How can I pass as a normal person?
October 5, 2012 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Pretending to be normal.

I'll try to be brief, clear and concise, even if those particular traits are not my forte.

I'm in school to become an artist, but I am slowly, slowly becoming afraid that I lack some very essential components to thriving in that career, or heck, even functioning at life. There is just something wrong with me. I used to think it was just a quirkiness, a little something off that could be endearing. More and more, I am finding it is actually a huge problem. Most of the time, I don't feel human. It's like I'm an alien who crash landed on earth and can only survive by pretending to be human, Studying human beings and trying to emulate them, but never really getting it right.

Simply put, I have medically verifiable cognitive problems, amongst them depression, an increasingly worsening case of ADHD, and some problems with memory and information retention. As I'm getting older I'm finding it harder and harder to communicate with people. I'm doing all I can to address this, but I don't know what else I can do. I'm concise about taking my medication daily, in as much as I can I'm trying to take physical care of myself. School makes it hard to do that all the time, but I do my utmost.

I've tried very, very hard to hide the fact that something was wrong with me, it's only recently that I started talking about depression, adhd, etc. or even admitting to having it to anyone by my very closest friends and family. It used to be mild, it's getting worse. Increasingly I find I just can't articulate anything. Whats in my head doesn't get to my mouth. I've always been akward, but this is making it worse. Recently I had someone point blank tell me "sometimes you say things that are really smart, but most of the time, you just don't make any god-damned sense." It hurt, it really did, because I know that right there in that moment, that was how people had been seeing me for years. The person who said it wasn't the first to insinuate or even pointedly say something about this.

I can't tell you how often I've been talking recently and someone has to stop me and have me start over, or just stares awkwardly, or laughs, or blushes, or what have you when I say something stupid or nonsensical. I don't mean to do it. The absolute worst response, which I find is occurring more and more, is that people just flat out ignore me. I'm not someone who does well alone, I really, really need to have people around me at this point in my life, and I find I'm making them not even notice I am there. It's not like my friends are bad people...or's just that I...don't make it easy to like me when I can't even talk coherently to people. I feel like I'm just yapping at people, and no one likes that. I grew up in an environment that didn't give me the ability to make a lot of friends, so I don't always even know how to deal with people. There are some pretty key socialization skills I missed early on and have never been able to catch onto.

It makes me not want to talk at all. It makes me question how I can succeed not only in human interaction, but in the career I want as well. I'm trying to be in a field of visual communication, and yet...I can't talk, I can't be clear, I can't make sense at all. It's lonely as hell, it makes me feel like I'm a complete moron, but I don't know what else I can do to correct it, and I'm not sure who to turn to for help. This hurts. Bad.

My future career depends on me being able to communicate clearly, already, I've made gaffes in networking, and I know my artwork (I'm in Sequential Art) doesn't always make sense to people. For a while now I've been trying to learn storyboarding, where being clear is the absolute most important thing...and I can't make sense to anyone. I just want to work, but I find that despite my best efforts, my stuff is getting increasingly doesn't make sense, it's not very clear, and it's really bad as a result...I'm just kind of failing at everything I want to do, and that I need to do in order to have a career in art/storytelling. I'm scared, truly genuinely scared. I'd link examples of my work, but if anyone I knew from real life found this and knew it was me, I'd be so, so embarrassed.

I know that these symptoms I have have affected my jobs in the past. I've tried to compensate for them with other skills, such as trying to be dependable, covering for other people when they needed me to, being patient, gentle, and trying to work well with a variety of people, but I have a bad memory, a short attention span, and the ability to confuse information easily. Before I came to school I worked several 9 to 5 jobs, and while they all started out fine, most of them eventually became problematic because of my depression, adhd and socialization deficiencies. I have a hard time hiding these, and some situations really make them flare up. I can't necessarily blame people for getting frustrated with me on job sites for having these issues, and sadly I've found that it's hard to have enough positive traits to counter balance a lack of some essential communication, attention and memory skills.

