“This all sounds very neurotypical, Karen”
How many times have you been on Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and seen an article saying “Hey! Here’s how to solve that problem you have!” Wow–you want to solve that problem, right? So you read the article! And those tips sound great… until you remember that you were diagnosed with Problems Disorder.
How can the writer of those articles know what you’re going through? You’re not typical–you’re *neuroatypical*, in fact! It’s not a bad thing; you’re learning to work with it. You’re more than your symptoms, always. But these tips, this advice… It just seems like you would have to *already be healthy* for them to do any good! How can you have the energy to try these insomnia tips if you already can’t sleep? How can you practice being around people when you already have social anxiety? Don’t these stupid writers understand that we all have different challenges?
If all that sounds familiar, then I need you to know that I am also not neurotypical. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was a kid; since then, I’ve been on and off many, many psychiatric medications, and in talk therapy, to manage various symptoms, without ever getting actual diagnoses based on those symptoms. I still have episodes of depression, as well as paranoia, anxiety, some symptoms on the psychotic spectrum, insomnia, and memory problems (which is why I’m not giving you a whole list, I’m sure–I don’t remember ‘em all).
So I have a ton of experience in fighting the way my brain is. It’s not that my brain is bad and evil; it’s that if it makes me act a certain way, I don’t get the benefits of being included in the larger group of humanity. Disability is a matter of context. So I fight. It’s not fair, but if I want a benefit, I have to put up with the ordeal. I can’t stop fighting, because the only other option is despair, and I refuse to allow that. I’m too ornery.
I try solution after solution, even ones I don’t think will help, just to say I tried it. I listen to my body and do experiments with various ideas: If I try it *this* way, how do people react to me? If I do *that* before bed, how do I feel in the morning? And does it keep working or do I need to try different things?
By the way, I’m talking about things like sleep hygiene or cleaning tips. I am not a medical professional and I don’t give medical advice except for “ask a doctor.”
Step one: Get the sentence “this won’t work” out of your mouth
You’re not going to like this, because we all like to think we know everything, at least about ourselves. It’s scary to think you don’t know how you would react to something! But here’s the thing: you don’t.
Human behavior experiments show, over and over, that humans act in unexpected ways based on various factors. I’m not linking to a specific study here because it’s a fact in all studies. That’s why we do studies in the first place: we don’t know how people will react!
And that’s the fun part!
If you never think “This won’t work” then you can always think “This might work”! If it doesn’t, then you’ve learned something. If you never try, you never learn.
Step two: Change it until it will work
Sometimes, though, you *do* know yourself. Maybe the thing being suggested is similar to something you’ve tried before. Maybe the thought of it just makes you recoil in horror. That’s fine. You know how you’ll react to that because you just reacted.
But what if you can change something about the suggestion? What if it can be modified to fit your life and your brain?
Be creative. I know you are. Take the suggestion apart and look at every little piece, and figure out what function each bit is supposed to have. How does part X work on a neurotypical person? What’s it supposed to do to a brain with, say, a “normally” functioning dopamine system? What would it do with yours? If yours doesn’t function “normally”, what can you do to create the same effect, perhaps using part Z instead?
Step three: If it wouldn’t hurt to try: try!
Here’s another fun part! Okay, well, maybe if you’re as near-pathologically curious about everything as I am. Here’s where you get to experiment! Take what you learned above, about part X and what it would do in a different brain, and part Z and what it might do in your brain. And see what they do in real life!
Here’s the rule: If it wouldn’t cause you or any other person any harm, try the new suggestion for a week. Record what happens. Use your pretty new notebook, or maybe even bullet journal about it! Find some metric beyond “I feel better” because happiness is relative. You’re simply not able to quantitatively tell whether you feel better! So you need something like “slept x hours” or “talked to x people without having a heart attack”, to record and compare over the few days you’re trying the new thing.
And hey, if it turns out it doesn’t work? That’s fine too. Something that works for everyone else in the whole wide world might not work for you, and that would be absolutely all right. You have your brain, body and life and you know how to work with it–no one else. It just means you get to try a new thing!
Step four: Don’t give up. Ever.
I was going to say in the last section something like “Scientists don’t get mad when their experiments don’t work out!” but that’s probably not true. Scientists are human! And so are you, and it’s normal to get frustrated when you want a thing and it isn’t happening, or when you are trying lots of things and none of them work.
Here’s the trick: Don’t get mad. Get to work.
If something didn’t work, *you get to try a new thing*! In experimenting, there is no such thing as time wasted. There is no such thing as a failure. There are only lessons learned. And if you’re going to learn about something, *yourself* is one of the best subjects there is!
I am very harsh with myself. Some people (some doctors, that is) would tell me that’s not a great way to be. But for me, one of the things I’m harshest about is: You can’t complain about something and not do anything about it. So if I don’t like some aspect of my life–can’t talk to people, can’t sleep, can’t get motivated–I work on it until it’s better. Not perfect, just better. Perfect is nice and all, but if it were the only standard for Good, I’d never get out of Bad.
The point is, of course, Never give up. Never Surrender.
What are some pieces of “neurotypical” advice that you’ve had to modify to make them work for you? What are some things that worked, even though you thought they wouldn’t? Tell me your story in the comments!
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