‘Neurodiverse’

I believe that, in the process of writing, one of the most important things is… honesty. Looking back at old blog articles of mine, I worry I may have ‘over-shared’. Certain people might come to know things about me – and about my life – which they may ‘have no business in knowing’. But this blog of mine is mine, and slowly slow, Alhamdulillah, I am feeling less afraid about coming to know truths, and speaking of them.

            If I and my writing are liked, for whom and how we are, then tres bien. We are glad to have you here. If not: we are all entitled to liking or disliking – and being fundamentally drawn to or away from – what we do.

Necessarily, though, when processing things by attempting to produce what may be termed ‘art’ – whether it is, in the end, judged to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – one is forced to filter out certain things, and to pay special attention to some of its brethren instead; favouring them, dressing them up in eloquence and prettiness.

            But what has one to lose, really, in being honest? Pride, we say. And dignity. I don’t think I want to ever change the essence of myself – neither the parts I have deemed to be desirable, nor the parts which have caused me some difficulty along the way – in order to be rendered ‘agreeable enough’. So long as I am acting in line with moral requirements, and making space for others: there is enough space for me to be precisely who I am, here, too.

‘Neurodiversity’. This is a topic that I find, intrigues me very much. Recently, I came across a written publication whose premise seems to be the inherent connection between ‘neurodivergence’ (autism, ASD, ADHD, and more) and creativity and innovation, being (academically) ‘gifted’, and (most notably, perhaps) sensitivity.

I also happened upon a very interesting (fictional, but with real real-world relevance) story-based video: about a young writer who wins competitions and is seen as being something of a lexical prodigy. Eventually, her work gains public recognition: she is invited onto talk-shows, and to write for popular publications and the like. She also suffers from depression. The public are taken by her work; insistently ask her how she became such a good writer; where she gets her inspiration from. Her depression and insomnia. These are what lend her the necessary inspiration and articulateness, for writing — and the art of writing provides an outlet through which she processes her deep and heavy emotions. The story is well-developed: this writer’s depression, as she later discovers through her conversations with a health coach, would appear to be caused by her sensitivity to a particular protein found in dairy. And, because her output with regard to writing had been so reliant on her experiences of depression, the woman in question has a choice to make. Her love of cheese, or the quality of her writing.

At the end, the grand question that is put to her is:

“What’s worth more to you?

The success of your work or the more pleasant state of mind?”

In this world, generally, people really do fear being ‘mediocre’. Instead, people aspire to be more like… the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and, in terms of historical figures: Mary Shelley, Van Gogh, Mozart. Mark Twain, Edward Thomas, Da Vinci, Albert Einstein.

World-renowned artists; writers; musicians; inventors, mathematicians, scientists and architects: their experiences of bipolar, depression, autism, ADHD. They are flip-sides of the same coins: because, to be different, one must be… different.

It is that, to have the ‘good’ – the plus-sides – of something, one must necessarily experience its necessary downsides, too.

See, people who tend to excel at a particular thing — for whom the underlying languages of particular fields seem to come rather naturally… tend to also easily be ‘diagnosable’ as being, in some ways or others, ‘neurodivergent’.

And the price to pay for the ‘normality’ that escapes these difficult labels and experiences is: relative ‘mediocrity’.

I, for one, have always known that I am ‘weird’. People have always let me know of this fact — not necessarily in a bad way. “Cute,” they say: a label which sometimes irks me. “Quirky”. “Brave enough to be yourself”. “Weird”.

I… am not trying to be “quirky”. The so-called ‘quirky’ things I do and say: they feel so intrinsic to who I am. It is weird to realise, over and over again, that some other people might find these things strange.

Sometimes it has felt alienating. “See? Even Sadia finds that weird!”

And suddenly I am made hyper-aware, again, of the fact that… maybe I need to learn to do things differently, maybe, somehow. I don’t know what to change about myself, but then again, why should I want to change anything-that-isn’t-harming-anybody about myself?

Just because parts of myself might feel… unfamiliar to some?

