Strawberry Friends: Forming Supportive Friendships while Neurodivergent

Strawberry Friends: Forming Supportive Friendships while Neurodivergent

About Sadie

As well as being a self-connection coach and shadow worker, Sadie is a recovering people pleaser, life-long perfectionist and chronic procrastinator. After escaping the corporate world to break free from chronic burnout, she is embracing what it means to be her whole messy self – in work, life and play – using curiosity and compassion as touchstones and reminders to stay open, playful and kind.

Website: http://www.thiscuriouslifecoaching.com

Instagram: @thiscuriouslifecoaching

Podcast Description

“To love someone long-term is to attend a thousand funerals of the people they used to be.”

This quote by Heidi Priebe beautifully summarizes what I’m talking about in this episode – neurodiversity and nuances in friendships – with my guest Sadie. It’s a subject I’ve been wanting to cover for ages. 

Personally, I was diagnosed with ADHD two and a half years ago. Sadie was recently diagnosed with Autism. Today, we discuss it all: letting friendships go, building new ones, and building up new versions of existing friendships after learning you’re neurodiverse. 

There are so many blanket statements about making and keeping friends. But if we dive into these nuances and subtleties in our friendships, this is what’s going to make it easier to keep them.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Sadie’s experience learning that she’s neurodivergent later in life and how this impacted her friendships
  • How interactions that neurotypical people see as easy can often be quite draining for neurodivergent people
  • The “scripts” we give ourselves on how to act in certain situations – and how these scripts prevent us from being our most authentic, true selves in friendships
  • Managing differences in friendships (check out Episode 15 for more on this!) and how doing this makes it easier for neurodivergent people in friendships
  • Strawberry Friends – the people with whom you can be yourself around the most and don’t feel forced to spend time with
  • The relief we can feel after learning that we’re neurodivergent – and also the grief we can feel about past interactions and years of struggle

Reflection Question:

Who are your Strawberry Friends? What names can you write down on your list of “Strawberry Friends” for you to access when you’re feeling lonely or craving connection?

Notable Quotes from Sadie:

“Whilst I was growing up, especially through my teens, 20s, and 30s, I was very much playing a role to fit in with a group of people. And I thought that was friendship. And I thought that what was occurring was quite normal. But on reflection, I can see that I was making myself smaller. I was exhausting myself in situations that should have been uplifting. I was dreading things. I was making up excuses. I was feeling left out, and putting it all on me – as there being something that I wasn’t doing quite right, that everyone else seemed to be kind of quite happy in this friendship group.”

“The whole idea of having friendships is to have connections and to be seen and to feel valued and reciprocate those connections. Yet the whole time, we’re putting all these barriers and layers in and not even realizing it. Valuing ‘I need to act a certain way to fit in,’ rather than, ‘How can I be myself and find the people that I can belong with, because we’ll all be having an allowance for everyone being their slightly weird, awkward, wonderful, messy selves.’”

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Some Thoughts from a Neurodivergent Friend… Me!

Until next time…

Take the conversation beyond the new podcast on friendship! Follow Alex on Instagram (@itsalexalexander) or Tiktok (@itsalexalexander), or send her a voice message directly with all your friendship thoughts, problems, and triumphs by heading to AlexAlex.chat and hitting record. 

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Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 

Alex Alexander [Narration]  00:50

I can’t wait for you to hear today’s episode. I’m just really thrilled. I am so proud. I’m gonna say I’m proud of myself here on the podcast real fast. I love that we are getting into all these nuances of our friendships. Because none of us are the same. My friendship with one friend is not even the same as my friendship with another friend. And I really think that as much as advice… a lot of the advice I see on friendships is about how it is kind of this one size fits all. Really, there are so many subtle differences. And that’s why I would highly suggest if you have not listened to it, going back and listening to Episode 15, which is about managing differences in our friendships. Because I think that it is the single most important skill you can develop, to build friendships that feel good. It’s the inevitable differences we have with each other. We approach them with curiosity, and kindness, instead of focusing on that difference, and how we’re different or bad or not worthy of this friendship. So today, my guest Sadie is a late diagnosed AuDHD. If you don’t know what that means, late diagnosed autistic, she’ll tell you in here, she thinks she also has a big dose of ADHD. And so much of neurodiversity impacts our social interactions. Meaning that interactions that neurotypical people might see as easy maybe, can often be quite hard and quite draining. And it can really take a toll on friendships. And I’ve heard from a number of neurodiverse people that sometimes they just don’t even think the effort is worth it. That’s one thing I’ve heard. Or they just feel like they can only be friends with people who are neurodiverse. Now, that might be what you choose. And that’s fine. But I’m excited to offer up today’s episode, which is kind of a mix of all the options, letting friendships go, building new ones, taking existing friendships, and building a new version after finding out that you’re neurodiverse. So with that, let’s get to today’s episode.

