Here is a draft outline of my book.
From Unwilling Chameleon to Emotional Octopus
I never thought I’d write a book. I never thought I could, to be honest. Most of my life people around me have been all too willing to let me know what they believe I am incapable of doing. The contents of this book will largely refute any current definition of what it means to be the person I am in current science, but I will show you with a neuroqueer lens, you too can see my way of viewing the world. I hope that you will come to understand that my biggest flaw was that I have been a co-operative person, stuck in a competitive system which I have fought at the core of my being.
From a young age, I was slowly conditioned out of taking care of my needs, and before long I was living almost entirely, and without knowing at a deep level, for other people. Outwardly it might not have looked like this – I like to refer to myself during this time as an ‘Unwilling Chameleon’ – I could blend in, but the cost was extreme – a lizard-like disconnection from the self.
To rework a saying of the abhorrent Ivar Lovaas, a founder of Applied Behaviour Analysis, I looked like a person in the physical sense – I had hair, eyes, a nose and a mouth – but I was not a person in the psychological sense. One way to look at it is that in order for society to “help me” as a neurodivergent child, they saw it as a matter of deconstructing a person. They had an almost finished natural product, but they had destroyed the person underneath in order for me to assimilate.
At thirty seven years old, I finally discovered the reasons why my life had turned out so differently to how I had envisioned it, and unfortunately not without nearly dying first. It turned out that living someone else’s life was unfeasible long term. I got to a point where I suddenly realised that I had been living as a tourist in my own life – and with that realisation came a phrase I often hear other late-identified neurodivergent people say – “I don’t know who I am”.
This book looks into the science of my existence, the process of repeated breaking and unmaking that took place, until finally reaching a level of critical toxic shame – where in this moment I was reborn, a chance given to me to act as a scientific detective in my own life to discover the underpinnings of what had happened, why it happened, and to discover what I might need to do to restore my identity. The good news is that within a year I found answers, and began the process of working toward a self-actualized neuroqueer existence – one I can proudly say, that I was able to reach.
The Neuroqueer Self and the General Conditions for Human Growth
In the first section of the book to understand the level of damage that was done to me, often by those with ‘good intentions’, I will need to define the set of conditions that make me the individual I am, but I will only discuss the ones I believe I had at birth, and explain how I believe others were added later. Far too much of my neurodivergence as defined by the medical model conflicts with my lived experience.
I am a neuroqueer outsider, and I think I always knew that I was, since perhaps the age of three or four. To put this in terms you are likely to understand, at the age of thirty eight I discovered the full extent of my innate divergence. I am an ADHD, Autistic, dyspraxic, dyslexic, dyscalculic, and dysgraphic person, who is also a non-binary bisexual. These are simply differences about me and are rarely disabling in of themselves.
At the core of these differences are changes in the way I perceive and sense the world, and the way I interpret information, and the way my body moves. My sensory system, communication style, mode of cognition, and the speed at which my brain operates seems to deviate from the neurotypical population in ways that often made me a target due to not understanding the nature of knowledge competitions, or what it truly meant to be living in a neuronormative society.
To address the first of these systems – the sensory system – there are eight senses we currently know about (vision, auditory, taste, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, vestibular, proprioception, and interoception). I will propose the basis for two additional senses rounding out to a nice even number of ten.
The first of these senses is the feeling of being in control of our lives, our autonomous sense. We are wired to act with our own instinctive purpose. I believe that we sense this at all times. When we notice we are incongruent with this expectation, our bodies and our minds degrade – our sense of control is gone.
The second of these senses is our social sense. This specific sense can be measured in the feeling of isolation. The more isolated we feel from the social world, the more vast the changes to our internal biology, indeed one of the biggest myths on top of the mind-body duality which I will discuss, is the individual-community duality.
Self-determination theory discusses in detail the importance of these senses, and at times where I did feel self-determined I was able to stabilize my health before an external factor of extrinsic motivation would rob me again of my happiness.
My life would have turned out well if people understood one thing about me – I respond well to unconditional positive regard, a concept defined by Carl Rogers as an essential element for client centred therapy, and indeed the times where I was given this are the times where I was allowed to grow. It was thirty four years before a person in an authority position treated me this way – and began the process of identity recovery.
To give a more in depth understanding of the origins of my divergence, I will look into the science that seems to be plausible from a more mainstream neurobiological level, and in doing so will detail the ways in which current understanding of the medical model fails to account for the roles of the nervous system, the mind-body as a single unit, and the complex interactions between our sensory system and the world. No section more vital here than understanding the full role of neurodivergent ‘stimming’ behaviours at the neurobiological level.
At the end of this section I will propose my understanding of the core set of conditions about what it means to be human in our world, and will propose a new theory of understanding of human mental health as it more accurately is beyond the myths of current understanding – the unifying theory of self-determined perceptive interpersonal neurobiology.