I guess I am writing this article because recently I think I started to put the pieces together a little. I have always – from Nursery to (what I term The Depressive Year) Year Thirteen done well at school, Alhamdulillah. But I have major problems with being unable to sit and do work for subjects and such I do not have strong, strong interests in. I have pretty much always had a particular proclivity towards words, and writing, and day-dreaming. I am very emotionally sensitive: I absorb others’ emotions pretty much like a sponge. I am quite sensitive to sensory overstimulation. I get socially exhausted pretty quickly, and I have my particularities. Three close friends, and I can really only socialise well when it’s one-on-one. With these things in mind, and more pertaining to whom I have always been, I realise:

I might just be a little on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s, may-haps?) But I don’t think I want to see a doctor, to get an official diagnosis. Because if this is the case, I don’t really see it is an ‘illness’.

Looking back, I realise that many of the people I have admired may have been what is commonly seen as being ‘neurodivergent’. At secondary school, a boy who had been seen as being a bit of a ‘lone wolf’, even though he had friends. He had a knack for making physical works of art; very intelligent (Allahummabārik) and he had particular interests in things like Transformers. We – his friends and some of his classmates – knew him to have been very cool, strange-in-a-good-way, and funny. But it seemed like he had been trying to hide from ‘the masses’, at our school. Secondary school can be an awful, relentless place; one in which anything that makes you ‘different’ makes you… less-than, a ‘problem’, somehow, an easy target.

It must be said, also, that the idiot boys who sometimes taunted the aforementioned one were so, so, personality-less[-seeming], in contrast to him. To be part of the ‘group’ they so desperately wanted to be part of, they simply had to locate and project their insecurities upon some sort of ‘Other’. It is true, though, that “anybody who tries to bring you down is already beneath you”…

The art-loving boy in question ended up becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Being ‘different’ in these ways can be truly painful – especially if/when other people are woefully immature – but those who loved him loved him precisely for who he is, and, to quote the big sister from the movie ‘Wonder’, “you [really] can’t blend in, when you’re born to stand out”. [That is not to say that one should make it a deliberate goal to be ‘quirky’ and consistently ‘not-like-the-others’ and whatnot. But if it happens to be the case, then it happens to be the case, and there is Khayr in it. Allah made you who and how you are, with such good reason].

Sometimes it seems like this very secondary-school-way-of-thinking is what tars modern definitions of what is ‘normal’ and desirable, and what is ‘abnormal’ and not desirable. Be a certain way, or people cannot authentically accept you: how could they? But then enters that classic consideration: that rather edgy 2015-Tumblr-esque statement of rather being disliked for what I am, than liked for what I am not.

I had another friend at school – sixth form, this time – who told me she’d been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. This had come as a bit of a shock to me — I’m not sure why. Probably because, when one thinks of autism, it is very easy to immediately picture symptoms of severe autism, as well as evident, insurmountable-seeming difficulties with speech and communication. And then, I guess, it occurred to me that I had attended a sixth form that had been filled with cool, exceptional, highly knowledgable, strange-in-a-good-way people [and at this school, being ‘normal’ had been the generally undesirable way of being]. In retrospect, many of them probably belonged somewhere on this ‘neurodivergent’ spectrum. They were different, in such awesome ways. [But, see, the idiot boys mentioned above would have probably, if they had come into contact with many of these people, committed to seeing them in a deliberately negative manner, purely towards self-affirming ends]. People are people: how can one fit the entirety of a person, and her essence, into strings of words and diagnoses?

In a world of several billion people, ‘neurodiversity’ is inevitable. Our minds are ‘built differently’, and function along differing lines. Some people are exceptionally good with numbers, or know an awful deal about planes. OCD, dependent-personality-disorders, autism, ADHD… these are all just terms that we attempt to attach to the entirety of a part of human experience. And the more I come to know about different people – from all different walks of life and such – it really does seem as though everybody ‘has’ something.

