Friday Sep 15, 2023

Episode 19: Questions and Answers: Redefining Identity Through Autism Discovery

Many questions around identity often come up for adults who have been masking their whole lives and discover later in life that they are Autistic.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, answer some of the questions sent to them from podcast listeners about identity and moving forward in life after autism discovery.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Hear answers to questions like, how do you know who you really are beyond the mask, can you still enjoy your masked life and live as your authentic self, are you defined by your autistic traits?
  2. Understand the process of self-discovery and how it can manifest for different people, as well as some ways to express your newfound identity.
  3. Learn strategies to reshape the way you structure your time, commitments, and priorities to protect your energy and live a more balanced life.

The process of self-discovery and learning can be challenging. You might feel grief that can arise from losing or feeling disconnected from the masked version of your life, but you also can experience a feeling of liberation as you explore the new version of yourself, and you’ll have the opportunity to understand and honor your needs.


What is Masking in Autism? Autistic Masking Explained (blog post):

Autistic Masking Workbook:

As a podcast listener, you can use this coupon code to enjoy a 25% discount on the individual workbook or the workbook for clinicians.



PATRICK CASALE: So, this is part two of our identity conversation. If you tuned in last week, Megan and I talked about identity from a pretty nuanced lens, both clinically, and professionally, and personally. And today, we are going to focus more on questions that came into our Divergent Conversations Instagram account and Megan's Neurodivergent Insights email. So, Megan, what you got?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, so we got a lot of questions that came in around identity and masking or unmasking, which makes just so much sense to me based on our conversation last week about how unmasking often triggers a whole identity crisis. And then we have some other questions. 

So, we'll all shoot off with the first question. There's a lot of questions in it. So, I'll go ahead and read it all. But maybe we can break it apart. 

"So, can you please do an episode on figuring out who the real you is? I'm torn about the whole concept of unmasking because I actually love the life I have and have created while being masked. However, it's taking a huge toll on my health, anxiety, depression, and illness after illness, fatigue. How do I maintain the beautiful life I have, but still be my authentic self to model for my neurodivergent kids? How do you know who you really are?"

So, there's a lot in that. Your face is like-

PATRICK CASALE: That is a [INDISCERNIBLE 00:01:35] question.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, and I mean, I think we should break it up. 


MEGAN NEFF: I'll start with the first part of the question. And I think this is why I was drawn to this question of, like what happens when you actually really like the life you've created through your autistic mask?

And I actually relate to this. You know, I have a draft of a reel from like 18 months ago. I never hit publish, which I think is interesting. But the reel I made was, basically, about how sometimes I miss my old life. And that's actually true for me. I wouldn't go back. But there was a life my mask self created I feel like I couldn't do now. Like, partly, this stamina, now that I know what it's like to live unmasked, I just want to have the stamina for it. But like the idea of having a career in academia because that was kind of the trajectory I was going. My masked self is the person who created that, or even how, like, I was a lot more social. There are things I do miss about my old life and that's complicated.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, you have mentioned plenty of times on the podcast how your life feels kind of insulated and small, in a lot of ways, socially, especially, I think. So, I think, like, it makes so much sense to say I miss certain components of this life that I had, that I either am grieving, that I can no longer kind of withstand, or accept, or tolerate. I don't know, that's not the right word, but I think what I'm trying to say is like, there are portions of life where you're going to grieve the fact that you can no longer participate in them the way that you used to. 

And it makes so much sense what this person is saying about like, "I'm getting fatigued, I'm getting sick, I'm getting really burnt out, I'm getting really tired." And it's so often for so many of us becomes like one or the other. Like, you either prioritize and protect your energy, and you say I can no longer participate in A, B, C, D, E, F, G, which so many people don't want to do, and understandably so, or I continue to push myself through this life that I've created and live in. And the cost is all of the health concerns, all of the fatigue, all of the energy which can then lead to what? Substance use, struggles with, you know, just stress tolerance, struggles in relationships, struggles in the family system, etc. 

And I think, unfortunately, so many people have to choose one or the other. It doesn't seem like there's a good middle ground for a lot of people.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. Well, and that probably ties back into kind of our all-or-nothing thinking patterns of… and I definitely feel like I've fell into that of like, just creating, like, I'm done. Like, I'm done with all of it, washing my hands off it. 

