On Neurodivergence and Shame
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Politics and Activism

On Neurodivergence and Shame

(And the shame of admitting that I feel ashamed)

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On Neurodivergence and Shame
@johnhain / Pixabay

Sometimes I think about the ways in which my politics are at odds with my personal feelings. Internalized -isms, which affect us all, come into conflict with the anti-oppression beliefs that are an integral part of my identity. Particularly when it comes to my views supporting justice for mentally ill, neurodivergent, and disabled people, my residual shame and radical politics create cognitive dissonance inside me.

Everyday, I wax eloquent on the importance of disability justice, on respect for neurodivergence and mental illness, and on the sheer number of diverse ways of existing that all deserve to be upheld as valid and important. And then, I walk out into the world– especially the world beyond Mount Holyoke– and I feel small. I feel angry at myself. I feel helpless. I feel threatened by a neurotypical world that is not mine.

As a result of this I have learned to act. I have learned how to pass as neurotypical, as normal, when I absolutely need to. In a lot of ways, I feel shame for this, as well– I know that respectability politics has led neurotypicals to assume some fundamental difference between me and other neurodivergent people who do not and cannot pass. I feel uncomfortable in my position as some sort of liaison between the normal people and the “abnormal” people, as some mouthpiece for the entire neurodivergent community.

Not only am I ashamed of the way I change myself to appear more respectable, but I feel ashamed of the world I live in, that only takes seriously a precious few, and forces all who fall outside of those boundaries to change themselves to become more palatable.

I have spent my life living within a catch-22: I have been told, “How can you have [x mental illness] when you’re so smart?” (by this, they mean, “get good grades” because grades are the only way that neurotypicals like to measure wisdom). I have also been told, “You are a danger to yourself and cannot be trusted with autonomy or independence." I have been angry at the ways I have been devalued by way of gender, sexuality, and mental illness/neurodivergence, and also been angry by the way that my opinions are valued over groups such as people of color.

The way that the world treats me and people like me has forced me to understand that I only have two options: be who I am, and be ostracized, or change myself and be heard. Even as I organize events for disabled/ill people around me, I feel myself acting. I feel myself internalizing and perpetuating the very ableist concepts I most loathe.

Scripting my responses to appear as though I know how to socialize: “Fine, thanks, how are you?”

Biting my tongue lest I divulge information that makes people uncomfortable.

Preemptively apologizing before I do something “wrong” or “mess up”.

Beating myself up for the ways that I am not like others.

Using “bootstraps” ideology on myself, even as I fight against its predominance in society.

Valuing myself only for my productivity, even as I fight against ableist capitalism.

There is not a happy ending to this story. This does not end with a vow to “love myself more” or “practice self-care”. I find those sentiments, while well-meant, to be clichéd and unrealistic. I do, however, want to end this month with a promise to stop feeling ashamed of being neurodivergent, and to stop feeling ashamed for feeling ashamed for being neurodivergent.

I have spent the month of April focusing on autism and the oppression, stigma, and lack of acceptance faced by autistics, in honor of "Autism Awareness Month". It's only fair, though, that at the end of this month, I make a clear acknowledgement of the toxic ideologies that I myself am working to unlearn.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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