What can I do? Who can I go to? I'm already treating the problems I know I have, like ADHD and depression with medication, but this is a big problem, it feels like a cancer that has always been growing in me, and now it's been there so long it's a part of me. I don't feel normal, I know I never will. All I want is to be able to figure out how to pretend I'm not messed up and have people believe me. How do I keep this from continuing to cause problems in my life? Can anyone offer any advice? I don't know who to go to, and I don't know what I can do to help stop these problems. It's too intimate a problem to bring up with a lot of my friends...or anyone I know really.
posted by Rosengeist to Human Relations (27 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're going about this all wrong. What's so awful about people knowing that you have some medical issues? A LOT of people have ADHD. A LOT of people have depression. Some of them may even be your friends. No wonder you feel alienated, since you don't feel that you can share things about yourself. No one is normal, really, no one and the fact that you think that normal exists means you should start sharing and really talking with people.

Start sharing - you'll find people love you more when they understand you.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:12 PM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's perhaps too obvious a suggestion, but since since you don't mention it: have you tried therapy? A therapist can help you figure out what's a good coping strategy, what's a bad one, and what things don't actually need a coping strategy at all.
posted by hattifattener at 8:14 PM on October 5, 2012

This question was pretty clearly communicated. So it's not that you don't ever make sense, or can't communicate at all.

That makes me wonder how much of the rest of your description of your problems are magnified by the sorts of cognitive distortions that are common in depression. So yeah, therapy.

Also an anecdote in case it helps at all. I have a good friend who clearly has some non-neurotypical things going on. But she is in her 50s and doesn't want a diagnosis, so who knows exactly what it is. I would say nine times out of ten, a sentence she produces does not make sense to the casual observer. She is really really hard to follow. But if you listen carefully, and ask lots of questions, and reframe what she is saying back to her until she agrees you are understanding her, communication happens. And because she is smart and kind and funny, it is totally worth the extra effort. And sure, a lot of people don't want to put that effort in, so she has fewer friends than most people. And she does have trouble getting jobs. But her good friends and supervisors who give her a chance really appreciate her in the end.

So don't think that no one will ever want to be your friend or give you work or whatever, because of your issues. It might be harder. Which sucks. But I bet things are going to be okay, and you don't even have to "stop these problems". Just find ways to work with them.
posted by lollusc at 8:21 PM on October 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I know one isn't supoussed to comment on these boards, but I feel like I need to make some clarifications. I have admitted to some very close friends that I have confessed this too, and it does not seem to have affected the way in which I've been considered or dealt with.

Counseling has been something I've turned to at several points in my life. While I've had some success, I currently can afford only one option, and my experience with that particular counselor hasn't been positive. They aren't bad per se, I just didn't find I was comfortable with them.
posted by Rosengeist at 8:21 PM on October 5, 2012

Yeah, it may be a distortion caused by the depression and/or anxiety (AFAIK, anxiety and ADHD go hand in hand).

When you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be 'normal' (which is impossible, because it doesn't exist), you find yourself being acutely sensitive of all of your 'issues'.

Furthermore, if you have 'friends' who are being dicks about your situation when they know you feel low about such things, you have permission to tell them to take a hike.

Everyone cocks up in networking situations, no one is capable of remembering everything, people forget stuff constantly, nobody is perfect and nobody is normal.

I don't know anything about ADHD meds, but do you think they might not be the right ones for you?
posted by heyjude at 8:43 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It very much sounds like the depression is telling you that you suck at everything, and that you are hearing it maybe a bit too much to get through the day. I would talk to your doc about adjusting your meds because really seriously I've seen & heard communication that is utterly broken, and this is not it. This is not even close.

Seriously. You sound great. You have goals and purpose and clear statements.

Talk to your doctor and keep your head up.
posted by skrozidile at 8:51 PM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Google Cooley's Looking Glass Self. It's a concept in sociology that did wonders for me when I learned about it in Soc 101.

I was once like you, a very long time ago. You are going to be fine, and you are going to learn to be comfortable communicating. It is a process, but be patient with yourself. And yes, a great deal of what you are talking about is the depression talking, but I have been there, done that, and gotten through myself, and so will you.

It's GONNA get better.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:03 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh honey, I know this, I lived this my whole life. I was raised to think that I wasn't a real human being like everyone else, but a mistake, a sub-human or animal born in human skin. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence studying "real" people and trying to figure out how to act like them, too.