And yeah, so moderation. Like, creating a life with moderation is really hard. It's interesting, that's something Luke, my husband will say to me a lot of, like, "You just don't do moderation." Like, I do extremes and so…

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, it's one or the other, it's black and white in so many ways, which sucks because if you could find the gray, if you could come a little closer from one or the other, we could probably have more of the things that we grieve losing when we realize like, this is what I have to do in order to survive or protect my energy or capacity. 

This is going to be a divergent moment, and it may not make a lot of sense, and I hope that it will. I've openly talked about my history of gambling addiction. For a lot of people who go through recovery and sustained recovery, there is grief of your old life, there is a grief process of the people you used to spend time with, the places you used to go, the rituals, the activities, the familiarities because it becomes so deeply ingrained and embedded in terms of like, expectation, what to look forward to, familiarity, comfortability, et cetera, and it becomes routine, and it becomes habitual. 

And it's so hard because you grieve even though you know how painful, and devastating, and negative it is for you, you still grieve it anyway. And I almost associate the two in some ways of like, grieving the unmasked version of you after you've created this masked version of your life that you do enjoy in a lot of ways and areas.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that. First of all, I think that actually connects really well. And I appreciate you sharing that about kind of grieving. I haven't heard that language before, but I really liked that, that resonates. 

But, oh, yeah, grieving the masked self. I think I sometimes talk about, like, bearing the masked self. Like, before we can truly address our internalized ableism and live into ourselves, we have to bury our masked self, we have to grieve who we, I guess, part of us wanted to be, right? Like, part of me absolutely wanted to be that mask, this kind of academic, someone who's comfortable with public speaking, like, who can go to conferences with ease. Like, I wanted to be that version of me, part of me did. 

So, absolutely, there has been grief. While there's been liberation, there's also been grief. And I would say, I hold the liberation in one hand and the grief in the other hand throughout this process.

PATRICK CASALE: That's so well said. And I agree 100% that I grieve the masked version of me who was like really social, and outgoing, and could go to lots of networking events within my community because I love connecting with people. I just have had to really change the way I connect and which venues in which capacities. 

And again, we've said this so many times, and people keep asking for it, but I had to rely on alcohol to live a masked version of myself, to be able to show up socially, to be able to network, to be able to go to these events every night of the week. I had to rely on substance use to sustain my abilities to show up. 

And then, the other side of the coin is everything that comes with that in terms of, you know, sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, dependency, all the things, and it just becomes too much. 

So, I do agree with this grief liberation, holding them in both hands of like, and we've talked about this a million times. Like, grieving just like what you thought you could have accomplished, or done as a child, or a teenager, or young adult. Like, what you romanticized about, like, your life becoming and looking like.

MEGAN NEFF: One thing I appreciate about what you just said, it kind of was like a reality shake for me. I think, I'm almost three years out, like, especially, as I get more distanced from my old life, and for me, like, old life, new life, like 2020, like the pandemic was a really concrete marker of old life, new life. I think there's a tendency to idealize my old life a little bit of like, what I was capable of, what life was like, but if I really go back, the reality was, yes, I could go to conferences with more ease. 

Right now I think a conference would totally overwhelm me. And it would be a struggle. So, there were things I could do that I would come home and I would crash. And I was not a very present mother. And I would come home from a social situation, and that's when I would drink. I also struggled with alcohol in the past when I was masking more and I didn't have language for it, but I was trying to self-soothe from the sensory overwhelm. 

So, after a sensory-rich day, which was five days a week, I would be overstimulated, I'd be so fatigued, I'd be misusing alcohol. And it actually is easy for me to forget those pieces when I can get into a headspace where I'm idealizing what I… It's interesting, the language I'm using, I don't know if I agree with it is what I used to be capable of. I'm putting air quotes around that. 

But I think that's the narrative that sometimes comes on from me of like, I used to do things that now feel really, really hard for me to do. And I'm not sure how much it's because I'm more self-aware of my body now and how much… Like, if I've just kind of lost the conditioning to survive these terrible things. But yeah, that was a lot of complicated thoughts thrown at you, Patrick.

PATRICK CASALE: It's interesting, you know, like, we've been on episodes, or I feel like my brain is just not processing well, and I'm very slow to pick up on what we're talking about. And right now it's like, supercharged. So, I just picked up on everything you said, and I have so many responses to what you said. So, I'm trying to, like, collect myself. 