It’s just that we learn to wear our masks, for the outside world. Generally, our ‘true selves’ tend to be revealed as soon as we come home: to ourselves, and/or to the people who know best of our behavioural tendencies. Phone addictions, shopping addictions, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, mood swings and tendencies towards rage… Yep: it thoroughly does seem as though ‘everybody has something’.

Again, I do not want to seek to get myself diagnosed, and nor do I seek to diagnose myself. But if it is the case that I am ‘neurodivergent’ in this way, I say Alhamdulillah. The things that make me ‘me’: I have certainly come to know their associated downsides and difficulties. And, because of them, I also have the streams of good, which I may often take for granted: my beloved friends, and my personal experiences and stories, the stupid-fun, and the conversations I am able to have on awesome topics, with awesome people, and more.

Also, a poem that I had come across this academic year, courtesy of teaching my beloved Year Seven class:

Sigh. I love love. And not solely the over-romanticised ‘romantic’ type. Love between friends, and between family members. Real love sees not solely the masks that we wear. It sees beyond the ‘whom and how we are trying to be’: the cool, the unaffected, the ‘normal’. Real love notices, in love, our nooks and our crannies. And it promises to love us because of, and not ‘in spite of’, them.

So I am going to conclude this here article by assuring myself that I promise to, Insha Allah, always give myself a try. ‘Be myself’, and all that jazz. And I hope that Allah will continue to bring me to all of the right people; that He will continue to bring all of the right people to me.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Maybe she’s born with it

Our genes. Those basic units of heredity of ours; the segments of our DNA that inform – or, determine – our characteristics. The knowledge that we are these moving, thinking, breathing human beings – with so much going on within us, maintained via the presence of roughly thirty trillion cells (!!!), innate forms of information, and communication between all these microscopic parts. Mind-blowingly fantastic, amazing.

A while ago, I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘Three Identical Strangers’, and it is safe to say that its contents – the topics explored through it – blew my mind; I would strongly recommend it to anybody who is even vaguely interested in psychology.

The documentary is centred on the story of three identical triplets who had been separated at birth, and who had been adopted into three different families. So, they had been practically the same on the ‘nature’ front, but brought up within three distinctly different household-types, of different social classes and such — and so, they had ended up being quite unalike on the ‘nurture’ front.

This had been a real-life occurrence; not something plucked from some work of fiction:

Nineteen years after being separated at birth, two of the three biological brothers meet, by ‘chance’, at university. One of them walks in, as a new student; his fellow students are already acting awfully familiar with him. He wonders why. Turns out, there is another student at the university, who looks just the same as him, and whom he is now being mistaken for. [Once again, I would truly recommend watching the documentary, for the details of the triplets’ story, and for more about… the experiment they later discovered they had furtively been made a part of, from birth. An absolutely astonishing story, which had given rise to a number of fascinating findings and resulting questions…]

The young men discover that they are indeed twins; later discover that there is a third brother: they are a trio. They looked pretty much the same: almost entirely identical facial features; hair type; build. Moreover, the brothers discover that they exhibit very similar behavioural characteristics too (in terms of ways of walking, of sitting, and such); they favour the same brand of cigarette; they even have the same ‘type’ (the same ‘taste’ in women)!

Tragically, one of the brothers eventually ended up taking his own life, after a battle with bipolar disorder, the actualisation of which had been pinned to social/environmental factors: namely, the man’s difficult relationship with his own (adoptive) father.

But I guess what I am trying to express, in this particular article, is how awesome it is, that we have, within us, these forms of innate knowledge, and how elusive the answers to these questions about ‘nature’/’nurture’/’autonomy’ really are.

We operate on information that is in-built, pre-existing, and here we are, as experiencers. We did not get to choose the colours of our skins; the texture of our hair. We did not choose whom we had been born to; whom we are connected to ‘by blood’. All of those ‘bigger’ things. And… so many of the ‘smaller’ ones, too.

Last year, I decided to purchase a ’23andMe’ test for myself. To find out more about my genetic predispositions, and also after years of being asked,

“Where are you from?”

“Oh, where’s that?”

