Sunday, 8 July 2012

We're All Different (Except Me)

I was having a little think the other day about how I have always felt 'different' to other people.  It goes back as long as I can remember, although I wasn't consciously aware of it until I was 18.  I actually remember the moment that everything seemed to swirl into focus, and I realised I was just the same as everyone else.  In that moment, I suddenly realised that I'd unthinkingly viewed myself as 'different' my whole life.  I felt I wasn't as good as other people, and that I was somehow 'faking it' if I fitted in or succeeded at anything.  I guess I also felt a bit like I didn't deserve nice things to happen to me, even ordinary, everyday nice things.  I couldn't imagine being 'in love' and loved in a relationship, or having a professional job.  I couldn't imagine anything – my future seemed to stretch out in front of me, dark and empty.  There were plenty of things I wanted to try, or was interested in, but I just couldn't actually see myself doing them in real life.  I guess I felt like things wouldn't work out for me like they did for other people.  My peers seemed totally confident looking at careers, doing work experience, and writing university applications, whereas I felt out of my depth and terrified.  Oddly, I also felt much older and somehow wiser than others. (What I mean by 'wiser' is that I seemed to think things through more – see my previous post.)
Anyway, even after the insight into my essential 'normalness', I still feel different to others sometimes, in all the ways described above.  As if I will never quite fit in, despite outside appearances.  I always feel really pleased whenever someone expresses an interest in spending time with me, or compliments me, as if it's another tally on the scoreboard of 'accepted' vs 'unacceptable'.

So, after thinking through all this, I decided to have a little trip around Google to see what strange unreliable hyperbolic useful information I could find on the subject.  There were four main things that repeatedly appeared as explanations for feeling 'different' from other people.

1) Depression –
Well, yes.  All boxes ticked.

2) Indigo Children –
Hmm.  While I think the New Age theory of Indigo children/adults (supposedly 'old souls' who are intuitive, sensitive to others, and here to guide humanity towards a more enlightened way of living) is complete tosh, I found it remarkable how I fitted the description precisely.  My own personal take on it is that there are some people who are simply more creative, intuitive and sensitive than others.  I do think these people have traits that are obviously good for humankind, whilst also rendering them misunderstood by others – feeling 'different'.
I was also intrigued by criticism of this theory, which suggested that the described traits are too broad and could include almost anyone. From Wikipedia:
Many critics see the concept of indigo children as made up of extremely general traits, a sham diagnosis that is an alternative to a medical diagnosis, with a complete lack of science or studies to support it.”
While I don't believe in 'indigo children' I found this criticism a bit unfair, and weirdly parallel to criticism of psychiatric labels.  It seems perfectly possible to have none of the 'indigo' traits, or only one or two – just like psychiatric diagnoses.  Both are unscientific in that you have to draw a line somewhere – enough 'symptoms' and you've got it, too few and you haven't - rather than looking at it as a sliding scale.  And once you are put in a certain box, there are a whole host of theories suddenly applicable to you, and in the case of a psychiatric diagnosis, a raft of 'treatments' to help you get back to 'normal'.
The suggestion that it is “an alternative to a medical diagnosis” is particularly chilling.  We are right, they say, you are wrong.  You don't have special gifts for humanity (regardless of indigo beliefs or not), instead you have “an imbalance of chemicals in the brain” or “personality disorder”.  You shouldn't feel things more than other people, even if the flip side is caring for others more.  It's not a gift; it's an illness.
I guess the small thread I'd pull from the Indigo Children idea is that some traits can be really positive, but often cause problems in the sort of world we live in.

3) Borderline Personality Disorder –
Really, really annoyed this one came up, as I try to distance myself from this damaging label.  Whilst I am certainly on some kind of 'sliding scale' I definitely do not tick enough boxes to qualify as having BPD.  Yet I get to have the diagnosis hovering nearby and all the associated stigma and prejudice anyway!  There's a fairly widely held theory that people diagnosed BPD are naturally more sensitive, thus get 'messed up' much more easily as children, and later appear to overreact to situations because they are actually feeling such strong emotions.  The 'feeling different' thing would make sense here, with a large dollop of the 'gift' idea I mentioned above.

4) Autistic Spectrum Disorders –
Definitely not me.  This is mainly because I am quite good at recognising others' emotions, second-guessing what they're thinking, and picking up on subtle social cues (sometimes to the point of being over-sensitive). ASD's are partially defined by the inability to do these things.  Interestingly, there is a school of thought that suggests Borderline Personality Disorder (an entirely emotional problem, surely?) is actually an autistic spectrum disorder.  As there is plenty of evidence that people with BPD are actually more sensitive to other people's feelings, this seems to be complete rubbish, of the sort spouted by psychiatrists who look at 'symptoms' of behaviour without bothering to find out how the person feels or thinks.

So there we go.  I have one-and-a-bit reasons for feeling 'different'.  Judging by the large amount of search results, and the way the search term popped up as soon as I began to type, I am not the only one who feels 'different'.  Which suggests that maybe we're not so different, after all...