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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 65
Gender: Male
Posts: 29,655
Location: Long Island, New York

11 Jul 2022, 10:19 am

The End of Being ‘Normal’

What have I to lose” I thought as I stared at the login page. It was a landmark moment for the UK men’s group community with the launch of the first neurodiverse group for men living with conditions such as ADHD and autism, and I wanted to be there.

The idea of the group had intrigued me when an email about the session dropped into my inbox several days earlier. Anyone whose mental wiring resulted in them living outside the mainstream was welcome I had read, it appeared to be an opportunity to join other men who are existing instead of truly living their lives to the fullest degree.

I took a sip of water and looked out the window as summer drizzle fell lazily against the glass. I began to leaf through files of old memories in the filing cabinets of my mind. Looking back, I had felt different to the people around me from an early age – I was a different species speaking a different language.

I had been filled with a feeling of emptiness and quiet dread since my first day at primary school when I realised something did not make sense. Without the understanding or language to truly express how I felt, I was a child lost.

Depression and therapy sessions began aged thirteen. It was an ever-present shadow that jumped between low-level everyday gloom to intense bouts of crippling anxiety, hopelessness, and fear for the future. It was a dead weight that I always carried with some days more manageable than others.

The constant suicidal ideation invading my mind eventually led to my lowest point as I stumbled into my thirties. Struggling in all areas of my life and desperate, I decided it was the end of the road. The supposed selfishness of suicide stopped me as I dressed to leave my house for the chosen spot. As the tears fell, I knew it was time to seek help.

After spilling my story to a perceptive doctor, I was told to investigate Asperger’s Syndrome (now known as an autism spectrum disorder). It fit exactly: it was an epiphany.

It was made clear however that an official diagnosis for an adult would be difficult. The perception was that, well, you’ve made it this far so you’re fine. Apathy and disinterest.

When, memorably, the latest doctor I had been passed to in the swamp that passes for mental health care in the UK said, “If you think you’ve got it, you’ve got it”, I knew that was it. It was time to live my life whilst trying to understand this new knowledge about myself.

I kept it from my family as though clearly riddled with undiagnosed disorders of various degrees of exoticism themselves, they would never understand. I was the little boy who was only seen when performing and wasn’t worth bothering to raise so this was just for me. The storm of “you should…” I normally face when engaging with the paternal madhouse made my decision an easy one.

Years later, as middle age appeared in the headlights, another opportunity arose to receive an official diagnosis. I ran the usual course of doctors doing their best to gaslight by appointment, their voices joining the braying chorus. After another tone-deaf appraisal, I was begrudgingly confirmed as on the spectrum. The medical version of a shrug.

The question I asked soon after was to what end was a diagnosis worth it? I decided the answer was a resounding “none”. I stopped identifying as neurodiverse knowing the discrimination and negative attitudes that those who do suffer. Instead, it was about trying to be like everyone else and hiding my difference, believing this was the only way to survive.

The result was feeling a complete fraud whose real personality had become so submerged as to be forgotten, leaving me rudderless and without any real sense of who I was. The toll it took on my confidence, self-esteem, and relationship with myself meant I believed this was all I was worth and deserved.

The frustration of being locked out of the world of relationships, sex and being a parent had removed any sense of feeling safe and secure in the world. I had not made the grade and that was no one’s fault other than my own I decided. Always the bridesmaid as I was a low-quality man who did not deserve to be loved and cared for.

took a deep breath as my mind sprinted from thought to thought: would they be like me, look like me, sound like me? Will they be strange and difficult to connect with, or will I? Will I be too “normal” after a life of hiding and deception?

After a round of introductions and a summary of the ground rules, the members of group slowly began to talk, open-up and be real. The surprise was how normal it felt. I was a regular attendee of men’s groups but after a brief period it became clear this session with these men was different. There was a new sensation in the back of my mind, something I had rarely experienced previously. I realised I felt comfortable in their presence and could briefly call a truce in my mind.

I became more relaxed about expressing myself, my experiences, and my emotions. The group felt a long way from a ghetto of damaged people, rather it was a place in the real world and the sunshine which we all felt part of. A feeling of lightness crept over me as the group discussed tools and strategies for living with neurodivergence in an indifferent world. The session opened a door to connection with a network that implicitly understood the frustrations and confusion that accompanies seeing the universe through different eyes.

The group itself was diverse, a collection of men of varying ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds. Some were significantly affected by their condition, some able to keep up appearances but carrying the scars from past traumas. I was able to express myself without fear, speaking of past pain and the fiendish business of living life.

I continue to be silent about my neurodivergence, caution better than openness as the world stands. I returned however to my life, shrunk by my condition, stronger and with some clearer sense of who I really was.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman