“Just be yourself”, they say.
“Be proud of who you are.”
“Everyone has something to offer.”
“Be fearlessly authentic.”
But, when I am authentic in my neurodivergent way, I see a pattern of becoming distant from friends and isolated from community. So, obviously, there are still rules about what you are allowed to do and what is considered valuable when you are being your proud authentic self.
My authentic neurodivergent self needs a lot of time alone, yet I crave connection with others.
My authentic neurodivergent self prefers to process language in writing rather than spoken word, especially if the thoughts I am processing involve a lot of emotion.
My authentic neurodivergent self relies heavily on social media as a form of communication, socialisation and finding supportive community.
My authentic neurodivergent self has executive functioning challenges that mean I can’t engage in work tasks or house keeping tasks in ways that most would consider conventional.
When I am engaging with the world at large, the world that expects me to be authentic but only in ways considered typical, I have tried my best to engage in ways that are accepted, but find I am usually overwhelmed, exhausted and very aware of what the world sees as my inadequacies.
When I am engaging with my neurodivergent peers with my own brand of neurodivergent authenticity I do not feel the pressure to be a particular way or comply with a set of unspoken rules. I can communicate my thoughts and feelings in ways that are comfortable to me and in my own timing without fear of criticism or judgement. As a result of having the weight of the worlds expectations removed from me by my friends in the safe space of neurodivergent community, I have been able to give myself permission to drop those expectations from myself.
So, I made the decision to show my neurodivergent authenticity to the world. It was, and continues to be, one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I spent 40 years of my life working to fit in, so learning to be comfortable not fitting in is neurodivergent authenticity. If you believe I should just be myself, then you need to accept that I will do things you don’t understand and that may well leave you feeling uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean I should be excluded. What it actually means is that I have just made myself vulnerable to you and you have decisions to make about how you will react to that.
I know from experience that I will be laughed at for expressing pride in myself for achieving something it would never occur to others is even remotely difficult, so expressing that pride anyway is neurodivergent authenticity. If you believe I should be proud of myself you need to be prepared to be comfortable acknowledging your privilege as a non disabled person and be willing to accept that my efforts are real even if you wouldn’t find a thing worthy of celebrating.
I know that to many people the offer of “I’m here- If you want to talk, just text me anytime” is not as valued as “let’s hang out and chat”. So maintaining boundaries around how much time I can spend in face to face verbal conversation, and dealing with the resulting loss of friendship and contact with people, is neurodivergent authenticity. If you believe everyone has something to offer you need to be prepared to accept and appreciate the diversity of what they offer, instead of overlooking them for people who conform to your expectations.
For me, at the moment, it is not possible to be fearlessly authentic, because I know I am judged as being less than for doing it. But I am still determined to be authentic, whether my proud authentic neurodivergent self is palatable to others sense of normality or not. If you believe people should be fearlessly authentic then you need to take on the responsibility for helping to create a world in which diversity is valued and being authentic is not an act of defiance.