AM I A DULL, UNCREATIVE, BORING DIPSHIT?
IS THAT RIGHT?
Have you ever felt ashamed for something someone reprimanded you for, because there was an ongoing pattern to this disapproval in your life, which made you feel less than?
I consider myself to be a fairly self aware and reflective person, but sometimes being too reflective has cost me positive mental health. It’s a fine line isn’t it? There’s a balance between wanting to grow and improve while also accepting the things you cannot change about yourself. But, piggy-backing “The Serenity Prayer” for one moment, how do you know what can be changed within you, should you wish to change it, and what can’t be changed and needs acceptance?
Why we remember somethings and not others is often a mystery, and I can’t say for sure why I remember certain parts of my history and others are completely blank, but the childhood memory of this particular story is my truth, and very much entangled around my brain like twine.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.“
THE SAFARI PARK, THE GOAT, AND THE PELLETS…
When I was a child, a teacher at my infant school took us on a trip to West Midlands Safari Park. I can remember little about the day, accept that there was a fairground that seemed overwhelming to my little six or seven year old self, and as the day must’ve been drawing to a close and we left the animals and the fair, there was a final enclosed area housing a few goats which the teacher pointed out to us. Our teacher, Mrs Jones, gave each child, including me, a handful of pellets to feed to the goats. And it’s this experience of feeding Caprine that is burned on my memory, eclipsing the rest of the trip forever.
In this memory, I take off one of my mittens, so I’ll feel the goat’s warm tongue on my hand as I feed it through the chicken wire fence. I can see the goat’s white fur on it’s face and wisdom in it’s eyes. I could stay there evermore, considering the goat’s curly horns, and wondering how something so beautiful became synonymous with Satan—already through semi-religious assemblies of 1980s education, where I live in constant fear that I still haven’t learnt the words to The Lord’s Prayer, I’m being programmed to be obedient and manageable while at the same time oblivious to the concept of bribery.
I GOT LOST BY STANDING EXACTLY WHERE I WAS…
I ran out of pellets, and the goat moved away from me. I put my mitten back on my hand and turned from the chicken wire fence. My class and my teacher were nowhere to be seen.
I was pragmatic. I told myself not to panic. I went and found an adult, because that’s what other adults had taught me to do in these situations. Don’t talk to strangers, unless you get lost.
WE RESPOND TO OUR PERCEPTIONS…
So I picked the kindest-eyed guy, who had a wife and kids, and I told him I was lost and needed his help. He asked me to follow him and his family, and as we arrived back at the fairground I thought, my teacher and class won’t be here, we’ve been here already. Family guy took me back to the goats, where my teacher was waiting, and furious. I kept quiet, but inside I was thinking, wasn’t it you that left me? If anyone should be angry, it’s me, right?
From Mrs Jones’ perception, it was totally my fault. She must’ve been frightened underneath that anger. I know she cared for my welfare. She was probably worried about what she would say to my parents. She was probably worried about what it might mean for her career if I wasn’t found.
Needless to say I had to do the walk of shame up the coach as the lost child. The other kids didn’t let me forget it. I was labelled the dull, dreamy kid. There’s nothing going on inside, that’s why she doesn’t listen to instruction. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I like to think of hyper-focus as a camera lens, where focus is sharpened onto one thing and everything else is blurred out. Without this state, my nervous system takes in everything, all sensory information, and that can be overwhelming for long periods. Did I mention difficulties with auditory processing, making it difficult to filter out sounds?
To be fair to my teacher, it’s entirely possible that she said something like come on children, that’s enough now, we’re heading back. If she did, I never heard it. I was completely in the moment, and to this day, the feeding of the goat is my single greatest memory. I often think about it, the peace of it, the connectedness I felt. I was timeless, and hyper-focussed. In that moment I couldn’t hear a thing, other than the powerful breath of the goat on my small hand as it ate the pellets.
