Sunday, 29 April 2018

More On Not Belonging, And Introversion

One thing I didn’t list in my previous post about not belonging in this world, is being an introvert. There are differences of opinion, I’ve found, on what percentage of the population are introverts or extraverts, whether the two types are just the extremes, and how you define introversion anyway, but by any definition, I am thoroughly and completely introvert. Although, as I’ve said before, not all autistics are introverted, I unquestionably am. I feel this is yet another thing that sets me apart from the mainstream of society.

Introverts have long had a bad press, whether they are labelled as such or not. Regardless of their actual numbers, extraverts do dominate the social arena. They do this by being louder, more ‘out there’, more ‘sociable’, and hence more visible, but also by extraversion being seen as the ideal personality type, in both the public mind and the professional literature, particularly in Western countries. It’s only fairly recently that this has been challenged. Nonetheless, it’s still the case that introverts are not well understood, or really accepted as they are.

Being an introvert has meant a lifetime of misunderstandings and pressure from extraverts -

- “Come out and have fun!” - as though the first invariably leads to the second. 

- “Don’t look so sad/why the long face/cheer up! It may never happen!” – when I am merely lost in thought.

- “Why so quiet? Cat got your tongue?” – if I wasn’t chattering like a bird at every opportunity.

- “why are you hiding away in here? Come out and join the party!” - when I’d retreat into some other room for a bit of peace and quiet at a social event. My need for solitude is usually seen as abnormal, and not healthy.

- “You should try and make more friends!” – (I’ve often been tempted to ask, “out of what? Cardboard? Papier mache?”) The assumption seems to be that having more people in my life meant I’d automatically be happier. Riiiight…

The other reaction I persistently got was to be totally ignored. Over the years, I came to believe I must be either very boring or some awful person, because so many people seemed to overlook me or turn away, or even outright cold-shoulder me. At a friend’s house one day, for instance, another woman there, who was talking to my friend, refused even to acknowledge my existence. She pointedly ignored me when I spoke, talking only to my friend, and not even looking in my direction. It was so noticeable that even my friend, a kind, generous soul, became visibly uncomfortable, glancing from her to me, looking puzzled and anxious. I walked away in the end. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. But it did leave me wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me, that someone I’d barely met should treat me like that.

My response to all this, besides feeling like I was somehow warped or boring or just plain inferior, was to try to make myself over into what I thought I ‘should’ be – like others. I would force myself to go to social events, stay longer than I really felt good with, talk more than I really wanted to, or simply pretend to be something I knew intrinsically I wasn’t. It did not make me happier, or transform me into a party-lover, it just made me more tired, and more convinced I was Not Good Enough as I was.

Mixed in with this struggle was a lot of resentment – I also, on some deeper level, didn’t really feel that those oh-so-social people were so much better than me, just noisier. In fact, some of them I privately thought of as ‘exhibitionists’, ie deliberately displaying their emotional states to get attention. It wasn’t till I learnt about the differences between introverts and extraverts that I realised that it was as natural for them to display their emotions as it was for me to keep mine inside. Mostly though, my earlier years were simply rather lonely.

And yes, I know now that there are many other introverts in the world, and I do feel a connection with them, but the thing with being an introvert is that you value large chunks of solitude – away even from other introverts. Having said that, I would trade one heartfelt, intense and meaningful conversation with another introvert for any number of parties, any day. And the people I can have such conversations with are pearls beyond price, in my view.

The bottom line however is that I’m a loner, a social outsider by nature, and a semi-recluse by choice. This is what I’ve found is the best way for me to live, and that the world can’t seem to accept that, and me as I am, is just one more thing that makes me feel even less part of this world.

Monday, 16 April 2018

I Don't Belong In This World

I don’t belong in this world.

By this, I don’t mean that I hate the world, or anyone in it. I love or have loved many people, some still alive, some not. And while sometimes I’ve shunned the world and held myself aloof from it for my own self-protection, yet at other times I’ve felt huge pity or compassion, even aching sorrow, for the world’s inhabitants and whatever pain they’re suffering, and I still do.

