29/09/2021 | Writer: Lena Sans
I have learned more or less how to tackle these things and how to live with them. I'm in a good space mentally and physically to talk about them.
Neuro-divergent: Divergence in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal (frequently used with reference to autistic spectrum disorders) - (https://www.lexico.com/definition/neurodivergence). Several recognized types of neurodivergence, include autism, Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, hyperlexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette syndrome (TS) - (https://psychology.wikia.org/wiki/Neurodivergent).
Some other conditions such as schizophrenia, OCD, anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorder, and bipolar disorder can be classed as a form of neurodivergence too. (https://uofgpgrblog.com/pgrblog/2021/3/24/neurodiversity)
Autism, a very very general definition: Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. (autismspeaks.org/what-autism)
The reason for categorizing my own neuro-divergence as autism
From my experience in this life, I have noticed first that for the most part, I'm not able to understand or detect what some of the social cues (facial expressions, body language, voice pitch and tone, physical boundaries aka personal space) mean in that moment or in the specific time period. Even though in my brain I have a collection of different types of social cues and what those cues can mean, I myself am not able to understand/match those meanings and the social cues momentarily or in a longer time period. It doesn't mean that I cannot match those meanings and the cues all together but I have a hard time matching them or despite reaching a verdict about it I mostly reach the wrong answer for those matchings. The main reason that I'm saying that I'm autistic is the misconnecting between the social cues and their meanings. Other than that I can think of things that I experience that can be categorized under the name of autism. The other one of them is that mostly because of the fact that I'm not able to understand social cues affects my social skills and the way that I deal with social situations. The society that I live in mostly is centered around neurotypical social ways of communication and dynamics. I'm not able to take part in those dynamics like other people may be. That situation in my case at least is the hardest and/or challenging part of living. I also have a speech impediment that most people think is an accent from the South-East part of Turkey. I do not have any relatives or people that I have regularly communicated with that kind of accent during the time that I was developing my speaking.
The way that I have come to the conclusion that I am autistic
I found out or understood that I was autistic around the time that I was twenty and a half years old. The most helpful thing in the journey of being aware that I was autistic was being around and in communication with people that were already aware of the fact that they were not neurotypical. For me, it started with relatability and being able to be understood by those people. When I was understood by those people specifically and not by most of society, I got the chance to express myself and take part in the social dynamics with those people in a healthier way for myself. When I got to express the things that I always push to the back of my mind and hide (masking), I became more aware of the things that I was hiding and the relief that I got from not masking the things that society, in general, did not accept helped me to be able to think and process these things more clearly. That opportunity and those people gave me a safe space to talk about the things that I was dealing with. Because these people had similar experiences and the time and space to talk about them more than I had the chance of, getting information and sharing the experiences with them was possible and that helped me to categorize and understand my autism. Being aware of the aspects of my autism did not come to me as a revelation but as a long process of accepting and understanding. This process is still ongoing and I don't think that it will ever end.