I survived, I learned to cope, and I picked up a few tricks that have helped me build a real person in my skin:

1. Make a face to meet the faces that you meet. I was crippled with social anxiety, unsurprisingly. Some days I never even made it to the mailbox. But I faced the fact that I absolutely needed one thing in life, my own safe space, and to be able to pay for that meant leaving the house and getting a job and doing it every day. I made a person who could go out the door, who could talk to people and get stuff done. She was confident and unafraid and didn't care what other people night be thinking. Before I stepped out the door, I'd put her face on and wear her like a shield. At first it was really an artificial thing, but more and more it became natural and now I am really very much like that brave fearless person I invented.

1. Try to find the positive in situations. You just got laid off? Awesome, a severance pay vacation and a fresh start! This really helps just the way life comes at you, builds a more confident and cheerier attitude, and helps in interactions with other people. It's not easy. I learned it by meeting someone who treated life this way, and for a long time I would stop and ask myself, "Now, what would X do or say in this situation?" And then eventually I didn't have to ask anymore, it just became a part of me.

3. Be interested in other people. Not that you aren't but ask people about themselves. It makes them more comfortable, they open up, and social interaction becomes easier.

4. Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself. AWKWARDNESS IS NOT A PERSONAL FAILURE. Awkwardness is a common weakness of the human condition. If you have an awkward moment in a conversation, make a joke out of it - the awkwardness is funny. "Aw man, did I leave my brain at home again today?" and laugh. "I am such an idiot today! Let's start over." and smile. The most important thing to remember is that the MOMENT is a joke. YOU are not a joke. You can make fun of an action you made without that being a statement about your value.

I came to these lessons and improved my life dramatically, but very slowly, without the help of a therapist (there were reasons for avoiding therapy that I won't go into here). But basically the moment came, as it came for you, when I realized that I could not go on as I was, that my life was not a life worth living - but it was something I could change. I could change myself, little by little, by practice and repetition, and you can too. I'm not saying don't get therapy, I'm sure it would have helped me a lot, but if you *can't* get therapy, there is still hope, and lots of it.

Feel free to memail me as a onetime fellow non-human. I can relate, oh boy can I relate, and I'm happy to be there for you as you start filling in your own skin with real peopleness.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:22 PM on October 5, 2012 [39 favorites]

Have you ever been assessed by a psychiatrist or even a neurologist? Not just through self-reporting or therapy, but with actual tests?

I think it's pretty difficult to make objective observations about your own behavior or other people's reactions to you, especially if you already have difficulties with depression and low self-esteem. An objective medical practitioner would be able to make distinctions that you are unable to make yourself because they have training and tools that you don't have. Maybe you really do say things that make no sense (ie: word salad), or maybe you just have social anxiety issues that distort your view of how people react to you. There's really no way to know without an assessment.

(I am not a doctor, a psychologist, or any kind of practitioner. I only speak from my own experience as a patient for 25 of my 37 years on earth.)
posted by xyzzy at 9:22 PM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sounds to me like you are reasonable, rational, and have insight-- along with an undiagnosed medical/physiological issue.

I think you should do what you can to get a thorough medical workup by people who are experienced in difficult to diagnose cases.
posted by jamjam at 9:24 PM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had plenty of times where I've said the wrong thing, (yes, to the point of a stunned silence from the room), talked so that people couldn't understand me (the more excitable I get, the faster I speak -- my own dad, from the South (U.S.) can't understand it), and screwed up networking. I've noticed nearly everyone does. But, and I think this is important, only a few of us dwell on it, worry over it afterwards, and remember it for years later. Most people have forgotten about a day or week later, because it's just not that big a deal. The important part is, you're doing neat art, you have friends, and despite a lot more struggles with your health and well-being than a lot people have, you're doing pretty good.

So, sure, keep practicing the social stuff, but let yourself make mistakes and learn, and get better at it. Try to figure out how to let at least some of it go. (I'm still working on that part, but the more I can, the better it gets.)

I've been reading the Bloggess talk about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and it really helps to see someone with some of the same struggles. (Though I love best her descriptions in her book of parties she's gone to where she actually managed to say worse stuff than I've said. It's soothing. And hilarious.)

