I may say stupid stuff or be too intense or silly could all be down to that. As well as looking like a bulldog after it stepped on a succession of landmines.

My problems with my mood, while not as spectacularly bad as others just made me feel like one of a billion other humans who sometimes did not like themselves. As the famous poet Selena Gomez has said, “my mind and me we don’t get along sometimes”. I thought that I was an unexceptional person who sometimes got sad. This reflects statistics that one in three people, and a shockingly high number of men, suffer from some sort of mental health issues. This depression was fed by loneliness which I believed was fed by failure – academically, professionally and personally – and being depressed. A constantly turning torture wheel. That, crucially, was not as bad as other peoples. How can I be depressed when other people are really depressed. I am acting sad because I am a pretentious wannabe poet type. I am still a pretentious poet type, but, my mood is much better, thank you for asking.

As a result of these factors: I did not think I was different. I didn’t feel that my mind worked in any other way to the rest of the world but that I was sometimes sad, and I was sometimes immature, and I was sometimes drunk, and I would sometimes worry or blame myself for everything or anything and sometimes I would blame others in an attempt to divert myself from the knowledge that I had made a mistake. I didn’t feel different but just, for want of a better phrase, slightly less than other people. Other people had the job they enjoyed that threw money and titles at them. Gave them the house, the car, the ability to talk about how much they earned in the fiscal year with a sense of earnest pride. They had what they wanted, and they had who they wanted. They weren’t the one single family member at all of those, frequent, endless family meals. It wasn’t because my mind worked differently or that it drew connections that others couldn’t see or that it pulled information from anywhere or everywhere or that it needed to be alone often, no, it was because I was lesser than my brothers or my peers. I under-achieved where they achieved.

Figuring out that it is my wiring that causes, but never excuses, my behaviours has allowed me to remove some of the figurative sticks up my arse. The literal ones can remain. Obviously. Being told that I may have Asperger’s and that the indications are strong enough to be fully assessed has allowed me to see why certain things have happened and to understand that, to an extent, I am different. And can different mean better? Can different mean that they are things I can do that other people cannot? Is my Asperger’s a “superpower”? The answer to all of these is a resounding, life affirming: no.

What if, once I have the assessment it turns out that I am not on the spectrum or that it is not as much of a barrier to me than it is to others? Then this whole idea of a recognisable “self” is defenestrated on to the nearest street.

If I am different. Then it is a very average type of different. If it is an average different then what does that say about what I can and cannot do?

  • I am aware that this blog post is very long and contains a lot of Oxford commas. This is because Word, which I write on, is an American platform and they love the Oxford comma. Standard British English doesn’t really need it but linguistic hegemony is unavoidable.

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