“Oh, but you look Moroccan/Mauritian/Pakistani…”

Within my immediate-extended family, some of us look more ‘South Indian’, while others look more ‘Northern Indian’. Some look more Turkish, North African, Persian. The list goes on. For example, one of my first cousins and I attended the same primary and secondary schools together. We’d mostly been in the same classes, but nobody really ever suspected that we were cousins, or even that we had been ‘from’ the same country, until we told them so. People assumed he was Algerian or something, and some people guessed correctly that I’m Bengali, while others insisted that I look like I’m from “somewhere else”. [“Where, though?” “I don’t know. Just… somewhere else”]

I wanted to find out more about the story of my ancestry: about the people who had come before me.

Outside of my familial circle (which is actually so huge that we could probably easily populate a small country) some of my friends who are Bengali look quite like they could be Malaysian; some look more European; some look more Arab.

From what I know, on my mother’s side, my great-great-great-great (with eight ‘greats’ in total, I believe) grandfather had been from Yemen. Other than that, ‘we’ are from the Bengal region in India – a large fraction of which became ‘Bangladesh’ (literally, ‘Land of the Bengals’) in 1971, when the region declared its independence from Pakistan.

According to ’23andMe’, modern-day Bengalis are mostly the descendants of Central Asians who had migrated southwards, roughly four thousand years ago. Bangladesh is also bordered, on one side, by Nepal – which forms a sort of ‘bridge region’ between ourselves and China. It has (or, should I say, ‘we’ have?) been under Mughal – so, Turco-Mongol – rule, and under British colonial rule, in the past.

I never really realised how alike Bengali ‘culture’ is, with Nepali ‘culture’ until I met one of my cousins’ friends, at my uncle’s wedding. Language, ‘cultural dress’, food. Extremely similar. [Also, I’ve used inverted commas around ‘culture’ because this word seeks to describe the entire way of life of a particular group of people. But, of course, ‘culture’ is never really static, not really reified — but it is useful when it comes to describing what might ‘generally’ be the case].

From reading about my own genetic analysis results, I learned that, in addition to the ‘big’ things that are genetically determined: hair colour, eye colour, susceptibility towards particular illnesses… many of the ‘smaller’ things are thought to be genetically predetermined too. How likely you are to… be averse to coriander, for instance. Preferring sweet foods, or savoury. Being more of a ‘night owl’ or a ‘morning person’; whether you’re more likely to be a ‘deep sleeper’, or a ‘lighter’ one. Earwax type. Finger length ratio. ‘Asparagus odour detection abilities’.

Maybe she’s born with it: maybe it’s in her genes.

So much of ourselves would appear to be… predetermined. But where does predetermination end; where on Earth does auturgy (acting independently, without external influence) begin?

I know for a fact that my genetic makeup has been greatly affected by the actions, the decisions, of those who had come before me. Migrations, and marriages, and perhaps far, far more than these. Perhaps one of my Yemeni ancestors had developed a real penchant for coffee, and maybe that is why I love it so much, today.

Why do I love the things I love? Why am I who and how I am? Is it just a ‘self’ that I am presented with, which I myself can only ‘discover’ and never actually creatively contribute to?

Maybe it is that we start off with a lot of these things, which are predetermined. Perhaps it is the case that within these given features and factors, we have the ability to act with auturgy.

When you receive the ’23andMe’ testing kit, the box reads, in large print, “Welcome to you.”

You: an alive, breathing, and conscious part of the story of humanity. Our very beginnings. A world to get to know, and to be conversant with; our selves, and other people, too. And every single thing that had to happen to get here, to you. The migrations; the meetings. The language barriers – and the breakthroughs – between Bengali and Arabic perhaps, and then came English.

Selfhood. The journeys of our lives. The innate information that tells us how – and when – to begin. Two cells fuse together; growth occurs. Majestic and precise. The innate knowledge within a woman’s body – cycles, circles – which knew how to nourish you, converting the food your mother ate, into food for you. The capacities we have, to learn. How words – language – sounds from our mouths, and scratches on paper, fit into our minds like puzzle pieces into gaps, ready for them, and waiting.