And people have already said it, by I'll repeat. No one is normal. Everyone is weird in their own way. The better you get to know people, the more you see what some of their weirdnesses are. It makes life interesting.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:28 PM on October 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

You seem reasonable and analytical. What you just wrote is complex, and cogent. Sounds like a counselor could help you deal with your issues about organization. You mentioned meds. That would be a good thing to talk about with your counselor, but I'm not sure that's needs to be the main focus of your quest.

Also, frustrations come from believing everyone else is better at being normal than you are. They aren't. People don't have to intend to be cruel to act that way, and it's to your credit that you realize that they don't really mean to hurt your feelings. Cut them some slack, sure, but not too much slack, and not any slack at your own expense.

But your communication problems are real, and they make you feel isolated. A counselor may help you figure out what strengths and weaknesses are in your repertoire. I think you already have a good idea, but need some outside input to help you put it together. Your career path may reside in something that you've not really given serious consideration.

Please don't give up on people. Real friends are rare. You'll know them when you find them. You aren't missing too much by not getting along with the shallow ones. Lonieness sucks. Being alone isn't necessarily being lonely.

I wish you the best.
posted by mule98J at 10:21 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have felt the way you feel.

The only thing that remotely validated those feelings and yet approached a workable solution was therapy.

I remember being vaguely satisfied when my therapist used the word "dissociation" to describe what I was talking about, though I still don't know what that specifically means. Pretty sure it wasn't a diagnosis, just a term that neatly described that feeling of not being "right" somehow, not being an entirely real human, maybe not really existing.

Also, for what it's worth, I find that these feelings get stronger when I'm away from everyday social life and coexisting with coworkers, friends, etc. When I get too deep inside my own head, this gets really bad and I basically could have written your post. As an art student, are you getting enough baseline socialization? Can you have a part time job or group of studio mates or somebody you talk to every day to help yourself feel human?
posted by Sara C. at 10:50 PM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

The thing about both ADHD and depression is that it makes you so stunted in learning social cues. If, like me, you get diagnosed a bit later, that leaves so much catching up to do even when medication puts you on an even keel. It still takes effort to notice when my stories get rambly. Or even more important, when the listener is madly looking around for either an out or getting a word in edgewise. A long party is so much effort, and I still regularly apologize for missing obvious cues or getting overstimulated I shut down. There's a long list of euphemisms I have to excuse my behavior without screaming "my brain chemistry is screwy".

I sometimes joke that I don't always act perfectly, but I always know the Miss Manners prescribed behavior. It's because I have to be conscious of so many things that neuro-typical folks internalized in childhood and don't notice. So it seems perfectly natural that you would be drawn to communication. It is something that commands your attention, and you bring a fresh perspective.

Most people who communicate well don't see the point in taking that skill to the next level. They got their point across. End of story. Why put in more time?

If counseling isn't in the cards, I would look into support groups. They are more affordable, and it sounds like you could almost use support more than guidance. And with depression, you will want a safe environment where you can trot out a conversation that went poorly. Going it alone, it will be easy to trap yourself in thoughts of being something sub-human. That's the depression talking. Dig deeper and remember that we call it the human condition because being human is being imperfect.
posted by politikitty at 11:29 PM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't address what kind of professional that you should see, although I do think you could just print out this question and bring it to the person who prescribes your meds.

More practically, if you talk the way that you write, I can understand why people are having trouble understanding you sometimes. Your sentences are long and complex, but repetitive. There are also several instances where you are using specific words incorrectly. Your sentences are also slightly jumbled and disconnected.

Some ideas that may help:
1) only one clear, concise idea or thought per sentence. This means you need to organise your speech linearly instead of laterally as you have been. If you have ADHD, you're probably not a linear thinker, but you can learn to express yourself that way with practise.

2) make absolutely sure that you know the appropriate usage for any and all words you use. If you've learned a lot of words through context, you might want to use a dictionary to find the specific definitions of words. Don't use a thesaurus for this- just because two words have similar meanings does not make them interchangable. (e.g. "I'm concise with taking my medication..." doesn't make any damn sense.)

3) use less words per sentence. Narrow down what you want to say to a basic, point-form statement. Then flesh it out only as much as neccessary to make it a proper sentence.

