I had always known that there was something ‘abnormal’ about myself, something that was a little off-kilter. I can’t quite grasp whether this manifested as positive or negative, but I know that I didn’t fit in; my early memories are that of being a square peg, an unfortunate position. Unfortunate because society offered me naught but a round hole.
What does a square peg do that’s so abnormal? Many things, as I’ve now realised, but a few examples might offer a glimpse. I’d often explore the world intensely through touch, needing to feel every new texture I’d walk by, putting object after object into my mouth for testing, yet refusing to be touched myself. I’d often be non-verbal, sometimes by choice, sometimes in fear, but when I was verbal, I’d often talk only to myself, as well as animals and plants that didn’t seem to judge me as humans did. I’d often obsess over very specific and absurd things; one day it was bikes, the next day it was trees, and the day following it was fridges, and god forbid you if get in my way as I pulled things apart to figure out how the world worked.
Often I’d find myself spending a large percentage of the day in some form of water, whether it be a bath, a shower, a pool, the ocean, refusing to get out and function as was expected from me. Water became my safe space, my place of therapy, and still, thankfully, helps me today.
Many of these abnormal behaviours can seem reasonable in theory, but in practice, and, indeed, from experience, can drive society up the wall. I attempted to adapt, with mixed results. I tried my best to learn how humans were supposed to act and interact and tried my best to form my own façade to hide behind.
A lot of my childhood was spent in my own head, as I desperately protected my squareness with aggression and confusion, as the world demanded more from me with each passing year.
A lot of my formative teenage years were spent attempting to chip and wear down my sharp corners, desperate that one day I’d be able to sit flush with this world, to no avail.
A lot of my early adulthood has been spent resigned to the fact that the day of acceptance might never come, afraid that I’d drift off into obscurity, at that point barely able to hold down a degree, a job, a friend, a partner, a life.
A day did come eventually, but it wasn’t the day that I finally became round. It was a day that I finally had acceptance, a realisation that it’s okay to be square, as damaged as that square seemed to be now. It was the day I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
It wasn’t my first diagnosis regarding my mental and neurological health. I was also previously diagnosed with severe depression, followed closely by bipolar disorder, and had long walked down the therapeutic avenues of psychology and psychiatry. It’s something I had come to terms with, but it didn’t hold all the answers.
Far from it; all the focused medication and therapy in the world couldn’t fix my social anxieties and personal quirks; the complex struggles I fought in myself with understanding, with communicating, with existing.
One of the issues I’ve found with disorders like mine; it can be very hard to commit to a diagnosis, whether you are the doctor or the patient. It’s difficult to pin down the source of a swarm of swirling strenuous symptoms; it’s not as easy as labelling it, fixing it, and moving on. It’s never that easy, but with the right support, it can become easier.
Looking back, it’s absurd what was missed. It seems so obvious now. A diagnostic framework helps you make sense of yourself in an analytical, logical way, which is helpful for someone of my ilk. I thrive on facts and information, so for me, a diagnosis is not necessarily scary or confusing, it’s helpful. It’s a lack of knowledge that can terrify the afflicted, the abnormal, and those all around them. We need these people like me and these conditions like mine out in the light, where people can grow, and where we can examine and fathom the enigma of these curiosities of the human condition. Keeping it in the dark will only lead to people withering and wilting. A diagnosis doesn’t just help me at present and leading into the future, but it can also help make sense of the past and comes to terms with the pain that was then.
The struggles were numerous when I was younger; there are still definitely struggles even now, but I can see them in a different light. I’d struggle to remember those I had met previously, and came off as ignorant. I’d struggle to talk about anything that wasn’t a personal passion and came off as arrogant. I’d struggle to make eye contact, and came off as rude. I’d struggle with being touched and, well, humans are notorious touchers. Now I know that, not only is it okay to struggle, it’s okay to engage with my fellow humans in my own unique way, everyone does.
To put it simply, I don’t often understand, communicate with, and exist in this world the same way as others do, and now I know that there’s probably a reason why. It’s okay to be different. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. The above shortlist of struggles is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and only my personal experience.
There are many others like me, with many other stories. Luckily, I have narrowed my previous obsessions, and discovered the arts to keep me afloat; it always was a great hideout for the voiceless; I’ve started to be comfortable with who I am, rather than hide behind my façade. I can now find ways to understand the world through my creative outlets, I can communicate so much better through my writing process, and I can now exist a little more peacefully, as that chipped and worn square peg. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do for today; I’m not alright, but I’ll be okay.
Not all of us have found a way to survive in this world though. The big issue we still face is the stigma; the idea that a world with round holes has no room for square pegs. It’s not a conscious thing we all do; it lies under the surface and stops people like me from living functional lives. It’s hard to swallow the abnormal, I get it, I truly do. I ask though, that instead of spitting us out, allow us in. Listen to the stories, the struggles; we don’t want your sympathy, we just want your support.