Alex Alexander  03:26

I’m really excited you’re here. I was trying to think… I don’t think on my social media, on my podcast, on any of my content, that people who don’t know me in real life know this, but I got diagnosed with ADHD two and a half years ago now, one of those late-diagnosed women. And I have been dying to have a conversation about neurodiversity and friendships, which is exactly what we’re going to do today. And I know you are also one of the late diagnosed women. 

Sadie Tichelaar  04:07

Yeah. I’ve had my diagnosis for a whole three months. So just about two weeks for my 45th birthday, I got my official diagnosis for autism. And I’m pretty sure there’s a big dose of ADHD in there as well. Just from my experience, and what I know I’m just like, yeah, that’s the special blend that I got.

Alex Alexander  04:34

And for anybody who hasn’t had this like late in life experience, it is wild as I think you would agree. Because suddenly so many things start to click. Things that have happened in the past that you shamed yourself about or guilted yourself about, social interactions that felt off or awkward or you blamed yourself for certain things, like suddenly you have this aha moment of, oh, there are reasons for this. And how have I gone so long in my life not knowing? Like everything makes sense now. Did you have a similar experience?

Sadie Tichelaar  05:19

Completely. Yeah, the very first conversation that I had with the lady that did my diagnosis, it was kind of like a three-stage thing. And the first chat that we had, and she kind of said, from what you’ve said so far, I am in agreement with you’re already kind of assessment that you are autistic and just floods of tears, because it was a relief. It was like, I haven’t been making this up. There is a difference that exists for me, that makes things harder and more complicated and more stressful, and more intense. There are things that I struggle with, that everyone else seems to find easy. And it’s not because I’m not capable, or I’m stupid. It’s just my brain works so differently, and the world isn’t built for how my brain works. And like it was, okay, now I know this, I can approach everything slightly differently and not keep thinking that I am the one at fault.

Alex Alexander  06:14

This episode is probably going to make me cry. It’s just been like, I couldn’t agree more. Before I found out, I really just thought that everyone else had figured out some hack or some trick or something that was allowing them to just move through life, and what looked like an easier fashion. And I was so desperate to find my trick or hack or pattern or structure or morning routine, whatever it was. I mean, I tried… I literally have tried them all. That, when you find out, it is just this overwhelming sense of, oh, I was just having to work so much harder than everyone else. Because you’re right, like, my brain works differently than how the world was designed for brains to work. There’s nothing wrong with me. My brain just operates differently. And it’s like such a relief. Because it’s so much work to try and find the hack or the reason or whatever.

Sadie Tichelaar  07:29

Yeah, and there’s always the that imposter thing of here I am again, trying to find a reason why I’m different. And I’m special. And things need to be different for me, rather than just accepting that perhaps I’m just horribly normal and just need to accept that. It was an average human being Sadie kind of accepted. But finally, someone went, “No, actually you are… you are different. Yes, your experience of life will be different for these reasons.” And it’s like, okay, that’s… I have an answer. Now, that makes sense. I can grieve for the version of me that never existed, that would have known that earlier, and move through life differently. And also, at the same time have to accept that if I had known that earlier, my life may have been so different. Because being diagnosed that perhaps kind of 80s, 90s would have maybe been a very different experience to getting a diagnosis now in relation to perhaps the stigma attached to it. And what would have been the options for me as a autistic girl in the UK in the 90s, or the 80s going to school. So I can say that, yes, it would have been nice to know this about myself earlier. But my experience, especially with things like school, and with friends, that probably would have been very different. And there’s all that at once. There’s all that relief and grief and wandering and curiosity all at once. So it’s been a wild ride. 