4) don't try to sound smart. Don't say things like "amongst" and "forte". Say "among" and "strength".

5) try to be less repetitive.

I'm not trying to hassle you about your mannerisms, but I think that if you put some of these changes into practise, you'll be able to communicate more clearly. I think this is what your friend was trying to say; I don't think they were trying to alienate or ostracise you, and I think those feelings are something you need to deal with by actually getting close to people. If you can't share your intimate self with your friends, you'll always feel disconnected. There are a few askmes about opening up to people and letting people in that you could check out.

Finally, don't stress over this too much. Nobody's perfect, and your communication isn't horrible or unintelligible, it just needs polishing. You're not a social outcast just because of these minor, easily remedied errors. I promise.

posted by windykites at 2:14 AM on October 6, 2012

I can't tell you how often I've been talking recently and someone has to stop me and have me start over, or just stares awkwardly, or laughs, or blushes, or what have you when I say something stupid or nonsensical.

Neither asking you to restate something, nor staring, laughing or blushing is confirmation that you've said something stupid or nonsensical, but anxiety and/or depression can predispose you to interpret other people's behavior in that sort of way.

I've tried very, very hard to hide the fact that something was wrong with me, it's only recently that I started talking about depression, adhd, etc. or even admitting to having it to anyone by my very closest friends and family.

Trying to "pass" or conceal your nature in this way is likely to make you seem weirder and more conspicuous, not less. The more effort you put into such subterfuge, the harder it will be to pay attention to whatever you and other people are ostensibly talking about. A social fight-or-flight response will naturally wreck your attention span, interrupt your memory and make you prone to confusion over otherwise simple ideas.

Basically, I'm suggesting you think of this as a fundamentally small problem that tends to snowball or self-amplify if you aren't smart about how you manage it.

I also think you'd find this recent episode of This American Life interesting.
posted by jon1270 at 3:45 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You could try going to a country where nobody speaks English.

School doesn't teach most people much. Harder though it maybe and as inefficient as the gains are, the annoyance of it does produce something.

As a dyslexic I found school harder than most people but I think I taught myself a lot of coping strategies on the way. I still hate it because I had to do it myself I must add.

Maybe the situation has taught you some skills that others don't have that you can use in some way. You have to find your own path so for that you need to try many different environments.

I've seen communication problems where the mind goes from points A -> B -> C and mouth goes straight to C. You then get the pack attitude against you. I would then backpeddle, explaining the previous links. If this happens and explain A & B while remaining confident that they are the stupid ones not to understand that A & B are obvious and so shouldn't really need explaining. You need to be dominant with it if it's a group of people - that might mean aggressive.
More than anything we need to find others like ourselves. All it takes is one other person like this to know it's not us against the world. To step back and see how small and insignificant the world of a single school is.

We can think we are the only one when in fact there might be someone just like you in every school in the world. Millions of people all thinking they are defective in some way.

How do we meet these people? Interesting people like us? Writers, artists, designers, entrepreneurs. I'd like to know.
posted by jago25_98 at 4:51 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

More practically, if you talk the way that you write, I can understand why people are having trouble understanding you sometimes. Your sentences are long and complex, but repetitive. There are also several instances where you are using specific words incorrectly. Your sentences are also slightly jumbled and disconnected.

I absolutely, completely disagree with this. I found your post to be incredibly clear and coherent, and the one instance I saw where you misused a word (concise where you probably meant conscientious) I still knew what you meant. You communicated the facts about your situation as well as the emotions attached to them very well. I have ADHD too and get frustrated trying to read long, incoherent posts. I did not feel this way reading your post at all.

What I was going to say before reading windykites comment -- which kind of floored me by being so different from my own impression -- is that you communicate very clearly in writing, which makes me think that your in-person communication may be suffering from a) nervousness and b) not taking enough time to think about what you want to say before you speak. You might benefit from slowing down just a bit to give yourself time to think things through. I wonder, though, if your verbal communication problems may be similar to mine.