I also love the world’s physical beauties, its forests and sunsets, beaches and waterfalls, sweeping mountains and ever-changing seas. I even love many of its manmade splendours – feasts of colour and light, music that transports me, or the many architectural wonders of the world, especially old buildings, archways, hanging stones and other ancient sites.

But I’ve never felt like I belong here.

This not belonging has many layers or facets to it. There are spiritual facets – I know this isn’t everyone’s thing, but it is mine. It has nothing to do with what anyone else believes or doesn’t believe, but rather with a series of personal understandings I’ve gained over the years. Many years ago, for instance, I was in the women’s spirituality movement, but left because of its focus on Mother Earth and our female bodies – something I just do not feel that connected to. And for much of my younger years, I experienced something I could only describe as a ‘butterfly in a jar’ feeling. Then one day I realised it was my spirit yearning to be free. My true home, I know now, is with the Divine. One day, when I’ve done all I’m meant to do in this life, I’ll get to go there.

But it goes beyond the spiritual. I find myself repelled by many of the values that rule the world. Over and over again, I see honesty, integrity, decency, basic civility and even common sense being sacrificed on the altars of Ego, Greed and Political Expediency. Whether it’s in the political arena or the personal, I see so many appalling behaviours, and constant attempts to justify them by blaming the victims or some conveniently horrible ‘enemy’.

This is a world where there’s supposedly ‘not enough money’ to ensure decent incomes, housing, education or medical care for all, yet somehow there’s always enough money to go to war. A world where if you’re black, you can be arrested for sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a friend, or shot at for asking directions, but if you’re white and rich you can literally get away with rape.

And then there are wars, and pollution, and a greedy ripping out of the world’s resources without thought for the future, the capitalist hegemony that knows the price of everything, but the true value of nothing. And yes, I know there are those who fight against these warped values, but on the whole, the good people are not the ones in power, and even where they are, they’re sailing against the wind. I despair for the world, I truly do.

There’s also the effects of my physical disability – an acquired thing, yes, but it’s meant that for most of my adult life paid employment has been minimal to non-existent, and I’m now pretty much unemployable. Ditto for education, and any kind of community involvement. People rush off daily to wherever, while I stand apart, and isolated. (And poor, of course, something else that separates me from most others.)

Being a writer also means standing apart from society to some extent anyway, being an observer rather than a participant. Not to mention, when I have had jobs, I always felt like I was ‘wasting time’, and not doing what I felt I was ‘meant’ to be doing, ie writing.

But if I was simply any of the above, I would still be able to find a sector of society I’d fit into and be regarded by all as just another part of humanity, even if some disagreed with my political or spiritual opinions, or disliked what I wrote, and so on. But I’m also autistic. And as an autistic, I feel at odds with the entire world on a daily basis, its precepts and practises that just make no sense, and the constant slamming up against unspoken rules and social expectations. Even after decades of learning social skills, this is still a regular occurrence for me, and, I suspect, for most autistics. It’s the ‘square peg in a round-holed world’ feeling.

And while we autistics now have our own community, it’s one that most of the world seems to think shouldn’t exist. We’re seen as less-than-human, or even ‘monsters’ or a ‘disease’, and anything people do to us is considered fair game by most. The usual rules of decency do not apply to us.

So I’m alienated most of all, perhaps, by how we get treated, a mistreatment which ranges from simple ridicule through forced normalisation to outright murder. Not to mention the do-gooders who think they’re being ‘nice’ to us but who reek of fake-cheeriness or pitying inspiration-porn, the parents who never listen to us, the professionals who pathologise us, the teachers who don’t grasp just how different we really are, the media who demonise us… The world makes it plain that it only grudgingly tolerates us, at best, and at worst actively seeks to eliminate us. 

