Reverse Culture Shock: Going From Autistic Thinking to Living
When I picture a happy, peaceful moment, I envision myself sitting on my couch and writing an essay. It’s morning, and the sunlight is streaming in as I pour out my thoughts.
I love writing essays because they are a chance to sort through my thoughts. I have LOTS of thoughts. Thoughts on autism. Thoughts on running a private practice. Thoughts on our culture. Thoughts on what it means to move through this world as a human, and as an autistic person.
I frequently experience something and then my head analyzes it in great detail. What does this even say about my life? What does this even say about our culture? Why did it happen that way? What could possibly change it?
I would surmise that many autistics are like this: a background program running as we’re living life. The program is constantly assessing, analyzing, processing, and more. I tend to most align with other people who think deeply on this level as well. It’s one reason I love Medium so much, it’s full of people who want to examine topics and think critically. So this world of thinking is my culture. It is where I am at home.
I recently left that home to travel to India for a wedding - a Punjabi wedding to be specific. Why does that matter? Punjabi weddings are multi-day events with many different ceremonies and events. It was a whirlwind from the moment I got there. It was event after event, and between each event was more time with friends or family, or traveling to the next event.
Everything was so new and different that there was no space for my brain to think. There was so much to take in that it was like the analyzing part of my brain was shut off.
I was just present to life and living it.
I didn’t realize it until I had a spare moment to look at Medium on my phone. As I perused some of the Medium articles, all I could think was how trivial most of the topics felt. How irrelevant articles were to the world I was seeing and experiencing.
People talk about culture shock when you go to another country. What I experienced was reverse culture shock. Being in India made me think about and experience my home culture differently.
Suddenly so many of the things I thought about didn’t matter so much. Many of the things that stressed me out at home seemed inconsequential.
As I showed up to event after event in India, I experienced the joy that everyone felt about the new couple and getting to spend time together (dozens of people traveled from all over India to be together).
Spare time was spent singing and dancing, or prepping for the next event. None of us were diving into psychology or work or other topics that I normally spend my time thinking about.
I know this was a temporary state for all of us involved, but it made me feel like I was looking back at my home life like a human staring at a goldfish in a glass bowl - knowing there is so much more to life than that little glass bowl. To a goldfish, the water in that bowl is all there is, like my thinking and writing is all there is to me at times.
The other thing about culture shock is that it’s not something you can quite put your finger on. It’s more of a felt sense. A felt sense that something is very different here.
Truthfully, I like both cultures. I love my world of writing, and it was also a great experience to just be for a while. To feel no call to think or write deeply. To just flow from the next thing to the next thing.
I suspect that neither culture is desirable in isolation. We need both. We need chances to do both. And this was my call to maybe jump out of my fishbowl a little more.
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