If I saw life through your eyes for a day, what would I see? Stepping into someone else’s reality can be like living in an entirely different world. Would you recognise life if you could switch places with me?
7:30am, my alarm demands my attention and my mind is quickly flooded with overwhelm and anxiety as I prepare myself for another day.
Rubifen works to get my brain in order. I dread getting changed as I dig through my closet to find the least painful garment to wear. I reluctantly brush my teeth. And finally I pack my bag.
“One” (headphones), “two” (lanyard), “three” (watch), “four” (phone), “five” (wallet), “six” (keys), I count out loud, grab my bag and head out the door.
It’s raining today. Have you ever noticed the way the raindrops trickle down the leaves, magnifying each vein that makes up the venation pattern? Have you noticed the way the sun shines and the water glitters on the sweet smelling roses? Have you noticed the drumming of the rushed footsteps as they seek shelter from the storm? The water splashing and spraying as cars roll through the puddles? The chatter of the crowds all trying to speak over one another as they force their way inside? The clicking of umbrellas as people shut them down? The slamming of doors in frantic attempts to avoid getting wet? The music in the distance that comes with city life? The humming of electricity running up the poles of dimly lit street lights? Have you ever noticed all of these things at the same time while water seeps into your socks and the cold breaks through the surface of your clothes? Have you ever noticed all of these things at the same time and felt frozen with overwhelm?
To me, life is like a piece of music but every aspect is a separate instrument that I experience individually rather than part of a whole. I imagine the bliss of being ignorant to the individual details of life as I see, hear, feel and smell every little thing as its own separate piece, fighting for my attention all at once. But everyone else seems to manage so I pull myself within and I display a carefully created shell of normality.
9am. It’s time to work but there’s a piercing sound echoing in the office. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone else but it hurts my ears. It’s not electricity this time, that has a different sound. I can’t make it stop. It’s as if all of my senses have been amplified in comparison to all of my peers. The touch of jeans on the back of my knees feel like thorns piercing my skin. The smell of perfume makes me feel as though I am suffocating. I dislike the way some sentences vibrate as they roll off my tongue. I am getting overwhelmed. It’s not socially appropriate for me to search for the noise that others can barely hear.
To be honest, society is blind to the plethora of social rules and communication expectations that they require every day. While the world is screaming through all of my senses, I also sit monitoring every tiny aspect of my existence and being. Every movement, every gesture, every tonal fluctuation, facial expression, sentence structure and acknowledgment must be consciously and carefully chosen. I must monitor when and how I make eye contact. I must ensure that I am reading between the lines, not taking things too literally. I must not be too fidgety. Be careful not to be too blunt. I must automatically know when someone is being sarcastic or making a joke and I must not be too sensitive. I must be authentic and express myself but not like that. I must ensure that the correct emotion is displayed on my face and I must somehow monitor all of these things and manage the physical pain of the intense volume of my surroundings without ever showing any sign of overwhelm or distress. Why? Because this is my daily life. I must do all of these things while still somehow actually listening to the conversation and getting my work done. I must do all of these things and then bear the blame when miscommunications occur. I must do all of these things or be excluded and forced into isolation.
Can you hear what I hear? Do you spend every day trying to act like you’re not living in a world that is speaking a language that you do not understand? Do you spend every single day doing all of the work of trying to understand everyone else while they all just ignore the fact that you’re burning out? Do you understand what it’s like to feel incompatible with life?
It’s too much! I give up. I’m tired. I need to go home.
I rush to get home and pull the pain away from my body; the seams of my clothing, the stitching on the back of my lanyard, my shoes, my watch, anything in my pockets. Get it off me! Make it stop! I wish I could stop the echoing of stimulation in my brain. So I sit alone trying not to cry. I pile my safe foods and Lego onto my bed and I try to drown out the pain with TikToks and the satisfaction of watching the Lego set slowly piece together.
A text comes through. It’s from Michelle, my book publisher. My book debuted as the 4th bestselling non-fiction book this week.
Perspective and purpose is important. It’s easy for me to get lost in the frustration and pain caused by a world that refuses to adjust. It’s easy for me to lose hope that we will ever be heard. But my books are a testament to the necessity of the work I’m doing.
The thing is people see these struggles and think that I am the one who needs to be helped or fixed. When you’re part of a minority and the world sees your pain, they think the solution is to erase the existence of others like you. If you cannot exist in a way that is in line with a majority, it is believed that the problem lies with you rather than with society. The reality is that’s not true. I read all the messages and comments I receive. I hear the pain and the struggles. I see how drained we all are, and I know I need to get up again and again and keep fighting.
So I’ll try again tomorrow. Right now though, I rest. Today wasn’t the day, and that’s okay.
Chanelle Moriah is the author and illustrator of I am Autistic and has just released This is ADHD: An interactive and informative guide (Allen & Unwin NZ, $32.99), available in bookstores nationwide.