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To Be Exceptional, I Just Need to Be Allowed to Be Me

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Being autistic, my brain is literally wired differently than “normal” brains. Information is presented to me differently, and I have to process it differently to get to the same conclusions as others.

Aside from being wired differently, there are also too many “wires.” I constantly receive too much information from the world around me. This leads to information overload, which can cause me to shut down, get angry, get sad, etc. when the level of overload is more than I can handle at the time. Movement, sounds, voices, vibrations, smells, etc. are all amplified for me and cause anxiety when there is too much for me or I can’t identify what is going on. Stress makes it really hard to deal with this overload.

I try to focus on other things and do repetitive motions, or say random things, count out loud, etc. to re-direct the information flow (officially called “stimming”), but this appears weird to people, and getting questioned about it causes more anxiety, so I try to hide it.

Social situations are a big problem as people inherently present a lot of information I have to process, and it’s frequently overwhelming. It’s not that I want to be antisocial. I do like interacting with people, and need support from others, but I also need to be alone frequently to keep from being overwhelmed and to be able to focus on a task. I do better around people I know and am comfortable with, but this can be problematic as well as I get too comfortable and tend to be more apt to show sadness, anger, frustration, etc. when it’s not appropriate, or say things that may not be appropriate when I don’t realize they are not.

I need to be able to follow my own path, and frequently work by myself, at my own pace, and in my own way to get the answers. Being forced into the box of what other people expect to be “normal,” and being expected to work, act, learn, etc. the same way everyone else does is harmful to me. Unfortunately appearing “normal” tends to have more value than actually being able to do something. I may not be able to work with someone else on a problem, may not be able to relay why I am doing what I am doing, or how I got to an answer, but I am usually good at getting to the answer.

I need structure and routine in many aspects of my life to help manage the information overload. I have problems in situations that are unstructured or break my normal routine – it leads to anxiety and I tend to appear angry, flustered, etc. on the outside. This also leads to very fixed and specific interests, like my current 3D printing interest. Being able to focus on one specific thing keeps the information overload at bay for a while. Multi-tasking isn’t something I can generally do, but I think it’s better to do one thing very well than several things just “OK.”

“Normal” people can’t imagine what it’s like to be me. I try to act like them on the outside to avoid questions as to why I act differently. I have to practice interactions over and over in my head like I am rehearsing a play in order to come across “properly” in social situations. When I don’t have a script for a situation, I can get scared. This leads to me taking different paths and avoiding people, especially when I am tired or overwhelmed as the scripts don’t come or come as quickly.

I intentionally over-do things and do them quickly just so people will trust in me that I will get things done and let me follow my own path as much as possible. I over-explain things to avoid questions I may not be able to answer as quickly as people expect to avoid looking weird or not knowledgeable on something.

If just given the ability to just be myself, and to process things in my own way and at my own pace, I can frequently prove to be exceptional. If forced into the box of being “normal,” I tend have a hard time succeeding.

Getty image by Vchal.

Originally published: March 29, 2023
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