The decision to fit in or not

It is well known that Aspies tend to not fit in to society. Girls with AS typically feel the pressure to fit in more than boys do. Aspies feel like aliens. I had that problem all my life. Let me tell you a bit about my background. At school I was teased and bullied. Most the people who did not tease me chose to avoid me. I had no friends at school. I was the outcast. I’d make friends with someone outside of school and shortly afterwards the person would abandon me. They would cut me off from their life. They wouldn’t reply to my sms’s and emails and they wouldn’t answer my phone calls, without telling me why. I’d offend people. My parents’ friends would tell them not to bring me to braais (barbeques) because they thought my behaviour was inappropriate. People were constantly criticizing me. I didn’t understand why all this happened to me until I was diagnosed with AS. Even today I still offend people and have problems socializing with NTs. This is my message to other aspies:

Before I was diagnosed I lived in fear of what other people thought of me. I was so desperate to make friends that I tried to please everyone, which only made me feel worse when my attempts failed. I tried to pretend to be the person I thought people wanted me to be. I tried to be ‘normal’. As people at school criticized me for the smallest thing – including my facial expressions – I learnt to numb my emotions and wore a poker face. I tried to mask the true me. I didn’t express myself but purposely kept quiet. In my quest to be accepted,  I tried to mimic other people’s behaviour. This caused me great stress. As Dale Yaull-Smith (2008) puts it, “This sort of mimicking and repressing their autistic behaviour is exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women with mental health problems.” That’s true for me. Because I suppressed the true me most the time and pretended to be someone else, I developed Bipolar Mood Disorder. The trauma from the bullying also caused me to develop the disorder.

After I was diagnosed with AS I realized that I wasn’t such a bad person after all. I realized that it’s okay to be different from the rest. In fact, it’s good to be a non-conformist because then you will become a trail blazer who sets the standard for everyone else. Most NTs don’t realize that by conforming they are being herded like sheep following someone else’s ideas. It’s impossible to please everyone, so why even try?

I decided to be true to myself no matter what anyone else thought. If I was going to make friends, I wanted friends who would accept me for who I really am. If someone I meet doesn’t like the real me – AS and all – I would rather not waste my time with them because sooner or later my AS symptoms will manifest and cause problems. I don’t want someone who will abandon me as soon as they notice I’m different, I want someone who will either think like me or appreciate my differences. It’s better to have no friends and be content with yourself than have many fake friends and be miserable. How will we fight the stigma against disabilities if we do not tell people about our Aspergers etc?  Besides, the stress and futile efforts of trying to be something you’re not are not worthwhile. They only damage your mental health. And when you develop a mental condition, you suffer with it for the rest of your life. You have to take medication all your life just to function every day. The condition never goes away, you just become better at coping with it and the interventions reduce the symptoms. You are actually better off not being with the popular crowd in school because then you won’t have to deal with peer pressure like everyone else goes through. Most people who experience peer pressure end up getting addicted to something, like smoking or alcohol or drugs, because everyone else does it. That causes uneccessary problems and messes up their whole life.

Teenage aspies, if you have no friends in school be comforted by the fact that people who have left school are much more forgiving towards social inability and differences than those who are still in school. You are much less likely to be bullied after school and more likely to find people who will accept you as you are. The day I finished school was one of the best days of my life. Since then I have made some good friends. I’ve discovered that making friends with people who have disabilities (PWDs) is the best way to go. I have found belonging with PWDs. They know what it’s like to be different and be rejected because of it. They know what it’s like to be misunderstood. They will welcome you as you are. I’ve now got a small circle of close friends with disabilities who are very loyal and they appreciate me. I’m living in the ideal environment – I live with a friend (Fred) who has mild cerebral palsy (also a neurological condition). Because he knows how frustrating it is to live with a disability and what it’s like to experience the stigma, he accepts me as I am and patiently tolerates my bad days. He understands me. We get on so well – too well in fact. In the 5 months we’ve been living together we’ve never once had an argument. We do get annoyed with each other at times but we don’t make a big deal about it. We discuss it and we are open with each other. Fred is mentally and emotionally stable and is always there to support me, which helps a great deal. Don’t get me wrong though, every relationship requires effort to keep it strong and this one is no exception.

I asked other adult aspies on a Facebook group if it’s worth trying to fit in (one of the many reasons why aspies should use Facebook) and Glenn Judge summed up my thoughts in his reply:

“For years before I was diagnosed with Aspergers as an adult I was treated with medication for general anxiety disorder. They weren’t much help. After my diagnosis it was clear the anxiety was caused by feeling overwhelmed trying to fit in to the NT world as an Aspie. I’ve had to change. I’ve cut out much of the socialising that wore me out and gave me little back. I attend family gatherings on my terms, leave early when I feel I’ve had enough. I run on the beach every morning which burns away any anxiety built up over the previous day. I spent more time alone (because I like it and solitude recharges my batteries). I prefer to be around people than with them. So cafés suit me. I choose one to one socials over a group even if I know them all. This includes family. I’ve lost a few social friends but again that suits me since they took too much out of me for what I got back. So being assertive with my aspie personality around people has reduced my stress and anxiety. Still have problems dealing with noisy or busy environments so try to avoid those. All in all I’m doing the best I can to negotiate the NT world around me.”

“I just act my true self around people. At least I’m authentic even if that closes me off to others. We should expect NTs to meet us halfway and stop all this acting to enter their world.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. One last thing to remember : Do not allow the external expectations of others to rule your life and do not compromise your values, even if it means that people won’t like you.

If you have an aspie daughter who needs a friend and she is on Facebook, please suggest to her that she adds me as a friend.

Written by: Shellique Carby

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