Recently, I wrote a post about how, when I was very young, I got picked to be “The Cheese”, at which point I was outcast in an involuntary captive prominence and mocked, and then I eventually voluntarily chose to be “The Cheese”, at which point (to an extent) I cast myself out of mainstream society by choice.
Half-surprisingly (to me, at the time), I received comments; others had been in similar situations, and they had felt the same way! (I shouldn’t be surprised by now, really; as I’ve mentioned before, so many of our experiences are so parallel that they bring tears of solidarity, identification, and healing to my eyes when I read them.) 🙂
One commenter in particular, Toshiro (whose insightful blog can be found here), actually fleshed his beautifully-stated comment into a blog post on his blog (!) (Talk about a neat “conversation” in blog posts!)
The last sentence (of both his comment on my blog and his own blog post) especially struck me:
“I wish I had the conviction and resilience I get the impression of from your writing, you sound very strong 🙂 ”
I wasn’t always that strong. There are still some days where I don’t even feel that strong myself. And I’m pretty sure that there are (probably many) others who feel the same way. My heart went (and keeps going) out to Toshiro, those probably-many-others, and on some days, even myself…
…which inspired this post…which is a response to how to voluntarily choose to be “The Cheese”, how to “opt-out” of the neurotypical yardstick. I figure I’ll write it now, since this is one of my “Stronger Days”. Thank you Toshiro for providing the verbal “jumping-off point”! 🙂
What follows is simply my own opinion and strategy, and is definitely one way of doing it, but it is only one way, and it is certainly not the only way.
I have, in a sense, opted out of mainstream/neurotypical culture. Part of this was not my choice; it was dictated by my neurotype; certain doors were open to me, and others were simply closed to me. Not an option. Not relevant. Not possible. And that’s not exactly a bad thing, either. Because the “rooms” those “doors” lead to, well, probably aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Not that I knew that at the time–I didn’t; it took me a while to figure that out.
Although a part of this “opt-out” was not my choice, another part of it was.
Of course, I’m a pretty good actor/actress. I “look” “normal” on the outside, on the surface. I wear culture-appropriate clothing, even if it does venture into that of other cultures (sometimes), and even if it stubbornly remains on the “comfortable” side (all of the time). I can be seen doing what neurotypicals (NTs) do–surfing the internet, watching TV, YouTubing videos, listening to music, reading books, petting our cats, talking with my partner, driving to the store, and so on.
But if you look deeper, you’ll see that the clothes I’m wearing could be 20 years old. You’ll see that the internet browser tabs (often dozens, maybe hundreds open at a time) are open to Google searches (of different search strings), social media (of course), various ActuallyAutistic blogs, psychology/science/sociology-based Wikipedia articles, Google Images of various HD digital and traditional art, etc.
You’ll also see that my recently-viewed YouTube videos are those of songs by eclectic/indie bands.
You’ll see that the books I read are of unusual subject matter, like Asperger’s/autism, medical thriller documentaries (a la Richard Preston) or legal thrillers (a la John Grisham) or Generation X cultural fiction (a la Douglas Coupland) or world religions/philosophy.
You’ll see that the conversations with my partner revolve around unusual topics, like molecular vibration, reincarnation, astrology, the autism spectrum and its traits, microbiology, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and small business administration.
You’ll also see the irritation begin to rise when a commercial break begins on TV, and I scramble for the mute button, unable to hit it fast enough. You’ll see that although both my partner and I may be home, sharing the same 1150-square-foot apartment all weekend, we may not actually spend much time interacting with each other. And it might seem strange to some that our philosophy regarding time together is, “quality over quantity”, that each of us is happy doing our own thing.
Chances are, as I’m finding out, that you might see some of me/us in yourself. Or you might see some core similarities, even if the specifics are different (we’re all different people, after all!). And whether we, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum realize it or not, we have–simply by being ON the spectrum–achieved at least half of the “opt-out” goal already!
As for the rest of it, that other half…
That’s where the inner strength comes in. Don’t worry; you already have it; just by being on the spectrum and living day to day in a world not engineered for you, you’ve got it. Because that takes strength, and shit-tons of it. You may not feel strong–I understand and respect that. I can even relate–probably a lot.
We’re often our own worst enemies, frequently forgetting that the NT yardstick is not the only measurement tool. We often feel pressured to like or keep up with whatever the NT world is doing or interested in this week.
Gentle reminder: you don’t have to do this! Be yourself. Gear YOUR world for YOU. And it’s OK to stick to it. It’s OK not to want to budge as often. It’s OK to not “give in” to the NT “standards” as often. Who are they, anyway? Would they even notice if you gave the NT world the proverbial finger? (That’s actually one of the advantages of being largely invisible; we can get away with more! Few will notice.) And if they did notice, for how long would they even remember?
It’s OK to be You. Wear your comfy clothes. (Have you seen some of the “average”–some would say “dumpy” NT people out there, hanging out of their summer “clothing”? There’s a reason that sites like The People of Walmart (link to site) exist.) Females, who says that you have to wear makeup? Who decided what’s in style for the fall season?