PATTERNS OF REPRIMAND REINFORCE NEGATIVE SELF IMAGE, WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW THEY’RE JUST PATTERNS
Spool forward eight or nine years, and I’ve catalogued a bunch of similar experiences to do with hyper-focus that have further reinforced my negative self image, that of an absent-minded airhead. What do I mean? I mean…
- Doubling the family water bill, by overflowing baths, because a family member repeatedly told me to come down here now
- Being insolent to a teacher by not answering him when I was immersed in my book
- Burning 25 cookies in my cookery class while I helped someone with a food mixer…
Teacher: “Your oven is smoking.”
Me: “Your food mixer is broken.”
IF THERE’S A WAY TO POSITIVELY ADAPT, TRY IT, AND IF NOT, TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT ANYWAY
When I was 35 my life partner died and my entire life changed. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I got a job on a supermarket deli counter. I used lists of tasks and a structure to help me manage sensory distractions and unplanned customer interactions while focussing on completing my tasks. The interactions with the customers were fairly scripted, but I was happy to break away from whatever I was in the middle of to help. I knew my lists would anchor me back to my other duties. It was easy to make customers happy there because they just wanted to be taken care of in the interaction. I could do that. I enjoy food. One of my love languages is acts of service; providing food makes me feel caring. Having food made for me makes me feel cared for. I could understand why customers liked the idea of the deli counter.
When I made a pizza, or sliced and wrapped ham, I made it like a piece of art before their eyes. I watched customers beam as I handed them carefully constructed Texas Barbecue Specials and Veggie Hots with extra chillies. I remember thinking that when I regained the emotional energy I wanted to write and book and start a business, but that I hadn’t a clue about how to do either. If I gave the level of focus and care to both those endeavours as I did wrapping ham, I thought, then I’d have little to worry about. I can’t say that my colleagues always understood or shared my perspectives. I told myself to hang on, and to do one thing at a time.
One of my favourite jobs at the supermarket was code checking cheese. I would slip into the cheese zone, meticulously checking every last piece for quality and date, not always seeing or hearing customers at the counter while I was doing that particular job. An explosive colleague once accused me of being slow, and shirking. I prefer to label myself as thorough and methodical.
I asked that same colleague to use their voice calmly to thank customers for their patience. You know the drill though, right? You can’t control anyone but yourself, and eventually because of pressured, negative control, I slowly began to abandon my own coping mechanisms. The environment became too much. I left that supermarket and applied to University.
In 2019 I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Condition. Diagnosis will help me access support while I’m studying. I don’t consider myself disabled. My hardwire works differently, like so many other people’s hardwire. I understand the systems in place across aspects of society work based on what is known about one type of neurology—my response to this? You can physically put diesel into a petrol engine, but it doesn’t do it any good.
Labels don’t define a whole person. In that respect they’re useless. However, if that label is what you need to start a dialogue with an employer, a colleague, or a friend, then it becomes the most useful thing in the world. Some semblance of shared vocabulary goes a long way to reach the necessary understanding.
ACCEPTANCE STARTS WITH KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS
My psychologist talked about my strengths, hyper-focus being one of them, and that we need autistic people in society. She recommended that, while learning and growing is commendable, I aim to appreciate how things are and learn to accept all parts of me as enough.
Whenever I think I don’t know myself based on my ego, or the ego of another, I think back to feeding the goat, or making a pizza. I remember how laser focused, effectual, and peaceful I felt. I think about the connection I made. And that’s all I need to know.
Hyper-focus allows me to be in the moment. Perhaps that’s how I stayed calm long enough to find an adult to help me that day at the Safari Park when my teacher was blaming, angry, and stressed—despite thinking I’m this little kid and I’m alone, I didn’t resist what was happening. That’s how I know hyper-focus is one of my greatest strengths.
What did you used to consider a personal weakness and what happened, or what would it take, for you to reappraise the situation?
What else about yourself and reality could you perceive differently?
“Lyndsey Pearce is a UK based writer. She lives with four male gerbils, but only knows the name of the albino because the other three are identical brown. She eases her guilt over this by singing the outro of “Humiliation” by The National to them all, badly. “
WRITING ABOUT BEING QUIETLY, INVISIBLY, DIFFERENT BUT SAME
Quiet misfits mulls over introversion, energy management, autism in females, highly sensitive people, managing loss, LGBT women, creativity, and being yourself.