Our bodies know to begin to decline, too. The forthcoming, the inevitable. We are here for a while, and then we return.

We are not the creators of our own selves; it is not each of the trillions of cells that make us – nor the atoms that make up them – that are sovereign. How do they know what to do? How do we know what to do?

Strangers on an island, we are. We “[discount] all this learnedly”. We “[grow] accustomed to these mysteries and [ignore] them, just as [we ignore] the miraculous throbbing stars.” [William Golding, Lord of the Flies]

It is all just too amazing for words. Subhan Allah.

Also, a free pick-up line to use on your Bengali friends:

“Are you Bengali? Because I think you are… peng…-ali.”


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Dunya

Maybe it is true that the world feels a little smaller now. And, in that, it also at the same time feels a little bigger, no?

There is time, we find. There is time enough to sleep in a little — at least until your body informs you that, yes. You are now sufficiently ready to begin. At a good pace. Not rushed, and yet, not so slow that it feels sort of aimless. But a good pace in-between. A relative peace, finally devoid of, or at long last being ‘detoxified’ of, that all-too-common-to-us sensation of restlessness. Though, we do still find, that at times, at some points, there is also

this and this — oh and this — to do. And things get misplaced; some things might get a little hard and go a little ‘wrong’; things hurt; you might start thinking and thinking and thinking but —

Hey, the day is young; you are alive, upon this Earth; we are deeply fortunate to be here, as and how and as who we are.

We require the approval of our Lord; we should not seek out permission to be (ourselves) from anybody else.

Days and days: it feels, sometimes, like they are falling rather like how dominoes do. I want to say that they are always coming and leaving ‘gracefully’. Yes, sometimes it is quite graceful. Elegant. Serene walks in the park; tinges of orangey sun; a ‘perfect’ line of tick-tick-ticks, upon your checklist. And, a neighbour of mine, complimenting my bike. I had frequently seen her around, since I was very young. But never once had we had a conversation together, until that day.

You know, sometimes Tuesday morphs quite effortlessly into Wednesday, and then Friday just appears, as if out of nowhere. Someone FaceTimes out of the blue; my brother helps me to cook, one day. The next day, we order some takeaway. Sometimes, something kind of strangely wonderful occurs. Someone says something that clings to your mind sort of like a butterfly. Beautiful enough to stay; to linger.

Things are delicate. Sometimes, an entire week might feel like just one, tumbling, ongoing day. The laundry always smells fresh; there is enough time, at the very least, to neaten up the books; there is a (re-)emergent sense of community, here. Some palpable-almost feeling of togetherness. Bonds between people; between people and places. With that third crucial consideration: time.

There are the things I just really want to do, and these are finely interspersed between those things that I must do. There is enough time, and there is much goodness in it.

Weekday mornings: there is a quicker pace to them, in contrast with Sundays, at least. I quite like the relative urgency of them – the former (but, this, only in moderation). Get up, get ready, first online lesson of the day. Admin, admin. The joys that are part-and-parcel of the fact that our school has instructed us to only use the audio feature — we need not show our faces on Teams. [Yay!]

All of this speaks rather deeply to my introvert-y inclinations. I love people; people are wonderful, and deeply so. As friends, as family members, and as… subjects for quiet (without intent to sound creepy, here…) observation. And, yet, I find: being around people for lengthy periods of time, and/or in large numbers… quite exhausts me.

For the time being, however, the staffroom at work is no longer where I am spending my breaks in-between lessons. My own room is my ‘staffroom’. Sometimes, the stairs are my classroom. And sometimes, the sitting room, also — but not whenever my brother is gaming… [He is the type to shout at the screen, and to become so invested in Fortnite that he begins to act like his actual life is on the line while playing it.]

I do find I like — the state of being that is described through — the word ‘busy’. But only when it really feels meaningful. And when it feels like it is in healthy moderation. You have things to do; responsibilities, obligations to meet. People to care for, in varying ways. A self to be. You adapt.

