Written anonymously by one of the many undiagnosed adult battlers-on with Special Education Needs & Disability (SEND) that are resident in Hastings.  

You may want to read this listening to The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell

If you are on the borders of any of the neurodiversity conditions, you either find a way to live on the outside in a very real sense, or you have a really, really hard time. If you’re lucky enough to have the resources (money, a house, a good support system, a self-directed, self-employed endeavour that’s kind of working, etc., etc.) then being ‘an outsider’ isn’t so bad because anything deemed inappropriate in your dress, speech, abilities, needs or attitudes can be covered by ‘interestingly eccentric’ most of the time.

PICTURE: Thor Alvis/unsplash

That doesn’t always work though, because people with neurodiversity conditions are not generally very good at earning money or maintaining an income: so if the money runs out and you need a job, or if you have a project that necessitates diving into the ‘normal world’, you have a mountain to climb. If you’re a member of any of the splendid acronym clubs (ASD, ADHD, etc.) then this sort of  ‘project’ is not really something you could tackle in a half-hearted manner, so you’re going to have to climb that mountain.

Say you are starting a new job: you’re exhausted when you start because all the forms and websites and interviews and other kinds of maulings that got you there made absolutely no sense and regularly drove you to rage and sleeplessness, and you’ve already got into an emotional lather through repeatedly being seen to be asking daft questions … but you got there.

The Seasons They Go Round and Round

In the weeks before you started, you also had a series of intensely advanced logic problems to solve. For example, ‘dress code: office’. You have an idea what that looks like, and you browse around to get more detail on what ‘office’ means. If you’re a woman, you’ll think feverishly that it may be worth pretending you’re a man, because it looks easier. Then you think “Okay, do this thing: think of a word that covers all these things that looks like ‘office’.” 

If you’re like me, the first answer that comes to mind is ‘horrible’. Next comes a phrase, ‘upper-crust prostitute’. Okay, leave that one. You’re getting angry because you’re thinking about why people dress ‘office’, instead of ignoring the insanity of normality and getting on with your task. You kind of understand what kind of ‘horrible’ would do the trick and suspect that, if you stick to the examples of ‘horrible’ sold in Debenhams and M&S, their style boundaries will keep you on safe ground and you might just hit the button; so you go buy the new clothes, and go for it.

The first week is intensely difficult because people don’t believe you when you explain the things you don’t understand and need help with and they
keep trying to help you do things that you know how to do – but you do differently – or things that you can’t do right there and then, with or without their attempts to ‘help’. But you bump along, a large part of you taken up with trying to get used to the strange clothes in this strange environment and the general panic induced by the bits of the day that are supposed to be ‘breaks’.

The second week is harder because, just as the condescension kicks in (because despite your best efforts, everyone’s decided you’re a bit thick or a bit recalcitrant by now), the new horrible clothes have run out – and/or you laundered them and couldn’t figure out how to iron them back into the weird appearance they had at the start. So you feel scruffy, and they think you don’t care. 

We can’t return we can only look behind
from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Joni Mitchell

Out of ‘outsider’ world, you could do the rebel act now, and pretend you’re on the outside on purpose – but this wouldn’t work here – they’d kick you out. You start thinking maybe you should have gone for a late-life diagnosis after all. But then you see one of those memes on social media about how there are downsides to a diagnosis and, as there are no actual support services available, you question why you should go through the battle to get one. And then you look at how colleagues treat, and talk about, people who do have diagnoses and you think – “Yeah. No. Doesn’t help.”

Maybe you could blame it on the more comprehensible, physical disabilities that so often go with your acronym, maybe they could understand that – although don’t do it if it’s one of the embarrassing ones like the consequences of digestive troubles that often go with ASD, or the inability to remember and act on a lie for the sake of someone else’s ‘mental health’. They’d far rather get rid of you than be embarrassed. And anyway, disabilities don’t have to be very far off-pitch to be misunderstood. Look what happens in social situations to older people who can’t see or hear too well. 

So you stumble on, getting tireder and tireder and rattier and rattier and, if you’re really lucky, learn to deliver the necessary act before you get kicked out as a troublemaker or as not-good-enough…

The Painted Horses Go Up and Down

At this point, I stop writing and ask myself if I’m being paranoid, or grandstanding, or whatever. I resolve to go in next week and just be normal – that is, I will efficiently copy, in every detail, how everyone else is behaving. It’s scary though, one tiny misjudgement, and they’ll think you’re taking the p—.

But I’ve made that resolution so many times before and after all, it was what I was trying to do last week. There’ll be something I can’t get, can’t do, and when I ask for help, they’ll laugh, and say “Yes, we all struggle with that” and carry on doing what you can’t do.

You’re Captive on the Carousel of Life

But there’s a way round everything that you can’t do. You just have to make your life steadily more complicated, doing things your oddball way until you get round all the problems and you just hope like hell they get to know you, and think of you as a loveable oddball before they find out you’re an oddball.

PICTURE: Josh Riemer/unsplash

Eventually, you might just get to a place where it’s safe to tell them how hard they are making life for people who aren’t, or don’t easily live as, neurotypical and how easily they could do better – and then they’ll tell you all the things they are doing, all according to ‘the guidance’ and ignore everything you’ve just said.

Annoying, that. Don’t get annoyed. Stay super-passive. If you get tired, and start swearing or crying, that’s a ‘meltdown’ that is. Watch it – too many of them without a diagnosis, and you’ll be in trouble. But there’s hope if you’re female. World-class self-control is one of many things that acronym-laden women in particular get very good at. Just mind ‘passive’ doesn’t slip into bitter ‘passive aggressive’.

It’s hard, but you’re going to keep bashing away at it because one of the features of your particular acronym is called ‘stubbornness’, ‘obsession’ and things like that. It means that the more they pile on the obstacles, the more you want to get in there because you know just how many people like you there are – you’re seeing them in there, suffering and struggling, and you know just how much better you could make the inside for them if you could just hang in there long enough to make a few changes and you know just how much they could do for the world, if the world didn’t keep forcing them to ‘misbehave’.

For more information visit: https://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk/adults/

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.