The Forced Coercion of the Incongruent Self
In the next section I will detail the brutal process of identity erosion, the forced incongruence that constructed the unwilling chameleon. Beginning with loss of autonomy, the loss of competence, the loss of relatedness, the loss of self-esteem and self-efficacy. The heartbreaking reality is that despite my best efforts, I never truly belonged – the ‘flaws’ of my true self always revealed themselves under strain.
As a happy but ‘odd’ neuroqueer child I drew attention to myself, and in the process allowed others to cast their judgement upon me – all the support systems meant to make my life better ended up making it worse for me.
As a child who deviated from the norms of social rules, who had issues conforming to a neurotypical standard, it was me that was made to change – my school and parents reinforced this first. My own brain worked against me to embed a pattern of behaviourism at an unconscious level.
The suppression of who I was caused a ripple effect on my identity, each new ripple revealing a new hidden challenge underneath – hypersexualisation, dissociation, substance abuse.
Once I began living for entirely extrinsic reasons, I spent my teenage years on the brink of narcissism, only to overcorrect to people pleasing, and due to never getting either of these right, ending up with moral scrupulosity OCD as my reward.
The manifestations were not only mental in nature, stress related physical illnesses started manifesting – first asthma, then eczema, then finally the auto-immune disorder Crohn’s disease.
I tried to get help repeatedly, but I was invalidated, and my doctors denied my carefully researched evidence. I was twenty six before gaining my first mental health diagnosis – ‘depression’, despite being depressed since around the age of ten. This diagnosis and the treatment provided, ended up causing more damage than preventing it, and for the next ten years I gave myself a vast array of “side effects” on medication that provided no benefit, and at times made my life so much worse, the effects of which I am still dealing with even now.
I will explain the periods in which self-determination provided a protective effect that allowed me to sustain the damage to come, for these were vital for me understanding how I managed to continue.
The Breaking Point of Autistic Burnout
Unfortunately I didn’t discover the full extent of my differences before reaching crisis point, at age thirty six – I went through what I would describe as hell on earth – Autistic Burnout Major. A period of eight months of my life where I rapidly unravelled and did not realise what was going on, and I will discuss in detail what goes wrong if given meditation in critical care. I will also propose a hypothesis for what is happening at the neurobiological level.
It was during this time that I finally did try to end my life – in some ways this was the death of the people pleaser, and from this time I discovered that which is inside me which is indestructible.
The Daily Practice of Restoring the Congruent Self
This section discusses how I managed to take the fractured reflection of a thousand shards of mirror that made up my current identity to find the pieces that made the congruent self.
It was a single workplace at age thirty four that restored a part of my autonomy, but unfortunately external circumstances made me break before I could discover the root of who I was underneath. It was from this first piece of autonomy that I undertook becoming an ADHD self-advocate, a vital piece for discovering the rest of my divergence.
The effect of this allowed me to find philosophy, because if what I thought about myself did matter then how could I become who I really wanted to be, and what did it mean to be a good person. It was at this time I discovered Stoicism – a key component that provided a rough guideline for me to rebuild my ‘Inner Citadel’ – the affectionate repurposing from this philosophy that came to mean for me restoring – self-determination, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.
I began a process of self-therapy, I was still in burnout, with unidentified Autism and OCD. I began searching for answers and connecting with advocates outside my own current neurology. I discovered these differences on my own despite being in critical healthcare services.
I began defining values, learning, and undertook a process which I call self-gaslighting – or how to placebo yourself.
From this time I began thinking about how I could ensure what happened to me never happened to anyone else – because what existed currently made me worse. I undertook training to become an ADHD coach. A step which allowed me to reconnect with my strengths.
I began writing, I delved into what it means to be who I am through the eyes of others like me, and with each discovery I was able to slowly start shedding shame.
The final key was connecting the mind and body back together, through mediation, sensory adjustments, and nervous system regulation.
The only external help I had in the final phase was the first therapy in my life that has helped me – what I deem to be strictly Rogerian narrative therapy.
These were the conditions I needed to rediscover the person underneath.
The Self-Actualized Neuroqueer Person
There is good news, it took me just over a year to reach what I deem to be an almost self-actualized state of existence. I am happy with who I am now, I feel more coherent – I am nearly swimming freely in ‘the river of integration’.
There are a few vital things to discuss here – the importance of keeping the body’s score at zero – which means demasking as best you can, and allowing yourself to feel your feelings fully at the time they occur.
I also discuss the fragility of self-determination for those of us who have been imprinted at a young age with the pattern of behaviourism, and the threat of extrinsic motivation to what I enjoy.
Finally I round out the book with a more philosophical look at what it means to be a person at a core level, with the key lessons I have about making your own path. I have hope for the future now, and I believe that none of us must exist in a state of measured observation.
I like to refer to myself now as an emotional octopus – and I will explain exactly what that means and why.