Every time I go somewhere, I get “the look” from people, and it’s not flattering. “The look” is that expression of faux concern, that unwanted curiosity without compassion, that pretending-to-be-clinical-as-an-excuse-to-not-mind-one’s-own-business, that question of why this person with the unsteady appearance is out in the world.
I get “the look” many times–when I’m at the grocery store maneuvering a heavy basket and grocery bags. It’s a “what are you doing here” type of a look. It’s a look that reminds me of what would happen if you somehow combined Nell with Bridget Jones.
Like Nell, I have struggled both with social isolation and a feeling of being both very intelligent and radically different, in a way that causes people some unease. People get nervous because NLD causes me to not fit in precisely with social grooves. I’m more on the periphery, more of a wallflower observer. I’ve been asked several times if I’m blind. I have excellent vision, but my eye contact is fleeting and inconsistent. In an interview, Jodie Foster observes that “it’s not safe to be in the world when you’re like Nell.” This is true, and I’d add that when you have attributes of these qualities, albeit in milder forms, people are extremely judgmental and lacking in understanding.
Like Bridget Jones, I don’t stand out as much as Nell would, but I feel out of place anytime I’m not home alone. Anxiety builds up when I go places or deal with people. If I ever have a relationship, if finances allow, I would like to own my own property so I have a place to write, be alone, think, and relax. Alone time is not pathological; it’s like oxygen, especially given how much resistance society has towards socially-impacting differences and appearances.
Bridget Jones struggles to say the right things at the right times and blend into social scenes. She is also susceptible–in a more extreme way than people without major, ongoing social stress–to people trying to impose their opinions on her about what she should do. And she experiences both internal and external self-consciousness. I totally identify with that. Sometimes my external self-consciousness looks worse than what I feel, which is very disconcerting and no fun for other people, either.
I get why people sometimes stare, but it’s rather gauche and doesn’t help me feel more acclimatized to social settings. In fact, I feel unwelcome and alienated when I sense that people think there’s something wrong with me. When I was in first grade, kids liked playing Helen Keller. I didn’t experience being Helen as just a game, however, I really felt kind of like that–isolatd, treated differently, seen by others as not having fully-working senses–all the time, like my eyes were squeezed half-shut as people rushed past, grabbed my hands, and walked me to the water pump.
Or when we played “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” In that game, I felt also felt different, not just for the moment, but long after the game ended. When children become adults who can no longer chant folklore, the inquiry persists in stares, in the silently-taunting “what’s wrong with you” look. I wish people would get to know me, and other people with NLD and similar conditions, and our talents, rather than making these unqualified judgments.