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Whenever I move onto a new chapter or start something new, I always think this is it - this is my thing, this will be the place where I will be able to conform alongside everyone else. That the 'right' thing will make me 'normal'. I know it's a really bizarre concept and for someone who advocates for neurodivergence, inclusivity and the joy of difference it can sound kind of hypocritical. This is something I haven't ever really admitted before and definitely not out loud. In September I started a foundation in musical theatre and even though the course is everything I love and the people are lovely and supportive- I have still massively struggled. Partly this come from the expectations I put upon myself but also the expectations I perceive others put upon me. I am a perfectionist as I've mentioned before, I also have a strong fear of rejection and doing things wrong. For me the idea of being in the wrong or in trouble is truly hard in any aspect of life, but especially when on a course which is all about learning, getting things wrong and it's all so new that I don't know all the rules and cannot predict every aspect of everyday.

Overthinking, paranoia and anxiety all took over and I nearly gave it all up. I am lucky that I have my mum and the people who run the course who have been super supportive and got me through my rocky patch. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't have got through the storm and back into the sunshine. But not everyone has such a positive experience - I certainly haven't had this in the past. There is still such a lack of understanding, awareness and true acceptance of neurodivergence especially when that divergence veers into the area of uncomfortable, out of that circle of what feels okay to us and into something else. Divergence from societal norms is uncomfortable to many and when we feel uncomfortable we want to change the behaviour, we want to actively do something to make it different, but in many cases, when it comes to neurodivergent behaviours, they don't need changing. As long as someone isn't hurting themselves or others it probably doesn't need to be changed. This can seem so odd and unnatural especially to the outside neurotypical. Our behaviour can seem strange, childish and even worrying. It's important to try and understand where the person is coming from, to understand what makes them tick and how their brain works. This is best done when they aren't in a crisis or distressed. It's so important this is done right at the beginning but also reviewed at regular intervals. When I first started my course, they asked me if I needed any reasonable adjustments, which is such an important question and while I can give generic ones which have helped me in similar situations, each situation is different and for me having never been in drama school before I had no real idea of what to expect and therefore what I needed help with. There's this sort of expectation that once you leave school and move onto further education, you’re an adult and therefore you need to deal with it all yourself in an 'adult' way. This is hard for all young people but especially for those of us who are neurodivergent, especially in those of us who feared growing up and away from the safety of being a child- this switch can just reinforce this fear and anxiety. Finding the reasonable adjustments which work for me in this particular situation has very much been a process of trial and error. Made harder by the fact that however inclusive people say they are and even with the best intentions, I am complex (like many neurodivergent people) and my presentation is in a way bizarre and even uncomfortable for those who don’t understand or who have never been there.

It can feel so isolating and lonely starting something new especially as a neurodivergent person who has if we are being honest trauma from the traditional education system. I always hope that the next thing will be different, that I will be able to change but I have to remember I don’t need to change, I am me and that is unique and amazing. I am my own biggest critic. The expectations and rules I expect from myself are harsher than I would ever put on anyone else. In some ways I am part of the problem, as a neurodivergent person I expect myself to conform in the same way as a neurotypical, which of course is impossible. If I expect that of myself, knowing my differences and my challenges, how can I expect those around me to think any different.

I think this comes from years of not knowing who I was, years of failing as a human in a society which I did not understand. It takes time to unlearn the years of trauma and unwire the expectations I had been led to believe I had to fulfil.

I can’t remember where I saw this quote but I have never resonated with something more- so thank you to whoever wrote this quote- I think it’s something many of us neurodivergent people can hold on to.

“Why do you need a label?

Because there is comfort in knowing you are a normal zebra and not a strange horse. You can’t find community with other zebras if you don’t know you belong. And because it’s impossible for a zebra to be happy or healthy spending its life feeling like a failed horse.”

For my whole life I have believed I am the failed horse. I have grown up being inadequate, not enough, I have failed to reach the milestones expected in this neurotypical world. No wonder I have those negative beliefs about myself and my abilities. This is then compounded when joining any institution in our society where with even the best will in the world, we are expected to meet neurotypical expectations. Finding out you are a zebra but still living with the horses. Although it’s so freeing to know you aren’t broken, you are surrounded by horses in a horsey world. So, although you know you are different, it’s kind of compounded in your face every moment of everyday. And though people (horses) are more accepting of the zebras, as a horse you are never going to truly understand what it’s like to be a zebra. You can try and sympathise, the two animals have similarities, will share traits with each other but fundamentally they are different animals. They need different environments to thrive and different expectations to succeed. And while there are things others can do on the outside to make being a zebra in a horse world more bearable, we also have a responsibility to ourselves as the zebras. To be proud of who we are, to accept our challenges and our difficulties. Easier said than done I will admit due to the outside pressure we face, but if we can’t accept ourselves then who will. For so long I have said I am proud of my identity but deep down and in many ways probably even subconsciously wished I could just be ‘normal’. That I could be autistic but still conform in a way which meant life was easier. That I could just get on with things the way others do. I have now come to terms with the fact I can’t. My brain isn’t wired the same way as a neurotypical or even the same as another neurodivergent. I struggle to regulate my emotions, to focus and understand multiple instructions. I struggle to retain information, to understand social nuances and stay still for a long periods of time. I get easily bored, I am highly sensitive and have a tendency to become very paranoid and take everything to heart. But that is just who I am, we all have our challenges and that really is okay. When I first started this course, I believed my success was measured in the same way as my peers. That although they spoke about everyone’s individual journeys, no one could comprehend how mine would be even more different. There is power in being able to say no. Being able to advocate for myself even when there is significant fear of rejection, being perceived as incapable and not good enough. One of my worries has always been that people don’t think I am capable and that no one believes in me. But I also don’t believe in myself. I believed for too long that my difficulties meant I would be incapable of achieving the dreams and goals I wanted. By not conforming exactly I believed that’s what others would think to- in many ways this has been reinforced by the academic world however it is our job to fight back. We are our biggest supporters, advocates and believers. I am slowly finding my strength in saying no, in expressing my needs and not being pushed away from what I believe I need to succeed. It will almost certainly forever be a battle. But one I am not willing to give up- I want to help educate those in positions of power about the importance of true inclusivity and listening to what those of us who are different are saying. I believe in the excitement of being innovative in the way we deliver things. Life has moved on, there is no one size fits all approach and we as a society should relish in the challenge of making things accessible to all. To sit with those uncomfortable feelings, we may have as an outsider and believe in those who are different but are still going out there and trying.

So, I haven’t conformed in the same way as everyone else, it’s been a rocky road but I have again learnt more about myself. I have learnt I need to be my own biggest supporter. I need to understand myself and be willing to stick up for what I believe regardless of what others say. I know we can create safer spaces for neurodivergent people, we can make the journey for others less bumpy than that which many of us have had. I have always been scared that people won’t like me for the real me, that people will think I’m weird, different or too much. I am all of those things and that really is okay. I cannot hide who I am, I need to embrace myself for both the fabulous and the quirky. It’s a hard and scary journey but if I can accept who I am then maybe I am on the right path for others to be able to accept me for who I am.

^ Something I found on FB which made me chuckle- I think it sums me up but also shows how we are all different and that, that truly is okay :)


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