Saturday, April 23, 2016

And All I Know Is Guilt For Being Different

When I was a kid, Chumbawamba's Tubthumping became a surprise one-hit wonder in the US. My mom found the song catchy enough to warrant us buying her the album (called Tubthumper), and as I got older I actually came to appreciate the entire album, especially during my teenage years when I, like most people of that age, began to become upset with the status quo and realized change was needed.

As an adult, I actually have all of their albums on my iPod. (I swear I'm not an anarchist, just someone who believes in making the world a better place.) The song I find myself going back to over and over again, however, is on Tubthumper, the first album we bought. It's called Smalltown, and it really reflected how I felt during my high school years - afraid that everyone knew I didn't belong here and that it was only a matter of time before I was driven away.

The line that struck me the most then - and still strikes me now - is "And all I know / Is guilt for being different." I was more than aware by the time I was in high school that I was different from everyone else, but I wasn't entirely certain as to exactly how, just that they liked certain things and I liked certain other things and that I found a lot of their social rituals tiresome and unnecessary (the song, incidentally, says, "There are unwritten rules, unspoken words"). Of course, when I was diagnosed at age 20, I found my answers, and more than ever, I felt guilty for being different. Although I was relieved, I had to sort myself and my feelings out, and for a while I really did worry about being a burden on people who knew me.

Fortunately, I broke free from that and know it's just propaganda designed to make organizations like Autism Speaks more money, but every so often I have intense moments of guilt. I wonder if I wasn't an autistic child if I'd have moved out of my parents' house by now. I wonder if they're feeling financially burdened by me still living here. I wonder if I'll ever have a job, if I'll ever be financially secure on my own, if I'll ever amount to anything - and there I sit, staring off into space, feeling ashamed and pathetic...and guilty.

I know more than guilt for being different now, but I definitely still know it, and it's not necessarily something that's easy to unlearn since it's so ingrained in me from growing up my entire life being seen as some sort of social "other." I sincerely hope it's something that someday I can finally fully unlearn as I continue to take pride in my differences instead.


  1. I have been feeling similar guilt (we got a lot in common, huh?). What's interesting is the fact that I was diagnosed at 12, and you weren't until you were 20. And yet similar issues are there! I've had several comments on my film saying we should do away with labels, that Asperger's is really a variation of "normal," and that labels actually increase one's mental health problems. I agree with her to an extent (I've let my label bother me too much), but I've known too many people who were diagnosed later that have just as many mental health issues! A girl I know was diagnosed at 18 and had eating disorders before then. An older man I know (50's I think) was diagnosed way late (I think 40's) and he has meltdowns even at his age.

    Out of curiosity, how has the label played a role in your life and what's your take on it?

    1. The label provided me with a sense of relief, actually. It taught me that I wasn't broken, just different, and it helped me heal to some extent.

      I did take some time to adjust, though. I initially felt like someone that society was going to automatically reject - in fact, maybe that I had been rejected before I even started trying to fit in. But I realized that this wasn't the case, that people like Autism Speaks wanted me to feel that way and that I was an acceptable human being just the way everyone else was.

      tl;dr the label helped a LOT. I found that knowing there were other people like me actually made me accept myself more.