My biggest issue with verbal communication is that I find it hard to articulate complex ideas verbally because my working memory doesn't seem to work right. I know what I mean, but the specific words and sentences I meant to use and the order in which I meant to use them seem to disappear as I'm speaking and everything comes out badly. I also have problems with attention. I'll get distracted by something I see and suddenly I'll realize I missed the last minute or so of what the other person is saying because their interesting scar set me off thinking about pirates or something, and then I panic because I know that when it's my turn to comment I'm going to flounder because I'm not sure what they just said.

I do pretty well in writing, however, because the words and sentences stay where I put them instead of disappearing out of my brain; and because I can go back and edit for clarity before I share them with the world. For this reason I tend to prefer email above all other forms of communication, particularly when I'm especially concerned about making my point clearly.

I've even been known to email my husband when I want to clear up a misunderstanding of some sort, because talking it out sometimes makes things worse when I can't seem to find the right words to say.

So I wonder if there are ways you could incorporate more writing into your communications with friends, such as texting, emailing, notes or whatever. Obviously if you want real-life friends as opposed to email buddies you'll have to do some face-to-face talking, but maybe try shooting off an email or text instead of phoning when possible, and put things in writing when you especially want to be sure you are understood clearly.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:27 AM on October 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

Ask your doc to give you a full workup. Depression and ADD can be made worse by various "non-mental" conditions. This was the case for me. Might see a psychiatrist in addition to a therapist, too.
posted by bunderful at 6:48 AM on October 6, 2012

Depending on which school you are at, you might either be able to get a mentor or a teacher to help you organize your work and schedule.
I've known students similar to you who have enjoyed great succes after one or two years of being mentored. Art schools are often very positive about helping students with mental health issues, because it's quite normal and unscary in those environments.
posted by mumimor at 7:41 AM on October 6, 2012

Both for your knowledge and for windykites, eccentric communications, both in person and through text, are a symptom of social anxiety and not a cause. The reason we get pissed off when we realize we're not making sense is that we actually have a really clear idea of what we want to communicate. What sends things off the rails is the anxiety that rises up when other humans are involved in the communication in question. Small comfort, lord knows, but keep in mind that your communication issues are caused by your anxiety. It is not the case that you are a shitty communicator whose penalty is social anxiety.

Garbled sentences are not an indication that you have a garbled mind, they are just one of the primary manifestations of social anxiety. One wouldn't lecture a chicken pox patient about having little red spots all over their body.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:56 AM on October 6, 2012

I found your post to be incredibly clear...

This is something to keep in mind too. You're going to be able to communicate well with some people and others will have trouble understanding you. This will always be true. Make sure you're not getting fooled by confirmation bias. I wouldn't be surprised if people do find you easy to interact with, but you don't remember those occasions because they're, well, not memorable.
posted by windykites at 10:39 AM on October 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I also found your post incredibly clear, and am surprised that you would have problems communicating at all. But for many non-NT types, writing is much easier than speaking.

I had some trouble communicating verbally when I was younger. I blamed most of it on moving from another country to the US and not speaking English. Here's what I found that helped, though it might be helpful to you.

a.) I changed schools every year or two. So every time I changed schools, I tried on a different "personality." I've tried being the teacher's pet, the bully, the quiet one, the loud one, etc. (Never the athletic one, because I'm not.) I started this in grade school. I finally settled into myself right about when I graduated university. (And I had to go to a foreign country and live with all exchange students NOT from a common country to figure it out.)

b.) During each experiment (how I think of them now), my peers ignored me more or less depending on how consistent my personality is. What I'm trying to say is: If you're trying too hard to be normal, you're faking who you are, and you may essentially be giving very strange signals. People won't get to know the context that is YOU when you tell a story. (Are you the serious guy? The morbid guy? etc) And that makes communication harder.

c.) You will always be able to communicate easier with people who are more like you. It's possible that your peers just don't have the necessary background / viewpoints to understand you. I communicate best with introverts and techie/geeky people. In times past, I've acted as people's English to English interpreter.

d.) If you can, get yourself a friend who truly understands you and other people. Try to hang out with this friend (but not be clingy) and listen to how he or she rephrases your sentences when you're not being understood.

e.) Watch TV or read books. I really liked the Big Bang Theory. How does Sheldon talk? Why is that weird? How does Lennard talk? Why is that awkward? (Also note: they do have friends to spend time with and who understands them.)