So no, I don’t feel welcome on this planet, or that I belong here. And given all the above, I think this is understandable.

Monday, 2 April 2018

I Want To Go Back

I want to go back.

I want to go back and find the little girl I once was, the one who would spend long hours on the swing, going higher and higher, then leaning back to watch the sky, because it felt like she was flying, like she was free. The little girl who loved to roll down the hill, dizzy with sensation, or whirl around and around till she fell over laughing. Who could be transported by the scent of that same grass freshly-cut, and the smell of bacon on Sunday mornings, and the smell of hot tar on a summer’s day when it had just been raining. The little girl who loved ballet, and who would put on a record and throw herself around the room, leaping and pirouetting, even though she wasn’t very good at it. The little girl who devoured adult encyclopaedias, because the kid ones were just too limited, and who first learnt to draw from copying the illustration on a book cover. The little girl who would stand in the wind and feel cold go over her skinny little body, and shiver with a kind of thrilling aliveness, so that she wanted to laugh and laugh, and just move in her body like it belonged to her.

I want to go back and find the teenager who would draw endlessly, read endlessly, but somehow never get around to doing her homework. Who would lie in bed at night and look out the window at the stars, and think about God and life and love and The Universe, and wonder who or what was Out There, and what it might be like to go up in a spaceship, and a thousand and one other things. Who would stim, sometimes, though she had no idea, yet, what she was doing, or even, yet, fully grasp that others didn’t pace or rock or jiggle their bodies like this. Who could make silly jokes and laugh till she just about cried, giving herself over to the laugh completely. And who still sometimes danced, when she could, if no-one looked, if no-one laughed. But mostly, she just dreamed, and drew, and wrote the occasional poem, and felt at odds with the world, without really knowing why. Who didn’t know herself yet, but managed to be that self anyway.

I want to go back.

I want to go back and find the young woman, who, when her child was in school, would wander the streets of Auckland, solitary and content, following an internal flow no-one else could understand. Who would drink in bright colours like they were her lifeblood and feel a thrill throughout her whole body when she found some old, neglected, quaint corner of city architecture. Who would climb Mount Eden and find a quiet spot away from all the tourists, lie down in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Who wrote a lot of fervid poems, because she was trying to grasp something, trying to understand the crazy world she found herself in. Who immersed herself in studying all manner of things, in pursuit of this same objective, following one special interest or another, for as long as it fascinated her. The young woman who would sometimes put on music and draw the curtains so no-one could see, then dance and dance, just because she felt like it, just because it made her feel free.

I want to go back and find the older woman, who, in recovery from an emotionally abusive relationship, immured herself in the countryside and wrote and painted and hardly spoke to anyone for days at a time. Who didn’t even have a TV, let alone a computer or the Internet. I want to feel how she felt, the rhythm of her days, the naturalness of how she moved from one thing to another, learning again how to hear the song within. Because she was freeing herself of a dark shadow that had blighted her life, and re-discovering her true feelings, her true needs, once again. And who still sometimes danced, late at night with the music up loud and the curtains closed, even though she had known for a long time that she was a lousy dancer. 

I want more, even. I want to let her speak out, as she hardly ever allowed herself to, to reject those who would use and abuse her, to not get sucked in by other people’s games or agendas, to not give the manipulators and the time-wasters and the emotional leeches one minute of her time, or one ounce of her essence. I want to let her do and say all the things she once thought of doing and saying, but was too scared to, or didn’t think she had a right to, or was told she mustn’t, or got yelled at for saying or doing, so she stopped. I want her to walk away from anything and anyone that doesn’t nourish her, as she should have done all along, to have the courage to go her own way and choose her own path.

Because in spite of all the angst, anger, confusion, terror, anxiety, and raw aching sadness she felt, and a self-loathing deep as the ocean, in spite of all that she went through, she harboured within her a pearl beyond price.

So I want to go back.

But I don’t need to. Because she’s already here, inside me. 

And I just have to let her dance.