Yesterday I did something that might create some backlash for me. I started a sub-collection of Love Machine PFP NFTs about what it’s like to be neurodivergent.
It’s scary. I’m nervous about what’s going to happen because people with these differences still have to live with so much stigma. Because I’ve taken a lot of criticism for being different and for having the challenges I do. I know I’m opening myself up to more.
But now I feel compelled to because so many of us still feel isolated and misunderstood. Maybe some people will not like what I’m saying, but maybe someone needs to hear it. And maybe I can help others imagine what it’s like so they can understand their own neurodivergent friends and family better.
what is neurodivergence?
Neurodivergence is an umbrella term that includes Autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, synesthesia, Tourette’s, and a few others like chronic anxiety and depression that were not until recently considered neurological differences.
We don’t think like other people because our brains are wired differently. Those of us with synesthesia can’t even perceive reality the same way others do.
I’ve got several types of synesthesia, anxiety, depression, and complex PTSD. I have good reason to believe I also have one or two other forms that have gone undiagnosed in the past because of the relative newness of the diagnoses at the time I should have been tested.
glaring symptoms of ASD
While I was growing up, I found it extremely difficult to relate to other children. I couldn’t maintain eye contact. I could only identify the most rudimentary of facial expressions, but none of the nuances. I couldn’t tell if people were lying to me or trying to trick me, so I was easy prey for people who wanted to take advantage.
My teachers kept telling my parents I day-dreamed a lot in class. I would become fixated on a subject and obsess over it and tend to ignore other things.
I have a hard time managing my emotions and sometimes behave inappropriately when experiencing strong feelings. I’m terribly clumsy, as several broken bones and scores of other injuries can attest to. I have major problems concentrating. My brain is like a pinball machine unless I dose with cannabis to slow my thoughts down just enough to focus and use them.
This is embarrassing to admit at 46. But under extreme duress, I sometimes still cross my arms and rock myself.
neurodivergence and interpersonal relationships
Having a brain that works differently paves the way to interpersonal conflicts sometimes. And when it does, people usually want to attribute the problematic interaction entirely to character flaws, selfishness, or deliberate bad behavior on my part instead of acknowledging that there are legitimate neurological factors in play in addition to my full array of human flaws.
I’ve been told that I can control it if I want to. That I’m using it as an excuse. That nothing’s really wrong and I’m just being a victim. I’ve even been told I’m faking it to get attention.
This kind of invalidation can be very damaging. It’s a form of gaslighting because it denies your truth. In the worst of times, it can make you wonder if you really are just a shitty person and making up excuses.
Yeah, we can be plain old assholes just like everyone else. But our brains don’t work in a way that helps us understand, relate to, and empathize with others. Social success for us is a constant climb up a steep, muddy hillside.
I’m lucky enough to have some family and close friends who have known me for a very long time, know I’m always trying, and love me for who I am. Even though I can be a handful. And I love them for sticking by me.
I created and minted the first smiling Love PFP yesterday on Tezos. Is he happy? I think so, but sometimes it’s still hard to tell. There are lots of different kinds of smiles, and they are all subtly different. Usually, I hide almost all my text in scribbles and strokes, but in this one I left a lot more text legible her. The description in the metadata shares my process for identifying different types of smiles.
I’ve had a ton of practice and read lots of articles about facial expressions and body language. But it’s still a cognitive process that takes time and energy. And it’ll probably always be hit or miss for me.
The idea to start drawing the robot heads with different facial expressions came yesterday morning when I realized I was tired of the angry faces. So I started to change the expression.
Originally I was going for pleasantly surprised, but somehow scared and confused came out instead, so I rolled with it. (Pleasantly surprised might require some research.)
Part of this is about trying a new tactic to manage strong emotions by changing what I’m looking at. I don’t know if it will work, but I like to think that it could.
I hope by sharing my experiences this way, it will help others to better understand some of the challenges we have to face. And hell … we need to see ourselves represented just like everyone else.
If you’re neurodivergent and struggle with things that come easily to most people, you’re definitely not alone. There are lots of other people who understand what you’re going through.
I’m one of them.