The ways that I deal/handle my autism
*creating and being in safe spaces
*direct verbal communication
*ignoring and/or dulling some of my perceptions/senses
*actively trying to determine the aspects that are challenging for me
*getting help from professionals and/or social support systems
*trying to push or find my limits of what I am capable of doing in the context of my inabilities
*finding out alternative learning and understanding techniques that are compatible with me
*determining the aspects of my masking and evaluating where I need to use it or not
*Creating and being in safe spaces in the context of autism
I think that this chapter mostly includes the rest of the chapters inside of itself but it needs to be examined in any case. I myself try to create these safe spaces by first acknowledging that I might not be able to understand some social cues with the people that I am in a social dynamic. This is frequently the first step that I take for people to pay attention to what I might be having a hard time with, while communicating with me. For me to be able to do this I had to first accept that me not being able to understand some things is not something to be ashamed of even though many people tend to judge or have prejudices. If I feel anything in the line of judging or prejudice my first reaction is to evaluate if the person next to me is open to understand or to have this conversation. If I feel that they are or they show some clear signs that they want to understand, I explain my perspective in more detail. Most of the time people that are open to having this conversation do understand it and pay attention to the way they are communicating with me so that we can have a healthy social dynamic. This conversation is of course for all participants of the conversation and each part if they desire to can share their own perspectives and the things everyone in the group needs to pay attention to. This way everyone has started with clear direct communication about what some of the challenges might be in that dynamic and this mostly prevents the possibility for any confusion or having to use only social cues in order to communicate these challenges. Requesting an emphasis on direct verbal communication while still using other types of communication (facial expressions etc.) is another way of creating safe spaces. Most of the time it's not possible to start a social dynamic by directly saying the things that I have mentioned even though I would rather do that, people might already be aware of the things that they need to be cautious about how to approach people because anyone could be neuro-divergent or the person might not be okay with this kind of a direct verbal communication because mentioning these kinds of subjects can be triggering. Another way of communicating these aspects without directly saying it from the start is showing clear signs of discomfort or dislike (mostly by just saying that I don't like what they are doing to me at that moment) in the situations when people are acting in a way that they shouldn't be towards me. For example commenting on my way of speaking and/or mimicking even if their intentions are not ill, only using social cues on the matters that might affect the dynamic, repeatedly calling me cute and saying that I'm weird in a cute way, putting me into social situations in group dynamics that I do not have the consent to (-why aren't you speaking?- you're so silent today etc.). These examples can go on for pages and I think that those things should not be done to any person neuro-divergent or not but are done towards mostly neuro-divergent and queer people and might affect them more than other people. I think that waiting for a possible triggering mistake from people and reacting at that moment is not the healthiest way to do this because the damage might already be done.
Being in a safe space doesn't have to include creating it first. There are people in these communities that have already taken these steps and mostly exist in the spaces and social groups that they have accumulated. Being introduced to these spaces and further building them together with the people that are already in those spaces is an option. That was the thing that I have experienced. For most of my social groups, I didn't have to create everything from the start, the people that I have met have already started the job and I just helped and put in my own perspective. That was the easier option for me that I was able to do and helped me to understand myself and others better. I still try to create these safe spaces with the new people that I meet even though sometimes it is harder than just accepting that people are going to act in ways that might be hurtful or inconsiderate. Finding the balance between trying to create the space and being in the space is important for me because without being able to find a space to be myself I'm not able to take further action.
*Direct verbal communication
I try to use every communication method that I'm able to use together (according to the context) most of the time because I think that it provides more information to the person that I'm trying to communicate with. But for myself, the tried and true method is mostly using direct verbal communication especially in situations of crisis, anxiety and tension without adding many social cues. This method allows me to not use the other ways of communication like social cues as much as I would have to. Translating the emotional state that I'm in and the layers that I feel into words and learning to describe the important aspects that I feel and think that the person next to me needs to know about, took a considerable amount of practice for me. I took the first steps to clearly trying to communicate my feelings and the state that I'm in with words when I became aware of my inability to describe or understand them clearly with other ways of communication. This lack of awareness of my own situation and not trusting any ways of communicating for letting people know how I feel, stopped me from trying to convey these feelings. First of all this led to people not understanding me and at the same time I could not understand or comprehend how I feel. For me, talking and having conversations with myself on camera helped me to practice finding the words that are compatible with me and how to put these words into sentences that I and others understand with the most clarity. I did not do all of these with the awareness that I was specifically working on these matters one by one with a list. I have done what felt comfortable for myself, I tried to understand what I was feeling and thinking, how it affected my body because I might not be able to make the connection between the bodily reactions that I have and the feelings that I have like anxiety, being triggered by something, etc. Talking to myself is easier without the anxiety of talking to another person about what I might be feeling. Seeing my face live on the screen allows me to make connections in myself between the feelings that I'm conveying and the facial expressions that I'm doing. When I started to get better with this to myself I started to practice with other people. In safe spaces with people that I trusted, I slowly developed my ability to describe what I feel with words to people as well, not just to myself. After I have gotten in a state that I was adequately communicating my feelings with words, masking became less necessary for me to be able to live.
