top of page

I Understand Why People Have Never Liked MeAnd that’s given me comfort




Generally speaking, people have never really liked me.

I realize that sounds like something to say to get reassurance from the reader — “That’s not true! Who wouldn’t like you?” And honestly, not too long ago that would’ve been my motive — I had a desperate need to be told that what I suspected about myself, what I myself had experienced— that the problem had been me all along — wasn’t actually true.

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. “ — Gloria Steinem

My Big Fat Miserable Childhood

I hated everything about being a kid. I was the only child of an unhappy marriage and our miserable little family unit dwelled in small-town Texas.

I was constantly physically uncomfortable — I’ve had hyperhidrosis since birth, which means my hands, feet, face, and armpits sweat uncontrollably, most of the time, regardless of temperature or environment, but it’s exacerbated by heat. In addition to being aggressively bitten by the mosquitoes that swarmed the air year-round, I was always hot, thus always sweaty. My sweat pooled in my open mosquito bites and stung. My body dared me to scratch myself bloody.

And then there was the fact that I didn’t really like being around other kids much. I found them intolerably loud and…physical. They were always screaming and running and kicking and jumping and I found all of that off-putting.

I generally found physical reality and everything about it off-putting.

My preference was to read. If other children had to be involved, I preferred elaborate games of make-believe with strict rules that I enforced. I wanted to teach them yoga. I could tolerate what would now be termed parallel play: “I’ll read over here while you do your thing over there. Quietly, please.” Otherwise, it just wasn’t fun for me.

By first grade, I had dueling obsessions: Little House on the Prairie and the British monarchy.

The smell of the Little House books still lingers in my mind (extra pulpy and resplendent with the aroma of the forest the pages had been). I begged my mom to sew long dresses with matching bonnets for me — I wanted to dress like Laura Ingalls Wilder 24/7. I endeavored to haul water from a nearby stream for my bathwater. I schemed as to how I could climb a fence across the road from our rural home to milk a cow.

The author as a little girl obsessed (with Laura Ingalls). Photo by the author’s mother.

I couldn’t understand why other children weren’t like me. I became very, very depressed and began to have suicidal thoughts. My father, a high school teacher, who I recall as being my Bully-in-Chief, was frustrated that I wasn’t like “his kids” (his students). He criticized me incessantly until he decided to simply stop speaking to me (I was 9).

Still though, I wanted to be liked. I refused to accept that it was a losing battle. Case in point: I wanted to be a cheerleader so badly that the desire made me tremble. When I signed up to try out at the end of sixth grade, a girl in my class told me, shaking her head fiercely, that I wasn’t “like a cheerleader.” I was, she explained to me, “more like a lawyer.” God, how I wept at those words. Thirty-eight years later, I think I understand what she meant.

When my parents finally divorced and I had the chance to move with my mom to a slightly larger town nearby I leaped at it, certain that the more sophisticated kids at my new school would get me and I would find my people. When that didn’t happen, I convinced myself that being accepted into the High School for the Performing Arts in Dallas would hold the key to my happiness….surely the other kids would like me there…right?

After I dropped out of the Performing Arts high school, I became obsessed with the idea of moving to California.

And on and on it went.

My “Adulthood” at a Glance

My life’s been riddled with broken relationships, romantic & otherwise. While I did quite well academically (and have multiple degrees and insurmountable debt to show for it), jobs have never really worked out for me.

Words? Oh, yes.

People? Not so much.

Depression & anxiety? Constant.

The author at her lowest. I remember taking this selfie and wondering if it would be the last picture of me alive.

At the end of 2019, things got really bad in my mind and I made a plan to end my life in June of 2020. The pandemic occurred, and yada yada yada, I got into intense recovery mode and saved my life.

The Road to Recovery

I’ve written about my recovery at length, but for our purposes, let’s simply say that when I began to get quiet and really listen, when I stopped trying to drown everything that hurt with copious tumblers of wine, I began to get a hunch — there was something more at play within my mind, something beyond the standard “depression & anxiety” diagnosis with which I’d been labeled since I was 8.