But I think almost what I'm hearing you say is like, there's this grief of like, "Capable of." Or what it used to look like. But I think that your liberation side is like, this understanding of like, look at this life you've created by not participating in what you used to feel really energized by and "Capable of."

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah, like I feel much more aligned with myself because of long… and long COVID is just a huge factor. I imagine if that wasn't a factor and I'd feel a ton better, but I do struggle less. I still struggle with fatigue, but less than I did. I'm able to live an alcohol-free life like, and that was something that was really hard to do in my old life. I don't even know what I was answering but…

PATRICK CASALE: This liberation that you now experience because if you draw that line in the sand of like, COVID, 2020, this is when life has really shifted for me. What I've also heard you talk about very publicly is how you show up as a mother, how you show up as a partner, what you've been able to create in your business, how you've been able to show up in terms of advocacy effort, and I wonder if that ever happens if COVID won. One, COVID doesn't happen. Two, if you're still in academia, and like going to conferences, and like pushing yourself so damn hard all the time. I imagine this version of you isn't here and it's a [CROSSTALK 00:13:06] itself.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, and I think the price, it's interesting, this is the first time I'm putting this in words. I think the price where I really would have paid the most is in my parenting and in my health. If I-

PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. 

MEGAN NEFF: …kept, yeah, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: So, that is a very, very, very elongated response to that question that was just asked by that person on your email. 

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. Well, and you know, a lot of these questions can kind of become a springboard to diverge into conversations.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. So, we appreciate that question very much.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. And then the second part was about maintaining the beautiful life and living authentically. I think that's finding the Goldilocks of moderation, which good luck with that. If you figure it out, come tell us how to do it.

PATRICK CASALE: I think that's what we're all seeking, right? Is like, how do I maintain this thing that feels so elusive to me yet with the complete understanding that I cannot sustain this in this capacity?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. And that's what actually pacing systems, and I know Mel, I don't think they talked about it on the podcast, they were on, but on their website, and Mel was the autistic physician. I know they also talk about pacing systems. I talk about pacing systems a lot too. I think finding a pacing system and there's a lot of different kinds. I have three that I talk about a lot, spoon theory, the traffic light system, and then energy accounting, using a pacing system to help pace your energy expenditure. It's good for anyone with chronic illness, but it's also really helpful for neurodivergent people, and that can help with the moderation. So, I would throw pacing systems into the recommendations there.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm going to throw my two cents on top of that, if that's okay.

MEGAN NEFF: Of course. 

PATRICK CASALE: I think that what Megan and I said, black and white thinking, right? Especially, concrete thinking, even if you're able to, if you want to maintain some portion of this existence in this life, it's about, like, picking and choosing the moments that are important to you, picking and choosing the things that you want to put your energy into, which is exactly what Megan's saying in terms of pacing systems. 

But really, that's how I would envision it and conceptualize it is like, if I took a step back and examine life for what it is right now, what are the places that I can put my energy into knowing that it still gives me a return? Versus like saying yes to everything, people pleasing, showing up to every event, showing up to every social obligation. I don't think that's going to work very well. I think that just continues to perpetuate the burnout, the depression, the fatigue, the anxiety, so…

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. That reminds me of another exercise. I used to use this a lot when I worked in healthcare settings with people. It's called a value compass. And if you think about like, 10 boxes, and it's got different kind of domains of your life. So, maybe family, parenting, partnership, school, work, spirituality, physical health, like different domains, and then you rank on a one to 10 scale, how high of a value is it? And then you go back, and you rank how much effort are you putting into it, and then you look for gaps. 

So, let's say, work is a three value for you, but you're putting in 10 effort. That's a big gap. If parenting is like a 10 value, but you're putting in two effort, that's a big gap. Your quality of life is going to be lower if we're not expending our energy where our values are. So, the life compass, kind of value map, overlaying that on top of a pacing system, in my mind is like the ideal path for figuring out this moderation piece. 

PATRICK CASALE: I agree, 100%. 

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, our next question, "How can you find your own identity/personality after late diagnosis and constant high masking?" I've got thoughts, but I'll let you first go, if you have thoughts.