Not too much… and not too little. In Dunya terms, I reckon that is precisely where the ‘good life’ lies: between over-excitement, -stimulation, chaos, and boredom and day-in-day-out day-in-day-out routine and sameness. Too much to do; there is too little time. Too little to do; there is too much time. Ah, but: that good place in-between. Quite enough to do, and quite enough time.

This time has not exclusively been one of rainbows and butterflies and of unceasing sunshine. No. It has also been a time of uncertainty; bittersweetness; grief. Our household receiving phone call after phone call about extended family members and family friends and such who have contracted the virus. We were informed, again and again, about a number of passings-away too.

People are human. Whole, and complete. Spinning worlds, individual minds. Some people have lost their fathers; their cousins; aunties; friends, over the last ten months. Some people find themselves shrouded in profound lonelinesses. For the time being, at least, and forever, too: headteacher or student. Chronic illness or not. Seven years old, or sixty-two. Materially wealthy, or poor. Human is what we are, and

This time, like everything else that Dunya comprises, is not ‘perfect’. It does not feel particularly ‘heavenly’. No fanciful cut-outs from picture-perfect magazines or movies. There are obstacles; tensions; moments of sadness, or of anger, or of stress.

But what would life be without all these things that make it… other-than ‘perfect’? It would be Jannah. But this is not Jannah, and we are not [yet, bi’ithnillah] the Jannah-worthy, Jannah-inhabiting, versions of ourselves. Dunya: we dwell within the shadow of Perfection. Though, of Perfection, we do – would certainly appear to – have a deep-rooted, innate understanding.

Good: Khayr, fil ‘Arabiyya. One must, first and foremost, have true trust (Īmān) in one’s Lord. Undoubtedly, He is the One who knows you best. And then, we must acknowledge that in the more evident and immediate blessings: the morning almost-spring air; the kind and unexpected words of affirmation; the fledgling flower buds, and so too, in the confusions and in the slip-ups and in the delays. There is Khayr in it. If we are willing to look for it.

Down at our feet. Shoes muddied, scarred – embellished – by all of our experiences and adventures. Careworn, life-worn. So full of character, I would say. And, also, up at the stars: due recognition of the facts of our being, and of our personal journeys, of our destinations. You are here, dear reader. Dunya. It is an honour for you to be you. Exactly who, and what, and when, where, and why, you are.

Our time here is long. And it is short. It is always upsides and downsides. Making the best of things. Wanting other things: sometimes, I think, this is nice. It keeps things moving, at a good pace. Introduces some novelty. But we must be realistic about things. Dunya is Dunya; life is life. Dear reader,

Through what (more evidently and immediately, perhaps) might present itself as being ‘good’ and what might (more evidently and immediately) present itself as being bad, I so hope we make the best of it. Scars, and our muddied shoes, our blessings and our tests, our losses and our gains, the gifts from God that we never could have foretold, and our hearts and minds filled with good stories, Insha Allah.

Here, from the very midst of this life. Welcome. Smooth, easy, and straightforward? Rarely. But, worthwhile? Always.

And, appearances versus reality. What is, versus what one may perceive (or want) of it. Things often look quite different from afar. The moon, for instance, might, from a distance, seem as though it is only a bright side. Without its bumps; without its craters.

From far away, Earth might look like she is still. And serene, and not spinning. As though her whirlwinds – hurricanes, earthquakes, and all the rest of it – are only mere brushstrokes on spherical canvas. But, look a little closer.

Things can, and ought to, be known. Loved, too, in their truths and in their (relative) entireties. And if you would like to know a thing – be it a time, or a place, or another person, or yourself – all you have to do is… look a little closer.

Dear reader, if you find you are currently struggling, on a particular front, with a particularly stormy sea, then: I ask Allah to grant you a kinder sea. If things are good, right now, I hope the goodness endures; that you are able to have and hold, in that mind and in that heart of yours, all those cherished little moments that take you entirely by surprise. I wish you learning and products of your learning that bring about light and wonder and fascination (and love) in your eyes. Āmeen.

.وبسم الله

Also, movie recommendation: ‘Wonder’. What a gorgeous one. The feels.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021