f.) If you know you are going to converse with someone or tell a story later, rehearse it in your head. I will probably sound Not Very Normal saying this: but I definitely rehearse my conversations and stories until I can get it straight. I know which parts are necessary, and which parts I can omit if the audience looks bored. I know which parts I can tell to which friends, and which parts to skip out for the more conservative crowd. I don't do this so much anymore (or rather, I've probably become more "normal" and do it on the fly), but I used to do it all the time.

g.) I still have some "quirks." I'm comfortable with that. When I'm tired, I'll make random noises to indicate my intent, and my SO would remind me to "use your words." So when I'm tired, I generally don't spend time with other people. Or if I do, I don't talk much. But I'm in a relationship, and I'm an introvert, so this might not work well with your social needs. (Also, almost everybody drops words and phrases when they are tired. You just might have to work harder to make sure it doesn't happen compared to other people, as I feel I have to.)

h.) Talk to a therapist.
posted by ethidda at 11:54 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Bloggess! And the fact that, having been there, I also know IT CAN GET BETTER. You might have to consult with another Dr. and/or therapist. Or several of each. The path to 'better' may be excruciatingly slow and full of roadblocks and complete f---ing morons with PhDs. Sorry, but it's true. It certainly was for me, and with the help of some utterly clueless and incompetent docs I blew two massive career opportunities, over the course of 4 years, before getting a handle on WTF was actually wrong.

What you wrote made me both cry and want to give you a hug. I know that feeling, and how it cuts into your bones and weighs on you constantly. How every eye-roll and blank stare from others screams out 'YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!!' but there's not even the vaguest hint as to what needs correcting. And your eagerness to prove yourself, your warmth and patience and dependability, remain unseen and unappreciated.

For me, some of the answer was in what I ate. The medical world has been slow to realize that nutrition has a huge effect on people's mental function. There's glucose intolerance. There's digestive yeast infections. Non-diabetic hypoglycemic conditions. Going to a nutritionist, or trying a protein-and-vegetable diet, might yield results.

But even if it's not a matter of what you eat...your writing was clear and, well, painfully comprehensive. Something in your treatment isn't working as it should, and your physicians need to know this. You should not be getting 'worse and worse'. You should not accept the current status quo as normal or acceptable. Be honest with those who might offer you support. You are not the first to walk this shitty, lonely road. Keep fighting for better because it IS attainable.

Best wishes.
posted by Kibby at 8:36 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest an assessment by a psychiatrist. There are many kinds of medication, and sometimes dosages need adjustment and medications need to be changed, or something else should be added.

Counseling in tandem with medication can be extremely helpful. Your university may have services you can use.

Before you even mentioned ADHD, by the end of your first paragraph, I was thinking you had it, not because you communicate poorly, because you don't, but because of the frustration and alienation (and I speak as one who, without Ritalin, feels just like you). It sounds like you're undermedicated. This can and does get better. And depression is often a result of the ADHD making us ineffective -- knowing we have big dreams, but unable to make them happen.

Being neurologically atypical is for life, and we need to adapt our treatment to our circumstances, changes in body chemistry, etc. On the positive side, ADHD is highly correlated with creativity, and medication won't take that away.

You might also find solace in your local CHADD chapter and the books of Dr. Edward Hallowell. Memail me if you want to talk!
posted by xenophile at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your responses! It was quite comforting to hear that this was not so rare a situation as I had thought, and I greatly appreciate the advice and support. :)
posted by Rosengeist at 9:51 AM on October 8, 2012

This story is not too unlike mine. I too feel like I am utterly different from everyone else around me. I see things differently, I communicate differently, and this is biting me in the ass throughout my life. I am just now starting to realize I may have ADHD (mostly on the hyperactive/impulsive side of things), and it's eerie how much of my life has been touched by this (or whatever it is I have). I am excited about eh prospect of being diagnosed ADHD (I have a psychologist's appt in a week and I hope he'll okay a screening), not because it gives me an excuse, but it identifies the issue, and I can finally, after 38 years, begin to properly address the issue.

I also found I likely have fructose malabsorption, which, as far as I know, is totally unrelated. ;-)
posted by grubi at 10:46 AM on October 8, 2012

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