PATRICK CASALE: My thoughts were going to be that you have thoughts. I was going to say in our first episode you kind of alluded to this with your first step of your workbook that you have. So, I don't know if you want to elaborate on that because I think that's maybe where you're going to go anyway.

MEGAN NEFF: You have read my energy, or are in my mind. Yeah, pleasure and play, which is where we left off in the last episode, I think. Chase your pleasure with curiosity because… and that gets back to when we mask, we are typically cueing into the experiences of the people around us. And then that is informing how we're going to show up. And so, that can mess with like, knowing what our preferences are, knowing what our desires are, knowing what brings us joy, what brings us delight, what we don't like. 

Secondly, a lot of us respond to the over stimulation through dissociating from our body, which again, dissociates us from pleasure. And so, starting with following your pleasure and your interests, I think are really concrete and powerful ways to start exploring your identity.

PATRICK CASALE: Yep, that was basically what I was going to say. So, great answer.

MEGAN NEFF: So, basically, go back and listen to the last episode if you have that question.


MEGAN NEFF: Okay, next question. This is actually pretty much the same question. "When you realize you're a head masker the question of who you are really arises, and I don't know." I actually don't have much new to add to that to that. Do you, Patrick? Kind of same...

PATRICK CASALE: Same answer, same answer.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, same answer.

PATRICK CASALE: What Megan just said and just listen to our last episode. I think we broke that down pretty succinctly, so…

MEGAN NEFF: Mm-hmm (affirmative.) Okay, so this is getting away from masking. So, we're diverging. I really like this question, though. "So, since my own diagnosis, things that I thought were my personality, I've since learned are probably autism, not so much ADHD because that feels separate from personality." Okay, we should just tag that piece to talk about at some point, Patrick, back to the question. "So, I had been in a bit of an identity crisis, wondering what is me and who am I? What I thought is my personality is actually autism then what is my personality? Is it my special interest? My unique combination of autistic traits? I have no answers, but this might be…" Oh. I read too far. 


MEGAN NEFF: Okay, that's the question.

PATRICK CASALE: That is such a good question. Do you have thoughts? 

MEGAN NEFF: No, go ahead. 

PATRICK CASALE: I think this is where like therapist me comes in, where it's like, "Oh, both ends." Right? Like, I think that yes, the answer to your question about like, is it my special interest? Is it my personality traits? Or is it like autistic traits, and tendencies, and characteristics? Like, yes, that is a part of your identity. And it's not all of your identity. So, that's where the complicated, like, nuanced conversation comes in, is like, yeah, a lot of your identity is going to be informed by autism because of the lens that you used before, the correct lens of seeing the world in that way, in that light. So, what are your thoughts, Megan?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I think like similar vein of thought of like, just because it's connected to your autism doesn't make it any less you. So, there's this thing that happened in neuroscience in the last 20, 30 years, where all of a sudden, we can see things on brain scans that we never thought we should be able to see like empathy, love, like the experience of love. And what started happening was this almost reductionistic narrative that because we can pinpoint it to brain circuits, it somehow takes away from the experience of love or empathy because we can scientifically decode it. So, once we can pinpoint the cause of something, scientifically, the temptation is to develop a reductionistic narrative around it. 

And I could see the same thing here, just because perhaps your social justice is driven by an autistic trait doesn't take away from the fact that that's part of you. We understand it better. So, I think what I often caution people from is falling into that trap of that reductionistic thinking that because we can understand it, it's now reduced to that.

PATRICK CASALE: Right. It also brings to mind like, this is what I used to see a lot of in, and I worked in crisis units, and crisis centers, people who maybe suffer or struggle with bipolar disorder. And there's this tendency to say, "My behavior, my action is because of the bipolar disorder, right? Like, my action is because of my mania." Probably true in some instances, but not all instances. Like, so not allowing for, so often we default to that. Like, I did this thing because of this thing, I showed up this way because of this. 

And I think that it's really easy to then default to I only see the world and lens, or the world through this new-found autistic diagnosis. And that's something that I myself, definitely, experienced for the first year of like, discovery because you want to start looking at everything from different angles, and perspectives, and perceptions. So, I think it's quite normal for that to default to this is how I start to envision and see the world and my place in it.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. And so, I'll share some of my personal experience with this because I actually experienced something similar post-discovery. You know, my husband and I were talking a bit about, like, our early dating and our marriage, frankly, of just like, wow, this lens kind of unlocks a lot. 