Alex Alexander  08:56

And for anybody who’s listening, who hasn’t had a friend or person in their life for somebody close to them go through this experience of finding out they’re neurodiverse, I just want to note, you know, there’s a lot of talk out there that is some sort of trend or new thing and everybody’s finding out now. No, here’s what I’m gonna tell you. The diagnostic criteria was created for men. And the way women present quite often, not always, but quite often, is very different. So, if you’re listening to this, like this is a very common experience because the diagnostic criteria have now been broadened to include women’s experiences. That’s why this is happening to a lot of adult women right now.

Sadie Tichelaar  09:56

Yeah, yeah. And I think especially through that kind of 2020-2021 period of so many people being in some kind of lockdown experience through COVID, there was so much of both the mental health kind of crisis in some ways and also people kind of exploring things and having lots of spare time to look at things on the internet and realize that their experience of the world wasn’t perhaps as uniquely… well, it was two things, it wasn’t so unique, that it wasn’t typical. But also there was other people having very similar experiences that people often thought were just them. They’re like, wow, that’s weird. I do that too. And that’s an autistic thing, an ADHD thing. And of course, there’s loads of umbrellas, big umbrellas. And there are lots of things that people do that maybe neurotypical people do. And that’s kind of all mixed in. But just that awakening, I think, has enabled people to be able to explore this a little bit more, and then find out something that’s been hidden about themselves for so long. Yeah, it feels like a trend, because everyone’s talking about it. But it’s just that finally, there is this recognition that if you’re not an eight-year-old white boy, then you’re neurodiversity is going to present itself very differently. And I think it’s brilliant that there’s more awareness around it. And I’m hoping that conversations like this as well open up for other people to have conversations with their own friends about things as well as about their own experience and what they’re going through, and perhaps the kind of support and the help they need as well.

Alex Alexander  11:34

Yeah, yeah. And I’m really excited. You know, there’s lots of… in the neurodiverse communities I’m now a part of, and watching and reading and paying attention to, there’s a lot of conversation about how friendships are so much harder for neurodiverse people for a myriad of reasons that we’ll touch on I’m sure. And I have another episode in the works about this as well. But it’s, I think, really beautiful to share the stories of what is working and is not working for various people, and we’re all going to be different, so that anybody whether you are neurotypical, or neurodiverse, can hear this and try new things, or see what works for you or consider that your friends experiences if you’re neurotypical or neurodiverse, they might be experiencing this thing. And that might be the reason… there feels like some strain or problem in your friendship. It’s not that they’re a bad friend, it’s, you know, they forget to text you. Yes, this is a very common thing. So I’m really excited to share these stories so that maybe people can hear them and start to consider a broader definition of what works and what doesn’t in friendships and like, try to implement these in their lives. And for you in particular, I definitely had struggles in friendship before I was diagnosed. And I have I’m sure I’ll share some of these memories today, but, you know, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your realizations around friendship, and how maybe hard things were hearing your story, it’s been a journey to figure out what works for you. And for a long time, you were just keeping yourselves in situations that weren’t working, because it felt like you should only to then give yourself permission to really build what you need, which is so beautiful.

PODCAST EPISODE! Let’s talk about taking control of your social wellness here.