Direct verbal communication mostly doesn't leave a chance for confusion for both parties. Both parties directly communicating what we need, want, feel and desire creates a dynamic that allows us to feel more safe, involved and understandable.
*Ignoring and/or dulling some of my perceptions/senses
The senses that I mostly try to ignore are the ones that I have a hard time understanding. If the person that I'm communicating with is already using direct verbal communication and I feel and trust that they are able to convey themselves without skipping the vital parts I try not to process their social cues as much. Because in my mind social cues and direct verbal communication do not go parallel to each other all the time. If I sense that there is a contradiction between what I might be sensing with their social cues and what that person is directly saying to me I choose to ignore the social cues and take what they are saying as the main idea. Because this usually happens I learned not to pay much attention to what the person next to me is emoting even though I still look at their face. I can still see their social cues and take that information in. I just try not to process it if it's not necessary, which most of the time is not if there is direct communication. The difference between ignoring and dulling is that I still have an idea about what those social cues could mean and I think about it, in that situation I consciously ignore what I sense. With dulling these senses even though it takes some time, my brain slowly learns that I do not need these senses all the time and it can lead me in the wrong direction. After that, without me making a conscious effort my brain doesn't use these senses as much. For me, this is a good way of dealing with possible confusion and gives me some mental space and energy not to mask. When I do not pay attention to these senses I tend to not use social cues as much. This might seem a little unhealthy but if I'm able to communicate directly with words, social cues and their senses are not that necessary for me. Trying to use and understand the social cues that I have a hard time with takes energy and mental space and this inhibits my ability to be in the space I'm in.
*Actively trying to determine the aspects that are challenging for me mostly in social contexts
I tend to think and process things by categorizing, listing and conceptualizing in my mind. The things that I feel are one of the most confusing parts of life and I try to conceptualize and put it into tangible words in order to understand. This also happens with the things that are challenging for me with my autism because for me these things are a thought process and a feeling/sense at the same time. These different aspects of these challenges are integrated and each layer can affect each other.
A list of the things that I find challenging in my life, mostly in the social context:
'the things that are awkward, weird and cringe
'TMI (too much information)
'manipulation (gaslighting etc.)
I try not to exist in the spaces that are prevalent with these concepts. I find them confusing, unnecessary and toxic most of the time.
For social hierarchy, I cannot put it in a logical system and find certain terms or conditions for it to be that way. For most social dynamics, especially in larger groups, social hierarchy tends to play a big role. If I feel that there is a social hierarchy I just stay away from those spaces and groups.
I have mentioned in detail why social cues can lead me in the wrong direction.
The concepts with awkward, weird, and cringe are mostly used for neuro-divergent people and used mostly in a negative connotation. I do not understand it and I stay away from the spaces that use these concepts towards people.
I find the concept of TMI confusing as well. I can understand that not everything should be talked about with everyone but if I think/know that it is not triggering and will not affect the next person in a negative way, I'm not able to find any reason for it to be not talked about. If I want to talk about it, I should be able to and if the next person doesn't want to listen or talk about it they can just say it.
Eye contact is a blurry subject for me. For the most part, especially with the people I don't know closely, eye contact can mean so many things and I'm not able to understand if I should or shouldn't be looking at their eyes and with what intervals, for what time period. I myself try to look at somewhere else, their nose, mouth, or certain body parts like their hands.
Ulterior motives can go under the category of direct communication. People might be trying to communicate something else that they think that I should be able to understand with other words. It can also mean that they want something else from the dynamic that they do not seem to show clearly. It doesn't have to mean something negative but it is confusing for me.
Manipulation of any kind is unnecessary and toxic for me in a social dynamic. I'm not that good at sensing it momentarily but I have educated myself to understand and detect it in a longer time period.
I have found that it is mostly better for me to stay away from these concepts altogether in my safe spaces. I have learned that these are confusing for me and I'm not able to learn what those could mean further so it is better for me to create or be in spaces that do not use these concepts as much.