It was social media that put me on the path to the discovery. Certain women I followed, women in whose awkward unhappiness I recognized myself, began to write about being “neurodivergent.” At first, because of my extremely over-reactive guard dog ego, I thought, “Well, good for them. Now they have an answer. Must be nice. I still don’t know what the hell is wrong with me. They’re lucky.” Gradually, the question began to nag at me… might I be neurodivergent? And what exactly did that mean?

I started doing research — I’m good at research — and all sorts of bells began clanging as if a 5-alarm fire had been detected. So many women around my age were being diagnosed as neurodivergent or autistic, and they were describing lives that had gone rather like mine.

What is “Neurodivergence”?

Neurodiversity is the notion that some brains work differently than the majority of brains (stunning, right?). As to what neurodivergent is, simply put, it’s what those brain-holders who differ from the norm are called. I’m quite aware of the problematic nature of Wikipedia as a source, but this is a well-cited definition of neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is a proposed framework that argues there is intrinsic diversity in human brain function and cognition, and that certain things currently classified as neurodevelopmental disorders are differences and disabilities but are not necessarily pathological.[1] The framework grew out of the autism rights movement and builds on the social model of disability, arguing that disability partly arises from societal barriers, rather than attributing disability purely to inherent deficits. It instead situates human cognitive variation in the context of biodiversity and the politics of minority groups.[2][3][4] Some neurodiversity advocates and researchers argue that the neurodiversity paradigm is the middle ground between strong medical model and strong social model.[5][6][7]

People who have brains that function in a way that deviates from the typical brain are neurodivergent. Some of those people are autistic. Some are not. I knew without a doubt that I was neurodivergent. It gave me so much comfort to claim that label for myself.

Following the Breadcrumbs

In the meantime, I had a copywriting job that I enjoyed and all seemed to be going well. Then, at the end of 2021, I took a moral stand at my job which led to my getting fired. It was a shocking blow that I’ll always remember as a pivotal point in my life.

My quest to understand myself continued, and around that time I discovered references in the psychological literature to many autistic people’s passionate devotion to justice and to “ideas of right and wrong.” The issue at my job had been so simple to me — I would not capitulate to what I knew in my soul to be wrong.

I talked to my primary care physician, who’s intimately knowledgeable about my personal history. She agreed that I might be onto something and referred me to a psychiatrist. Within a month, I’d been diagnosed as autistic.

Life After My Diagnosis

It’s been almost two years now since my diagnosis, and it’s changed my life entirely, but only because of how it’s changed the way I look at myself. I wish that I had been able to fully love and accept myself before my diagnosis because I deserved it then as much as I do now. I wish that for everyone. But I’m a product of my environment.

My weirdnesses, my intensities, my fierce interests in obscure subjects… all of the things that I’d been shamed for all my life, the things that had made me so different, were inherent in me. I hadn’t been choosing defiance all my life. I’d just been being myself (I deserved love even if I had been choosing defiance, but that’s another story).

I wish it hadn’t taken a medical diagnosis for me to love myself as madly as I do today, but having thought of myself as a problem since I was a little child hindered my ability to see everything clearly, most of all myself.

Recently a study came to my attention that, oddly, made me feel even better about myself. The findings indicate that neurotypicals (NTs) have an inherent bias against neurodivergent (ND) people.

Do Neurotypical People Like or Dislike Autistic People?

This study investigated whether neurotypical individuals' judgments that they dislike a person are more common when…

Just from a photo, the NTs rated ND people as unlikeable. “Well, I’ll be damned,” I remember thinking.

In the words of Terry Kaye, “it’s a them problem.”

That's a Them Problem!

Studies are confirming what neurodivergent people have intuited forever - neurotypical people are biased against us…

Something shifted for me then, and I’ve been able to see myself in what I believe to be a truer light in the ensuing time.

A “Reincarnational” Notion

I’ve always been a spiritual seeker, and since I began my recovery, my spiritual practice has become the center of my life. Long a believer in reincarnation, for decades I’ve had a sense of having been a spiritual leader in many long ago lives. I’m wondering now about that possibility in connection with my autism.

Were our tribal shamen & priestesses in the days before monotheism autistic? Was their strangeness recognized in childhood? Did it naturally set them apart then as it does neurodivergent people now… only then it was recognized as a connection with the Otherworld instead of something to be mocked and pitied?

To me, the idea rings true, and so it becomes part of my origin story. One of the many things that makes me my gloriously quirky self.

0 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page