I had this thing happen recently, where I’m existing in my own little bubble, happy as can be and then I realize “oh shit, I just saw my neurodiversity in action!”
I was at Costco, thinking how much Frank loved this store and how he so effortlessly had conversations with just about anyone. I never really understood how he did it, what was there to talk about? Why would he strike a conversation with a fellow aisle mate rather than just leaving them to shop in peace? He was always offering to help people too, which, even though I joked it was codependency in action, it was sweet.
I’d made my rounds and was back at the front before realizing I’d forgotten almond milk. My cart was heavy, so I left it in the front and high-tailed it to the back end, grabbed two cases of almond milk and began schlepping them to the front.
This kind older woman with a cart, said “Hey, do you want to put those here and I’ll carry them for you?”
No thanks, I replied, I got this!” “Are you sure??” “Yeah, I got this,” I smiled. “I have space… I’ll even follow you to your cart, wherever it is.” “No, thank you so much, I’m fine,” I smiled once again and zoomed off.
Halfway to the front it hit me.
I’m in my bubble. I’m zooming around, thinking I’m so capable, enjoying the fact that Costco shopping has now turned into a workout, and I finally understood…THIS was my neurodiversity in action. I missed exactly what makes for human connection. This act of offering and accepting is what happens and how people meet, why kindness matters, how community is built and, and, and…
And I missed it.
I was stuck in my world, with my goals and ideals and singularly focused mind and I missed the opportunity for connection.
Exactly the same thing I coach my clients on.
I ask them to put down their central focus, or special interest or isolated goals when they are in a group with other people. If they want to walk fast, make sure their friends also want to and are able to. If not, they need to shift their perspective and realize this is a social activity, not an exercise opportunity.
So, while I was in a situation that was neither social nor exercise, I turned it into my special interest: exercise. I didn’t understand how Costco could be social, but now I do. Sometimes life is about accepting help, even if you don’t need it. Because what we really need is deeper than that, we need human connection.
Let me say that again: We Need Human Connection.
Every single one of us needs it, even (or may I argue especially) those of us who are neurodivergent or autistic or ADHD or any of the other labels you could give us.
In the wake of Frank’s death, I realize there’s some stepping up I get to learn. I don’t have him to rely on any longer. I don’t have my wingman to introduce me to people and to make connections for me. It gets to be me now; me and only me. And I want the connection. I want the networking and the laughter and the shared stories, so I get to shift and create that myself.
For me, that shift is difficult. And when I say difficult I mean hard as hell on some days. I have to put on a different persona to talk to people I don’t know. I’m good at doing it for the simple “no thank you” or “hello, hope you’re well” but not so much for sustained small talk. It makes my skin crawl. What in the heck am I going to say, and why do I even care? I’ll probably say the wrong thing, or share too much, or be really boring or who knows what. Really, I don’t know how Frank did it. I guess I should have watched him in action more, but I generally tended to hide instead because that was easier. He could introduce me once he had all the elements needed, and I could smile and make comments and hope I didn’t seem like an airhead.
I’m not an airhead, nor am I a snob or a lone wolf, though I know these are all things I’ve appeared to be, because feedback has given me that reflection.
I’m just neurodivergent and it's so damn subtle, and so damn sneaky sometimes I miss it.
It’s easy for me to do things on my own and not accept help because sometimes help comes with actual interaction and small talk and that’s sometimes too much.
But you know what? Next time I’m somewhere, centrally focused in my own world and someone offers me help, I’m going to take it. I’m going to put on my smile and say thank you, and maybe I’ll even be a bit vulnerable and say “it’s hard for me to do this, I’m used to doing things myself but I know my husband would have done it differently.” And maybe that will strike up a conversation and it won’t be so bad, and maybe I’ll know what to say and as a result I’ll have grown a bit in my day, rather than just successfully getting some extra steps in.
I may have missed an opportunity for growth, but I noticed, and that’s the first step.
If I were coaching a client, I’d say “good job! Noticing what you missed is a huge step. Change can’t be made if you don’t notice and change is hard. It feels awkward to do something different, but the ultimate goal is building community, and you can do it.”
And I can. I can do this, even if I am an awkward human at times.
(Picture of me as an awkward human attached for case in point reference)