I always knew that there was something abnormal about me. Something a little off. Not necessarily in a negative way, but my early memories include being a square peg. I only say ‘unfortunately’ because society offered me nothing but a round hole.
What does a square peg do that’s so abnormal? Well, I’d often explore the world intensely through touch, needing to feel every new texture I’d walk by, putting object after object into my mouth for testing, yet refusing to be touched myself. I’d often be non-verbal, sometimes by choice, sometimes in fear, but when I was verbal, I’d talk only to myself, as well as animals and plants that didn’t seem to judge me like humans did. I’d often obsess over very specific and absurd things; one day it was bikes, the next it was grass, and the day after that it was fridges. God forbid you get in my way as I pull things apart to figure out how the world worked. I’d often spend a large percentage of the day in some form of water, whether it be a bath, a shower, a pool, the ocean, refusing to get out and function as was expected from me. Water became my safe space, my place of therapy, and still helps me today.
Many of these odd behaviours can seem reasonable on paper, but, in practice, and from experience, they can drive society up the wall. I attempted to adapt, with mixed results. I learnt how humans acted and interacted, and tried my best to form my own façade to hide behind.
I spent a lot of my childhood in my own head, desperately protecting my squareness with aggression and confusion, ensuring depression as the world demanded more from me with each passing year. I spent a lot of my formative teenage years attempting to soften my sharp corners, desperate that one day I’d be able to sit flush with this world. It was to no avail. I spent the last few years resigned that the day would never come, afraid that I’d drift off into obscurity, barely able to hold down a job, a degree, a partner, a life. A day did come eventually, but it wasn’t the day that I finally became round. It was the day that I accepted that it’s okay to be square, as damaged as that square seemed to be. It was the day I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
It wasn’t my first diagnosis regarding my mental and neurological health. I was also previously diagnosed with severe depression, followed closely by bipolar disorder, and had long walked down the therapeutic avenues of psychology and psychiatry. All of these things could be the case, it’s never just the one. It’s something I had come to terms with, but it didn’t hold all the answers. Far from it. All the focused medication and therapy in the world couldn’t fix my social anxieties and personal quirks; the struggles I always had with understanding, with communicating, with existing.
That’s one of the issues I’ve found with the multiple disorders that is me; it can be very hard to commit to a diagnosis, whether you are the doctor or the patient. It’s difficult to pin down the source of a swarm of swirling strenuous symptoms; it’s not as easy as labelling it, fixing it, and moving on. It’s never that easy, but with the right support, it can become easier.
Looking back, it’s almost hilarious what was missed. It seems so obvious to me now. A diagnostic framework helps you make sense of yourself in an analytical, logical way, which is helpful for someone of my ilk. I thrive on facts and information, so for me, a diagnosis is not necessarily scary or confusing, it’s helpful. It’s a lack of knowledge that terrifies the afflicted and those around them. We need these people and these conditions out in the light, where people can grow, and where we can examine and fathom the enigma of disorder; keeping it in the dark will only lead to people withering and wilting. A diagnosis doesn’t just help me at present and leading into the future, but it can also help make sense of the past and comes to terms with the pain that was then.
The struggles were numerous when I was younger; they’re still definitely struggles even now, but I can see them in a different light. I’d struggle to remember those I had met before and came off as arrogant. Now I know this as face-blindness and that I just need the right contexts. I’d struggle to make eye contact instinctively, and that came off as cold, rude, and uncaring. Now I know that I just don’t get or give the same information from it that other humans do. I’d struggle with being touched and, well, humans are notorious touchers. Now I know that I’d rather just engage on an intellectual or creative level with others and that hugs and handshakes don’t mean to me what they mean to everyone else.
To put it simply, I don’t often understand, communicate with, and exist in this world the same way as others do. Now, I know that there’s probably a reason why. It’s okay to be different. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It just is. The above shortlist of struggles is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and only my personal experience.
There are many others like me, with many other stories. Luckily, I have narrowed my previous obsessions, and found writing and performance and painting (art in a wonderful tool) to keep me afloat. It was always a great place for the voiceless; I’ve started to be comfortable with who I am, rather than hide behind my façade. I can now find ways to understand the world through my creative outlets. I can communicate so much better through my writing process, and I can now exist a little more peacefully, as that chipped and worn square peg. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do for today; I’m not alright, but I’ll be okay.
Not all of us have found a way to survive in this world though. The big issue we still face is the stigma; the idea that a world with round holes has no room for square pegs. It’s not a conscious thing we all do; it lies under the surface and stops people like me from living functional lives. It’s hard to swallow the abnormal, I get it, I truly do. I ask though, that instead of spitting us out, allow us in. Listen to the stories, the struggles; we don’t want your sympathy, we just want your support.
Daley Rangi is an eclectic multidisciplinary artist generating unpredictable and uncomfortable works through an intersectional lens. Evading categorisation, and invading the status quo, their energies are focused on speaking truth to power and encouraging social change.