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Pretending to be normal


I’ve had Aspergers Syndrome all my life, and it’s meant that I’ve struggled to understand what ‘normal’ is. It’s always felt like normal is what everyone else is, and I never got the memo on how to fit in amongst them.

When I was 8, a girl at school hit me with a broom a few times. I don’t know why, it was just something she thought was appropriate. That was when I first started thinking there was a problem, because other boys didn’t seem to be getting whacked by girls with brooms. My school years were mostly just doing my best to stay under the radar and not be noticed.

I knew I wasn’t ‘normal’ because I was always the very last to be picked when there were team activities. I was always the one no one wanted on their team. I never knew why, it’s just the way things were. Every year, always the same. I was glad to leave school and hit the real world.

But that was just more of the same. I spent 15 years unemployed because every time I went for a job, no one wanted me. The only jobs I got were what I was forced to take as a result of being on unemployment benefits.

Something was going on with me that I didn’t understand, but I knew that I had to. I started on a quest of personal development, to try and become a better person, because I didn’t want to be who I seemed to be.

I remember bringing a girl home on a date one night, and she saw my library of personal development books. She commented that with so many of those books, I must have a lot of problems. I laughed, and said it doesn’t work like that. It wasn’t that each book was for one problem, and if I had 20 books then I must have 20 problems. Such a perspective made me laugh with how ridiculous that was.

But really, she was right, and I didn’t realise it until many years later. Or maybe I didn’t want to realise it.

I didn’t know how to relate to people. I didn’t know how to have relationships with people, male or female. I didn’t know how to be ‘one of the guys’, and I didn’t know how to have just friendly or intimate relationships with women. I wouldn’t have my first kiss in life until I was 20. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 24. Which was also the same year I got my drivers licence.

Over the years, from reading the books and having many failed relationships, I started to learn how to communicate better, how to listen to people, and how to try and empathise with them. But I never really had empathy. I could never ‘feel’ what it was like to be someone else. The best I could do was understand ‘if they say or do this, then an appropriate reaction is X’. So I would do X, and they thought I was on their wavelength, or strongly connected with them.

‘If this, then that’. It was a kind of program for me. Very simple results of learned behaviour, resulting from various life circumstances, and many embarrassing or awkward moments that would slowly teach me not to make so many embarrassing or awkward mistakes.

Today, as I’m approaching 50 (in a couple years), when I tell people that I have Aspergers, they say ‘No way! You’re normal!’ But there is no normal for me. There’s only learned behaviour. Every day, I pretend to be normal because that’s what helps me with my professional career. It’s what helps me with my relationships. It’s what helps me with my life.

When I see people doing their own thing, being unusual, I see it through the pain of my past. I see all the embarrassing or awkward experiences of my life because I was unusual. I see an inability to achieve any form of success because I was unusual, because I didn’t ‘fit in’. I see people embracing their unusual, and it’s something I just can’t do myself. Success has come to me in my life because I’ve learned how to pretend to be normal.

Pretending to be normal takes a lot of work. I’m tired at the end of every day, having to deal with normal people and pretend to be one of them. Letting myself be who I really am is difficult to do, because with it comes failure, embarrassment, pain and loneliness. I don’t want that again. I want to be normal. Life is better, even if it’s a struggle every day.

Sometimes I look at who I am, and who I would like to be, and I know that one day, when I don’t need to care about any of it, then I’ll let out the real me and embrace the unusual part of myself that no longer needs to worry about rejection or failure.

Maybe then I’ll be free.

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