And one of the things I was realizing is that a lot of the reason my spouse was initially attracted to me was actually autistic traits, right? Like, I was willing to question social norms within the very fundamentalist tradition we were in. I was outspoken, and again, being an outspoken girl in fundamentalism that was something that was attractive to him, and not necessarily super common, my love of ideas and philosophy, my directness was something that my spouse was drawn to. 

And so, I had this moment of, does it take away? Because these are autistic traits? Does it take away from them being Megan Anna? 


MEGAN NEFF: And so, was he like, does it change the narrative if it's like, well, he was drawn to me because of my autism, not me? But again, that's that reductionistic narrative of separating my autistic traits from who I am. But I do think it's a natural, it's part of the unpacking process to have these kinds of questions come up.


MEGAN NEFF: Okay, I feel us diverging from this.

PATRICK CASALE: Where do you want to diverge to?

MEGAN NEFF: I don't know. We have the ADHD therapist question, but that gets more into therapy identity.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I think that because we went so in-depth on episode one of this series of just talking about identity, it's really important, again, to just be curious about these things. And I think that these questions are really common. That's one thing we want to really highlight and normalize is just the fact that, like, this is a part of the discovery process, you're going to have a lot of questions, and curiosities, and confusion when you experience a new diagnosis, especially, one that is pretty life-altering in a lot of ways. It doesn't change childhood experience, teenage years. Like, all of that stuff is still your own experience regardless of the diagnosis or not. It's just putting a newfound lens, and understanding, and perspective to life. And I think with that comes a lot of questioning. And I think that's really, really normal.

MEGAN NEFF: I call it the dresser drawer. So, again, I think more on images than words. So, when I was first experiencing this, and at the point, actually, I bumped up my therapy from once weekly to twice weekly in the first three months post-discovery, and that was super helpful for me. But the metaphor I came up with to describe it to my therapist was like a dresser because what I was visually picturing was opening a dresser, like opening a drawer, unpacking it through this new lens, closing it, opening another drawer. 

So, like opening early child experiences, opening all past romantic relationships, opening social experiences. Like, opening different stages of our life. There's so many drawers that we're opening and sifting through, often frantically in, especially, those first few months. I remember feeling like my head was buzzing constantly. I wish I'd written more down because I was just getting like aha moment after aha moment in those first few months.

PATRICK CASALE: I agree 100%. I think that's a wonderful, like way to conceptualize it through that image because I was doing the same thing. And I think I was doing the same thing. I still do the same thing from time to time, just not as frequently now that I have better understanding. 

But at first, you really do. It's almost like unpacking a suitcase. Like, you are taking everything out and like, taking a look at it. And like, then you're putting it away because you're like, "Okay, now that makes sense. Oh, that social experience makes sense. Oh, like this way that I felt about you know, A, B, and C makes sense. The way I experienced childhood makes more sense." Like, everything starts to… you start to see it from a completely different lens and light.

But that that process can also be unbelievably exhausting, unbelievably confusing. If you don't have support in place, like, that is first and foremost. I think that's so important to highlight as well.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I think that is a great time to, if possible, work with a therapist, if not already, just… Some of the feedback I get a lot is, like, the people in my life are tired of hearing about this because it kind of, you know, I've talked about this before where I was, social interests become like our lens. So, there's often a lot happening in those first three to six months. Like, A, we're going through the dresser, we're opening all the drawers. So, a lot of our energies go into that. B, for a lot of people autism or ADHD becomes a special interest. So, we're researching, and we're reading, and we're intaking a ton of information. And then we want to talk about it a ton. 

Oh, back to, like, feedback I get, people are tired of hearing about it. But the other one I get is like people saying, "I feel like I'm kind of manic right now. Where people are telling me I'm kind of manic." And it's this flight of ideas as you're unpacking paired with special interest energy, paired with like a huge epiphany which can cause us like surge of energy, not always positive, some positive energy, some kind of agitated. And so, it's a whirlwind.

PATRICK CASALE: A whirlwind is a good word for it to describe the experience. So, you know, I think if any of you are listening and you're relating, or resonating, or you're feeling like, what is happening to me during this post-diagnostic discovery period of my life? It makes a lot of sense, both clinically, from like mental health perspectives, and personally. I think it makes a lot of sense. And I do think that you start to see the world in different shades after this happens. And I think you start to see the world and everything that you do. 