*Getting help from professionals and/or social support systems
My first step was to find and accumulate a social support system that I can relate to and get help with the concepts that are challenging for me. The reason for it to be my first step is that seeking and getting professional help mostly requires financial resources. I think that I should be getting help from both professionals and my social support systems but finding a balance between them is not always possible. There is a chance of trauma dumping, overexposing and pushing the limits of the people in social support systems. In the social support systems, it is important to be in clear communication about what are the limits of help that they can offer or willing to offer. For me getting help from both professionals and social support systems fills in the parts that both might lack in some aspects. For example, I find the need to feel relatability and empathy from the next person in order to trust that their help comes from experience. At the same time, professional help might not show relatability and empathy that I want but can provide an objective perspective from an educated view.
*Trying to push or find my limits of what I am capable of doing in the context of my inabilities
Even though I find some things challenging it doesn't mean that I'm not able to understand or participate in those concepts altogether. I'm able to learn and educate myself in these concepts to some extent even though it might be harder for me compared to neuro-typical people. It is important for me to understand my limits of what I can or cannot do and push the limits according to what mental space that I'm in.
*Finding out alternative learning and understanding techniques that are compatible with me
Finding out these alternative methods can come from a lot of sources. Internet, people or finding out from trying and failing. I try to do all of them together because every source feeds each other. Trying and failing method can be tiring if I'm trying everything that comes to my mind. I try to learn about what other people have tried so far and what worked for them and what hasn't. Talking about these subjects can be touchy because people might not be ready for these kinds of conversations. Some people are ready and it is vital for me to get information and share experiences with them. I have found so many things from the people I know that made my life so much easier to live. I think that trying to make these subjects less touchy and normal to talk about is going to be better for everyone. I understand that there are a lot of people with prejudices and many other reasons for it but without talking about these things I'm not able to make progress efficiently.
*Determining the aspects of my masking and evaluating where I need to use it or not
Masking can be necessary for a lot of contexts but for me, it is one of the most tiring parts of existing in society. I was not aware of the fact that I was masking for most of my life and I did not know the relief I would get from not masking or even masking less than usual. I was at a point that I was masking even if I was alone in a space that I knew no one was perceiving me. Because I have learned that if I was not masking I wouldn't be able to exist in society. I have internalized masking to a point that I didn't know that I was doing it and how to stop it. Determining the things that I'm masking helped me to actively try to stop doing them in the safe spaces that I exist. I tried to understand what was different about me when I knew that I wouldn't be judged. What was I talking about more? How did my body language change? Was I talking more or less? How did other people change their behavior when they were in their own safe space compared to unsafe spaces? These questions helped me a lot to detect the things that I was doing in the name of masking.
Masking can cause anxiety, being on edge, panic, stress and I think that I shouldn't have to live with this all the time. Learning about my masking and doing it on command gave me the opportunity to leave the space that I have to mask in when I got tired. When I wasn't aware of the fact that I was masking I didn't know when to leave the space that was tiring me, I didn't know why it happened so I correlated getting tired quickly with things such as being introverted and not liking people.
I have talked about the context of being autistic and how I handle it but the other contexts of my life that affect each other need to be not forgotten. I'm not able to understand every connection between these contexts, correlation and causation relations between them. My symptoms or traits come from so many things that I'm not able to put in a logical system. I'm not only autistic, I have severe anxiety, dyslexia, depression episodes, and dysphoria. All of these have symptoms and traits that intersect with each other, different contexts feed each other one symptom or trait can come from multiple things and exaggerate the other ones. I don't know how to tackle all of these at the moment but I'm in the journey of figuring it out with help. I wrote this because I like talking about myself and maybe it will help some other people. I'm aware that this much information about my thought process can give people the opportunity to harm me but people have already done these things without me explaining what I'm living with. It seems that people have noticed these things before I had the chance to notice them and they have already attacked me with so many of these contexts and are still doing it. Now I'm much more aware of what my vulnerabilities might be and what people can take advantage of so I think that I'm much more ready for any harmful intentions. The main idea is that I wanted to talk about myself, thought that it could help someone else and start a conversation about all of these because it seems that somebody needs to talk about these from somewhere.
I have learned more or less how to tackle these things and how to live with them. I'm in a good space mentally and physically to talk about them.
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