Engage in your primary interests. If you’re at home, no one other than those you live with will know the difference. The people you live with should be used to it by now. Hopefully, they respect your needs and desires, and hopefully they embrace you and love you just as you are. If you live alone, that’s even better for a lot of us. It may feel lonely at times but just think–you’re the only one you have to assume responsibility for; you’re the only one you have to consider in most decisions; you’re the one who gets to call the shots; and you’re the only one you have to answer to! 🙂
Be an introvert, if that’s who and what you are. So what if “the rest of the world” prizes extroversion? Extroversion is overrated. Extroversion causes problems. Have you ever seen an introvert initiate bullying? Have you ever seen an introvert game the system for attention? Introverts don’t do ridiculous (and potentially harmful) things to call attention to themselves. Introverts don’t waste time with small talk. Introverts don’t pick fights or holler obnoxiously. Introverts need love, too.
It’s OK to text instead of calling. Or send an email instead of texting. Or put your mobile in “airplane mode” every so often (I love that!) Being an introvert is better for your career, too (link to a LifeHack.org article). It means you think before you act…which makes you an adult (congratulations! Many chronological “adults” don’t fit the true definition of a grown-up).
Build your home environment the way YOU like it. Ignore HGTV when they subliminally try to coax you into “updating” your home to the “current” style. Ignore how your family, friends, neighbors, etc, have decorated their homes. They’re not you, and you’re not them. Personally, going over to some friends’ houses drives me a little batshit; I won’t go into gory detail because I don’t want to set off any trigger responses–including my own (lol). Other friends have much more beautiful living spaces…but they also have more money and carpentry know-how, too.
Find–or work toward–a line of work that realistically suits you. I can’t stress this enough. When I first entered into university, the Business degree/major was all the rage (and who knows–it may still be this way). Who said that being a doctor or a lawyer was the end-all-be-all?
Ignore the news. Ignore the fashion magazines. Ignore prime time TV. Ignore what’s going “viral” on social media.
Free yourself from the cultural “mandates” of/for your gender. Who says that the breadwinner must be male? Who says you have to have children? Who says you have to buy the latest fad electronic gadget for your nephew? Who made the “blue for boys and pink for girls” “rule”?
The important part is to give yourself permission to be The Person that lives inside you.
We must recognize that “the news”, the latest fashions, the über-trends, the social “rules” are all intentional, engineered constructs.
And they are constructed usually for the sake of financial gain. If Macy’s and Kohl’s can convince you that there’s a new look for the fall season, you might feel like the wardrobe you already have is outdated, and you may feel a subconscious pressure to go buy new clothes. If your house doesn’t look like the one featured on HGTV, with the crown molding and tray ceilings, you may look around your own house and wonder how long it’s been since you remodeled, and you may feel that subconscious pressure to call a contractor or interior decorator, or at the very least, hit the home improvement store.
That’s exactly what “they” want, of course. They subtly shape thought, and thought translates into action. Action usually costs money. As we begin to peel away the construct, and reach, access, and inspect its core and perceive it for what it is, it becomes (much) easier to “just say no”.
Pushing back against NT culture is a lot like lifting weights.
At first, it might be difficult. You’re exercising (inner, psychological) “muscles” you didn’t know you had; but they’re there. They’ve always been there.
After the first “workout” (or two or ten), you might feel “sore” (which might manifest as exhaustion, self-doubt, or even a bit of frustration). That’s OK; keep going; do it again (after you’ve had some down-time for recovery and recharging). And like a physical workout, where you realize after you become sore just which muscles perform which actions and that’s when you find out about muscles you didn’t know you had, the psychological “muscles” involved in resisting the NT world and “opting-out” of it work the same way.
Eventually, it will get easier. You’ll become more comfortable with the ideas, the activities, the independence, and often, the resulting alone-ness (as opposed to “loneliness”, because although it can indeed be lonely, it isn’t always). You’ll be able to do more, and feel better doing it. Resistance may be uncomfortable at first, but eventually, it can get fun. You may end up feeling really good doing it–a sort of self-satisfaction, kind of like thumbing your nose at the rest of the world or giving it the mental finger.
If we’re so insignificant to the world at large, and they pay us no heed, even when we’re asking for help or acceptance (or even just plain acknowledgement), then there’s no reason they “deserve” some kind of “consideration” from us when it comes to conforming to their arbitrary-and-often-ridiculous unwritten “rules”. At first, the non-conformity probably bothers us more than it bothers them. Despite their higher priority on it, they’re probably not paying enough attention, and wouldn’t remember for very long.
One of my favorite movies is “Angus” (link to Wiki article, with well-fleshed-out, detailed synopsis/plot). Simply explore the storyline, and you’ll see why it’s one of my favorites; hell, it might become one of yours, too! 🙂 It fits exactly with the theme of this post, and indeed, some of our (spectrum peoples’) very frequent and shared thoughts.
One of my favorite characters in that movie is the Grandpa. He’s a kind, strong, and wise man. One of my favorite quotes from him is his speech to his grandson Angus (link to clip on YouTube). My hearing leaves a lot to be desired, but here’s the transcription, to the best of my ability:
“Superman isn’t brave. He’s smart, handsome…but he isn’t brave. Superman is indestructible…and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible. It’s people like you… People who are different. They can be crushed, and (they) know it. But they keep going on out there, every time.”
Thank you again, Toshiro! I hope this provides some support or encouragement to anyone who might need it.