And that can be challenging if you start to think about like, every action, every action. Like, you're kind of dissecting it and kind of examining it, that's kind of my process. So, it can be quite mentally exhausting when every response to an email, every time you start to experience like this anxiety around receiving messages, every time you go out socially you experience A, B, and C. Like, it's a lot to take in. So, just give yourself grace throughout this process because it is a life-altering and life-changing experience.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, this is going to diverge just a little bit. But can we talk a little bit about pendulum swings? And this gets into a question that also comes up in some of the consulting work I do. I'm curious if you see this. 

So, when someone, they find this identity, for a lot of people, not for everyone, but for a lot of people, it's really validating, it's really liberating, and then they get plugged in to autistic or ADHD culture. And then there is almost a, so social justice values come online, but almost a like anger that some people get trapped in of like a defensive anger to where everything is like, "Oh, that's ableism, that's ableism, that's ableism." And there's a ton of projection that then starts happening to the people around them, to I think they're probably working through their anger and grief, but it's showing up in a way that's not really working for that person very well, or working for their key relationships. So, they've almost pendulum swung from like, fawn response to fight response, and then get stuck there. 

And first of all, I want to normalize, if we were to map out developmental process post-discovery, I actually think it's really developmentally appropriate to swing over to fight mode. I then see a progression for some people, not for everyone, where they're able to integrate it in a way and kind of get out of that fight mode. Okay, I'm going to pause. First of all, is any of this making sense? Is any of this resonating with you?

PATRICK CASALE: Makes perfect sense. I actually have several people in my mind who are immediately coming to mind. And like you said, it makes sense when the pendulum swings from fawn response to fight response. And it makes sense why there's anger. And it makes sense why you want to stand up for not only yourself but your newfound community. I think it makes a ton of sense. 

And we all know that autistic people and social justice go hand in hand. But it's so easy to get stuck in the anger. And it's so easy for… and this is how I see it show up. I moderate a large Facebook group. I see a lot of people attacking other people for usage of language. And usually, it's like someone who's like, "Hey, looking for a therapist in California who specializes in ASD." Then the responses immediately, "Actually, we don't use that language anymore." And whatever the response is. And it comes up a lot around the usage of language, this anger of like, get it right, use of formative-based language, identity-based language. 

I think the anger is valid. I also think that there are other ways that you can have these types of conversations that don't destroy you so much because anger is an emotion that is not meant to be used 24/7. It is an exhaustive emotion. It's a part of our fight-or-flight response. It's a way that we show up and that we show that we care, that we're concerned. It's a way that we really can create change. But like if you get caught in it, it can destroy you emotionally.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

PATRICK CASALE: Does that make sense?

MEGAN NEFF: It makes so much sense. I mean, if we stay in fight mode, right? Like, that is wreaking havoc on our nervous system. It's also like, I am so thankful for the people who were gentle with me when I first was learning.


MEGAN NEFF: No one comes into this conversation knowing all the language, understanding it at all. Like, you and I have been in this conversation a long time, we still step in it, that's part of showing up in the world. Wanting to learn is risking stepping in it. And so, it's also about building a culture that is inviting. Like, I hear this from parents all the time of like, parents who are allistic, like, "I want to learn from autistic adults. But I go into those spaces, and like I'm terrified of speaking because if I like said this once, and then…" So, it's also about creating a culture that is open to educating. 

And I realize, like, that's a loaded sentence I just said because there's labor in educating. So, we've got to balance that out. And not all spaces can be education spaces.

PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. And I think there's even this underlying anger that can exist pretty consistently when you start to examine society and how it's not necessarily set up for neurodivergent people to flourish, to be accepted, to not be discriminated against. But again, it feels consuming.

MEGAN NEFF: If you're locked in it, yeah. It's not about not having anger. Like, anyone in a marginalized group, like, should have anger. And anger is not about emotion, it's energizing, it's mobilizing. But it's the getting frozen in the anger, it's getting locked in it that is terrible for our health, and-

PATRICK CASALE: [CROSSTALK 00:37:51] pumping, pumping, pumping [CROSSTALK 00:37:55] cortisol through your body. And it's just not great for your nervous system. It's not easy to regulate yourself when you're trapped in it. 

