It’s the little things that make you know you’re different.

My partner shuts his laptop with his headphones in the microphone jack on game night. A feedback squeal erupts. “Aaaaaaa!” I yelp, and slap my hands over my ears until he gets it sorted. Others stare quizzically. I realize I’m the only one in the room with my hands over my ears.

I’m walking on campus, and I hear a high-pitched whine from a ventilation system. I plug my ears habitually as I pass it. It’s the change of class, about five thousand people are crossing campus. I see one young man with his ears plugged. We nod at each other, silent recognition of each others’ discomfort.

It’s bright outside, and I realize I forgot my hat. I walk across campus for coffee with my eyes shielded by my hands and squinting so hard I can barely see. I hear someone laugh at me as I walk past.

I still bounce down stairs at 26. I just don’t let anyone see me, so I don’t get asked, “What are you, six?”

I’m at a conference, in an interesting lecture, but I can’t sit still. I remember why I never wear this blouse now – the tag is poking into my side, aggravating me to no end. In the interest of not irritating the heck out of those sitting around me, I am the only person in the lecture of around 200 who has to duck out for a short while. Someone later asks whether or not I had too much coffee. I say yes because I know from experience that “My shirt tag was annoying me and I had to go tape it down” won’t be believed.

Someone’s staring at me in the conference reception. Her face is screwed up in that mixture of bewilderment and snide mockery that any bullied kid learns to recognize instinctively. I realize I’ve been fluttering my fingers at shoulder level for who knows how long. I drop my hand to my glass and lightly drum the glass side instead.

I sneak out of my session two minutes early, so I can grab coffee before the coffee break rush starts. Then I slink off to a quiet corner I found on the registration day, when I spent an hour staking out quiet areas where I can retreat to. I know all of the quiet corners. Someone else invades mine for a cell phone conversation. Feeling irrationally irritated, I flee to a different quiet area.

My stomach feels like it’s trying to tie itself into a pretzel. There’s a meet and greet going on, and I know I should at least show my face at it, but I’ve been up since 5 and am exhausted. I lean my head against a pillar and let the waves of sound drift over me.

A person is giving an interesting talk. The person seated next to me moves away a seat. I realize I’ve been rocking side to side as I get more intrigued by their work.

I attended a conference recently. It was exhausting, fun, draining, and exhilarating all at once. It was also alternately joyful (when chatting with people equally gleeful about their stuff) and terribly lonely (when I did something that made other people treat me like a freak and/or when I hit a point of it’s-too-much and needed to slink off somewhere for recharging).

Sometimes, going to an environment not set up to accommodate you sends it home how different you are.

4 thoughts on “It’s the little things that make you know you’re different.

  1. bjforshaw says:

    I can relate to so much of this. Plugging my ears (fire drill at work is the worst), seeking out a quiet space and the feeling when somebody else invades it. The overload of being in a group of people when I’m tired and needing to get away somewhere quiet. And not having my needs understood or accommodated which has at times left me open to being teased or bullied for simply behaving naturally (for me).

    Sometimes the negative aspects of being different outweigh the positives. It’s hard at those times.

    • ischemgeek says:

      I always plug my ears at high-pitched noises. In fact, it was one of the things that made one of the people in RL who thinks I’m autistic think it. He is autistic. Someone made a feedback screech, and he and I both plugged our ears and grimaced. He asked if I was autistic, too, shortly thereafter. Not just because of the sensory stuff, but because of other stuff, too.

  2. autisticook says:

    Oh man. That was so recognisable and painful to read. It’s all the little things that people notice that make it so impossible to “pass”, even when you’re trying SO HARD. Welcome to the community of freaks. Let your freak flag fly. But the looks never change.

    I’m glad you had good times as well. But the little scenarios you described… meh. I recognise all of them. 😦

    • ischemgeek says:

      For me, it’s an issue of feeling like I have culture shock all the time.It’s all the little reminders of you are not the same. Like if there is a piece of music and it’s supposed to be performed in 3/4 time and someone gave me a piece in 4/4 time, and I’m not experienced enough to realize that’s a typo. I’m still playing, but I’m out of sync. It’s so much easier when I actually am traveling – when I’m a foreigner, the locals just chalk it up to a weird Canadian being weird. 😛

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