I’m not broken, I’m just different. Or: Tap Shoes and Phones

I used to think I was broken. My mind has always worked in different ways from the people around me. Even now, I make connections that other people might not expect. Give me some random objects or concepts, and I am sure to find a way to bring them together. It doesn’t matter if there’s no inherent link, I can make them relate.

Example: I looked around my desk and chose two random things: a telephone and tap shoes in a photo. Shoes have nothing to do with phones (unless you need to go down a street with sharp stones to get to a pay phone), but tap shoes could be very cool if you’re on the phone. Say you have a child who does a little tapping, and you can’t get a photo to a grandparent. Lucky you! Have your prodigy stand on a smooth surface next to the phone and tap her/his heart out. Said grandparent knows what the kid looks like and can now imagine them tapping out that clattering beat (assuming there’s a discernible beat from a three-year-old).

Want to throw me some more random things? Go for it.

I digress. Often. Back to feeling broken. I’m not sure how to explain it in a way normals might understand. So let’s try it this way…

You’re in high school, and it’s your open study hall period. All your homework is done because you finished before class was over. The teacher’s lecture didn’t matter because they just regurgitated the material you already read in the book. This is true of most classes. So now you have nothing pressing and are bored. You wish you had someone to talk to, but the few people you count as friends are in class. The library is open, and you wander in. Mrs. S is behind the counter checking in books. You say “hi” and hope she’s in a mood to visit. You suspect that she finds you annoying, but you are craving interaction with someone. She’s nice enough.

Mrs. S sees you and lets you start talking. The words gush out even as you get the feeling she couldn’t care less. She’s not rude, but you can somehow tell she’d rather not be listening. You don’t know what gives you that impression, but it’s there. Now you want to disengage, but you don’t know how without being rude to her. Also, the words demand to be spoken. It’s a compulsion over which you have little control. You desperately hope for a natural break in your thoughts so you can break away. Finally, you find a pause in the stream and use that to say, “I’ll let you get back to it!” and then walk away.

The experience has left you feeling worse than you did when you wandered in. Now you feel angry at yourself, agitated that you screwed up again and mad that you did exactly what you told yourself you wouldn’t do. It’s almost lunch time, so you head down the hall in that direction. The agitation is building up and demanding a release. You duck into the bathroom and escape to a stall. You don’t think anyone is in there, but you lock the stall door, just in case. There, you let the agitation out by shivering, flapping your hands, and bouncing or jumping. You wish you could yell, but you at least have control over that. Right now, anyway.

You shake it out and take some deep breaths, ready to face the world again. Time for lunch, and you feel a little better. You leave the bathroom and go to the cafeteria. Once you’ve gone through the line, have filled your tray in the “right” order, paid, and sat down at your usual table, all is well.

This kind of thing still happens many years later, although much less frequently. I hardly every do the hand flapping, but I do tend to have some sort of motion going at any given time. I get fidgety if I don’t have something to do with my hands.

As far as the awkward talking, that still happens. Like the flapping, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but hey, it still happens. At least I can explain why to the people I know. The great thing is that I have found friends who accept me as I am and are used to it. A few have even gotten good at pulling me out of it without either party getting irritated. The key here is that I’ve learned to cut off the chatter a lot sooner and to recognize what I’m doing. I’ll probably never get completely past this behavior, but it’s a far cry from how I was fifteen years ago.

These are things that contributed to my sense that I was “broken.” Now I know I’m not broken at all. It’s how I am, and it’s how the world perceives me. I’m not “normal,” I’m different. But without “different,” the world would be a bland place. Hooray for the Differents!