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Growing Up Autistic And Living In A Neurotypical World

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

Being divergent from the typical psyche, I have found myself numerous times feeling overwhelmed by the world I live in. This world is not only a beautiful entity — It is chaotic.

I guess it is safe to say I have felt like an alien who figured it would be a good idea to stop off and get some fuel for his ship. The next thing I know, my eyes, nose and ears are being violated by the hustle-and-bustle existence of this planets ways.

I have a love-hate relationship with our world; although Sometimes, I yearn for escapism and silence. When at my worst (feeling low on energy and unable to negotiate the chaos), I desire not to leave home, secure all doors and windows, turn off all things electronic and say fuck you to the world.

Unfortunately, due to the need to work, I cannot do that. And sadly, I will not be able to afford the private island and rocket ship I have been saving up for (imagines readers laughing).

Am I the only one: if given the opportunity, would hideaway on an island like Virgin Media’s Richard Branson (the proud owner of Necker Island) or Austrian businessman and Red Bull co-owner, Dietrich Mateschitz (Laucala Island)?

Yes, I would do that. However, I would prefer to go to space like the “space-race” billionaires. I prefer to inhabit a planet and reside there. I have a friend who speaks of an alien race coming to get him and “bring me home”.

I adore engaging in these conversations with him. Wistfully, I recognise it will never happen. Nonetheless, I repeatedly say to him “I’m coming with you. Save a seat for me”.

I tell you what I am going to do: I am going to save up, buy the island of my dreams, purchase the rocket ship and relax on the island until I see fit it is time to leave.

Dream on, right? It would be nice.

An autistic child living in a neurotypical world

When I ruminate about this world: it leads me down a rabbit hole. The memories I harbour are not only nostalgic — they are a mixed bag of the harsh and confusing childhood I had.

Please note: I didn’t have a rough childhood. My mentality was too mysterious and exhausting to withstand.

As a child growing up in the 90s (due to unfortunate circumstances, I was unaware of my autism and did not find out until I was 25), I often felt cut off by the children around me. They were comfortable in trying out multiple activities — they made it look natural.

Me? Unless it was something I relished doing — playing on my own or with a friend — I was able to gain confidence and find an interest.

I remember being in school: I was unpredictable. The teachers, most of them anyway, didn’t know what to do with me. I was a mathematician’s worst nightmare in physical form. A story: I was once unafraid of the scariest teacher in my primary school (United Kingdom’s elementary school).

I would taunt her while I ran around the tables. She told me to sit down. I told her “no”. This wasn’t good for the rest of the class: some would join in or complain about me. I was a “bad influence” on other children. It was as if I was a rebel against the establishment.

I hated school. Teachers, I think, disliked me. Back in those days, I was a kid out for trouble. I felt misunderstood. They didn’t know what I needed to focus. I didn’t know what I required either. If the adults (my parents and teachers) didn’t know — I didn’t either.

It was a vicious cycle of getting into trouble, being called “stupid” by one of my teaches, and getting sent to the headmaster’s (principal’s) office. They perceived me as Dennis The Mennis; when, in truth, I was a child crying out for professional guidance.

Without it, I was heading off-track and into the wilderness. That is what happened: as I entered my adolescence (to repeat, I was diagnosed at 25), more chaos and twisted self-damaging thoughts of “what’s wrong with me?” and “I don’t want to be here anymore” entered my already-confused mind.

As a child, I received strange looks and angry tones from parents; I often offended their children (I was quite violent toward other kids, especially girls, as I struggled with controlling my anger).

This made it more difficult to create friendships.

As a teenager, this could only become more complicated — it did.

The world through the eyes of a lost autistic teen

Childhood was messy — compared to my teenage years, it was nothing.

Nothing could prepare my mother for what was to come (I was raised by a single parent). Being a disruptive boy turned into something else: depressed, suicidal and desolate.