And we also understand that there are reasons to feel trapped in it at times, and just trying to move that pendulum a little bit to the middle, a little bit, even one little space over so that it doesn't consume because I think when it consumes that's where a lot of interactions go awry too that you didn't necessarily mean to have social engagements or professional interactions go a certain way, but because you're trapped in the anger things come across in a way where you can't always take it back.

MEGAN NEFF: Right, right. So, when you're coming from a more integrative place, it's like you're honoring the anger experience, you're able to self-attune to it, but then you're also able to work through it to a degree to where like, you know, yeah, if you're in a cross neurotype interaction, you can maybe have a more effective interaction with that person that I would say actually makes the world better because maybe it's led to some education or led to some awareness. It's not perpetuated the misunderstandings that often happen across neurotypes. 

PATRICK CASALE: Right. Yeah because I think if we're approaching conversations always with anger, like people are entrenched in how they communicate and believe in a lot of times we're not going to get a point across, we're not going to help change someone's mind, we're not going to help educate when we're in a place of anger. But if you're coming to it with curiosity, so it's a much different experience. 

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. I love that, curiosity. Curiosity, I mean, last podcast, remember, like, openness for constriction. Like, anger tends to constrict space whereas curiosity tends to open space. 


MEGAN NEFF: And we need a lot more curiosity in this world, we need a lot more dialogue, and openness, and searching. And again, not to dismiss anger. We need both. 


MEGAN NEFF: I feel anxious about this podcast all of a sudden, and I'm like, I wish my words were working better.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I think that when we start to dissect things that create, and evoke, and elicit emotions, right? Like, we're talking about stuff that's heavy, we're talking about stuff that for a lot of people is valid. Anger is valid for a lot of people in our communities, especially, when we start to break down intersectionality, right? So, we get that. And I think when we start to talk about this stuff, I think you and I have this propensity to try to get it right. Almost like, I don't want to say the wrong thing right now, I don't want to like have to then deal with the consequences of like commentary, and responses, and feedback. So, it feels normal as a human experience to be like, "Ooh, this is making me anxious."

MEGAN NEFF: I think what I'm realizing is making me anxious is that I feel like it could sound like I'm trying to police people's anger or their emotional response. And like, A, I don't want to do that. B, I want to normalize, like, this.

PATRICK CASALE: This is, again, nuanced, right? So, if we go from like, anger over the neurodivergent and neurodiversity affirmative movements, I think that there's a lot of ways that we can have further conversations. 

Circling back to identity, I kind of think we answered the questions that we received. Now, what we will say to everyone who's listening is that we get a lot of emails, and a lot of comments, and a lot of DMs. And we are really, really, really thankful for all of the support. I mean, it feels like it happened immediately. And it feels a bit overwhelming, if I can just speak from my own experience. And we know we can't get to all of them. But we do read them. I do read all of the DMs and all of the comments that come in. To Megan's advice, I don't respond to all of them because it's impossible. But we are going to incorporate a lot of your comments and questions into episodes. And we are going to try to do episodes based on topics that people are suggesting because we want to get to everything and we know recording once a week doesn't always allow for that. I am just noticing Megan's shift in energy.

MEGAN NEFF: Well, it felt to me like you were ending the podcast, so I followed.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I think that's where we're at, yes. Unless we have other stuff to touch upon. I think we're at a good place to stop. And I think that hopefully, we answered your questions about identity. We know that we could not only do two episodes on identity, we could do a entire season on identity. And we're going to have other guests on to talk about intersectionality. And I think that will also open up even more questions for dialogue around identity, which is, the beauty in these conversations is that we could diverge all day and still never have a finite response. But I love what you said about openness versus constriction when we are starting to think about identity, and moving into a place of curiosity, to really try to conceptualize it from that lens. Okay.

MEGAN NEFF: So, this-

PATRICK CASALE: This is our awkward goodbye time because-

MEGAN NEFF: Awkward goodbye. 

PATRICK CASALE: You know, it's interesting when you are spending so much time with someone despite never meeting them in person, being able to intuitively pick up on energy, and I think that is a blessing and a curse sometimes for me. 

So, anyway, thank you so much for listening to the Divergent Conversations Podcast. New episodes are out every single Friday on all major platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. And goodbye.

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