Saturday, 1 April 2023

On Wanting To Be Normal

Recently I wrote a post on all the ways in which I’m different from the mainstream. It’s made me more aware than ever of the whole concept of ‘normal’.

I know that there are many, too many, autistics out there who don’t want to be autistic. Who just want to fit in and be ‘normal’. I don’t agree with their stance, but I can understand why.

If you’re a young person who’s spent their whole life having it drummed into you that autism is a wrongness that needs to be Fixed, Treated, Managed and Social-Skills-Classed the heck out of you, if you’ve drowned in ‘behaviour plans’, IEPs and ‘special needs’, then of course you would wish you weren’t autistic. There are young adult autistics who refuse to identify as such, or even talk about it or be in contact with other autistics, because they’re so sick of all of that.

And if you’re an older autistic who’s spent a lifetime being put down, criticised, reviled, rejected, side-lined and/or abused for simply being what you are, struggling with co-occurring conditions like Executive Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder, whether you have a diagnosis or not; if you’re unemployed, friendless, maybe homeless, struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental issues or addictions, then you’re not going to see much value in being autistic, and will likely reject the autistic community, think it laughable even.

I also know there are even autistics, both young and old, who support ‘that’ kind of autism organisation and their research into eradicating autism. I feel for them, I truly do, and I understand why they would do this, even if I don’t think it’s a good path to take.

The biggest reason not to take this path is simply this – it can’t be done. It’s gene-deep, brain-deep, neurologically-deep. It’s in your very nerves, muscles and cells. You can’t eradicate it. The only way to ‘rid society of autism’ is for all autistics to die and no more to be born, ie you can only eradicate autistics, not autism. Which amounts to genocide. And even if you don’t think this is a step too far, and/or you’re thinking well at least this would mean nobody would suffer like you have, consider that there are autistics who don’t feel this, who want to be alive no matter how difficult it is, and/or whose parents, family and friends, especially other autistics, very much want them to be alive. And you don’t have the right to decide for them. And that the biggest problem in all the above is actually people’s ATTITUDES to autistics. If that changed…

So my feeling is that we might as well accept it, even embrace it, and maybe even try to make the world a little better for all of us not ‘normal’, or at the very least give a giant metaphorical raised finger to the world, with our being proud to simply be ourselves. Because why the heck not.

In light of all this, I look at my own life, and while it’s been difficult beyond words, and there were long spells when I did try hard to be ‘normal’, I didn’t ever really see that ‘normal’ as anything wonderful. The paradox is that the very traits that make me different from NTs are the very traits that led me to think what the heck is so superior about these people? And this was long, long before I had any idea that I was autistic. This is the other thing at the heart of rejecting wanting not to be autistic – why would I want to be something I didn’t regard as an ‘improved model’, even if they obviously did? So no, I don’t want to be NT.

What about the other characteristics that make me ‘different’? Being gay, for instance? I’m gay/lesbian because I don’t find men attractive. So why would I want to be someone who did? And non-binary – same. If I don’t identify with either binary, male or female, why would I want to be someone who did? Then there’s being an aromantic - if I don’t find romance exactly thrilling, why would I want to? Same with being introverted, why would I want to be one of those noisy extroverts who plague me? You get the picture, I’m sure. It’s all the same paradox, knowing that the alternative is more acceptable to society, but I simply can’t find it an attractive enough state to want to be it.

So in what ways do I wish I was ‘normal’? I think the biggest thing I’d rid myself of, if I could, is my physical disabilities. I’d love not to have CFS, or arthritis, or even an ankle that hasn’t been screwed up ever since I broke it. I’d love to have normal energy levels. To get up in the morning and go about my day, without needing hours to rev myself up to regular speed, because if I rush, I’ll get dizzy, nauseous, sweaty and probably end up back into bed. And that’s on a good day. Bad ones, I likely never get up at all, except to take the pills that help prop me up, eat the foods I need for same, or to go to the bathroom. Bad nights, I barely sleep at all. And the next day or even days, just plain suck.

It would be very nice to get at least somewhat closer to normal than this. But I know it’s not going to happen, that there’s not likely to be a cure for CFS in my lifetime. And also knowing that ageing and lack of fitness have taken away a great deal anyway. Having CFS sucks, but so does getting old.

Another way I’d like to be ‘normal’ is to not be poor. But that’s linked to being physically disabled for so long, and to some extent to who and what I am. I was never good at jobs, and was forced to drop out of university because of CFS – an illness caused at least in part by the stress of attending uni without the supports I had no idea I needed. There are, I suspect, many autistics with CFS or some other stress-related illness or disability, not surprising given the amount of daily trauma we suffer. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I think the biggest was forcing – pushing - myself to attempt ‘normality’, that it has harmed me on a very deep level.

In summary then, there’s not many ways I’d want to be ‘normal’, and they are based on things I don’t feel are intrinsic to me, unlike being autistic, gay, introvert, etc. If I could change my financial or physical status, I definitely would. But as things stand, I can’t. So I’m kinda stuck with them.

Being autistic though? I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even when it makes my life very, very hard indeed. I am what I am, and I refuse to apologise for it. And nor should anyone else.