Although I seemed to have friends, the truth was, I had no idea how I should act. Like studying a textbook, I had to learn. I had to learn how to speak, to join in conversations and how to laugh on time. I was lost, afraid, and sensed I was unable to cope with “growing up”.

The world was getting bigger. It was becoming — instead of an exciting playground filled with vibrancy — a monster waiting to be fed. I was the food. Every morning on a school day was a day I wished I was dead. School for me was nothing but mayhem.

My mum hated getting me up every morning. She would start with a polite “come on time for school” to “get your arse out of bed or I’ll drag you out”. Each morning was a test for her tolerance. She also had to get to work; to be honest, I am lucky I am still alive. Back in her younger years, my mother was a fiery dragon awaiting her next victim.

I could’ve been that. Thankfully, she spared me.

Making friends and sticking to them were two different things

Most of them didn’t know how to react around me. I was confusing. We hung in crowds at school and I, being one who spoke when he was spoken to (I also gazed at the floor in my own world), stayed silent most of the time.

After months/years of knowing my closest friends, they were soon exposed to my darker side. I wasn’t evil or anything: I just disappeared off the radar. They would try to contact me and I would ignore the phone. Being socially exhausted and in need of some me-time, I spent many days battling to build up the encouragement to speak to them again.

Thankfully, some were nice enough to invite me back in.

I was a tormented soul who had no awareness of his condition. This tormented soul led to me being envious of other teenagers who were naturally able to dive into “normal” teenage activities.

Going to house parties (I did it here and there and found it extremely uncomfortable), going to school discos (I never went), and going to concerts and public events to take advantage of our youth.

I was happy enough to stay at home and play video games or play video games around a friends house. That was me. It’s what made me happy — comfortable. But deep down, I wanted to strip away this unknown condition inside of me and be “one of them”.

During this time of human development, my friends were exploring relationships and travelling; I was asked to go to Florida by a close friend, but I was too scared — finding part-time work and establishing themselves as soon-to-be men. Me, I felt like a loser who was oblivious to what he was losing at.

I was still a scared little boy who was dragging an invisible bag of negativity behind him.

I liked girls, but I lacked the essentials in showing it. I wanted to make new friends — I sucked at it. I yearned for something new: I struggled to seek new activities.

For my teenage self, the world was a scary (and it still can be) place.

An Autistic Man Living In A Neurotypical World

I still struggle.

This world still terrifies the shit out of me. I still get depressed, anxious, and suicidal. The difference? I was diagnosed nine years (at 25), so I have known for years. I also have a great support network such as friends, a therapist, work colleagues and coping mechanisms.

I now have vast experience dealing with the maze-like society we live in and the rules that exist. With years of studying the textbook of neurotypical behaviour (it doesn’t exist by the way), I can now — kind of — negotiate with the universe and politely ask it to “show me the way”.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work, and I become discouraged for days/weeks and become a recluse to escape the storm.

Sometimes it works. I feel elevated, “sexy” (whatever that means), and able to take on the world. I have lived through mental hell, experienced breakdowns, planned out my own suicide and came out the other end stronger and more self-aware.

I am proud to say I am the man today as I have fought my own demons and won every battle. Although I have not won the war (it isn’t possible as mental illness is permanent, but you can relieve it), I will always be willing to fight the conflict.

As I said before, I have a tremendous network; especially my friends. They have been there for me. I have been there for them. We know each other well enough to know that, when one of us disappears (typically me), we get it.

We do not judge.

I am 34 years old now. I know there will be more challenging times ahead. Recently, on October 30th, I lost my father to cancer. Life has ways of hitting you where it hurts. The one thing I have learned is that being alone is not good for me.

One day, I desire to settle down, maybe have children, keep the friendships I have, develop new ones and journey through the rest of my life. I am confident I have the tools to get through what life can throw at me.

We can all learn that.

To those who struggle, have autism, and feel out of place, take it from me: you’re stronger than you think and are adored by many. Being different is better than being a commoner. Standing out is cooler than standing in.

You can do it.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Coming of Age, Memoir, Personal Narrative