Sadie Tichelaar 13:40

Yes, yeah. And I guess this is all… the majority of this is looking through the lens of, I didn’t realize my neurodiversity very recently. This is all hindsight, I think it’s really important to mention that and also that I hold the nothing against any of the people that I have been friends with, I’ve lost contact with it or wherever else it is. It’s just the differences that are there now that I can appreciate and that I can see there is a need where I have to put my own well-being first over the need to try and keep something going because it’s historical, or there’s kind of… an expectation that’s there that, oh, you have friends from school. They’re the ones that know you best. They’re the ones that you’re supposed to keep hold of. And yes, there’s all that mix in there. But what I’m finding now is that I need to prioritize what works for me and what’s best for me. Because that way, I’m also a better friend as well. So the people that I have in my life now that I’m friends with who are much more aware of maybe the unmasked or the kind of the truest sense, the truer version of who I am, or the unfiltered version in a lot of cases as well, they don’t want to change me or do anything different about who I am, so that they feel like safe space. Whereas, what I can see now is that whilst I was growing up, especially through my teens, 20s and 30s, I was very much playing a role to fit in with a group of people. And I thought that was friendship. And I thought that what was occurring was quite normal. But on reflection, I can see that I was making myself smaller. I was exhausting myself in situations that should have been uplifting. I was dreading things, I was making up excuses. I was feeling left out, and putting it all on me, as there being something that I wasn’t doing quite right, that everyone else seemed to be kind of quite happy in this friendship group. And it was something that was wrong with me that wasn’t finding that same level of connection, or was finding it so much effort all the time. And I can see now a big red flag for friendships in the future. If it feels like effort, if it feels like there’s an expectation, if there feels any sense of obligation, that’s not a reciprocal kind of balanced friendship. Yeah, that’s kind of an overview, kind of slightly cryptic maybe as well actually without context. But yeah, that’s been my journey, in a more recent sense of what I’ve discovered about myself in friendship.

Alex Alexander  16:20

The hardest part, especially for late diagnosed people, my experience, is that entire process, you have your friends, you have history, you did this part of life together. And I would love to go back and see myself as a younger kid in these friendships, knowing what I know now about myself. Like, how was I acting? What was I doing? And you know, I say that, like, I probably was more freely myself, because kids are silly and weird, and make mistakes and screw up.

Sadie Tichelaar  16:58

Yeah, I think up to like, teen, and then that starts to become less of a thing you can do. I remember shedding the things that I loved when I got to that kind of teenage thing, because there was more judgment coming in, there was more kind of clicky things. Or if you’re not doing these things, then you’re too weird, and you’re too different. And then that means you’re gonna get left out of our group. So, stop doing those things. And it’s never said explicitly, it’s just a vibe that we pick up on. And again, it may be more sensitivity thing, neurodiverse. It may be that neurotypicals have the same experience. But I remember this shedding of things that I loved because they weren’t cool anymore, or they weren’t what everyone else was doing. And that included things like tarot cards and crystals. And I remember having runes from a market in London that I just… I just loved those kinds of things, those magical things there. Yeah, that I guess they were seen as slightly childish, as you kind of get into that teenage year. And that’s when I think things started to shift as a kid, you can be as weird as you’d like and kind of be a bit wilder. And… and that seems to be okay. It’s the judgment, I think that comes in as you get to that teenage thing. And people start to form this idea of how they’re perceived outside of themselves. And that comparison, that judgment just gets really ramped up.

Alex Alexander  18:26

Yeah, exactly. So you get to this older age. And there were interactions I would have where I would leave and spiral on it for days or in the moment, I would say something and then have these thoughts like, oh, that wasn’t the right way to say that, or to act or to whatever. Like, I have this one memory, very distinctly of going on a walk with a friend, she was having a hard time. And she was telling me this story, like venting about what was going on in her life. And I naturally just started telling a parallel story. Which for anybody that is not neurodiverse, this is a common way that neurodiverse people communicate as you know…  it’s not necessarily me saying, “Oh, Sadie, that’s so hard for you.” What I would say is, “I had a similar experience. Let me tell you so that we know… I get it.” And I just naturally did this. Came home. And remember basically reprimanding myself and saying, that’s not the way I’m supposed to respond. You need to remember when somebody is venting to you, it’s not about you and you need to say, “That must have been really hard for you. I’m always here if you need me.” You’re supposed to keep it on them and telling myself like, okay, the next time somebody is venting, you must respond in such and such way. Now she didn’t even make a comment. I just remember knowing like, if I keep doing this, it’s probably going to hurt our friendship over time. And I think, you know, the neurodiverse people are gonna listen to that probably feel something similar, like, these experiences, just compound, think about how many interactions you have throughout the day. And those build up to make you feel like something’s wrong with you, or…

Sadie Tichelaar  20:48

Listening to you saying that just reflecting what is kind of really sad about that is that when we do that, what ends up happening is we start to build up like a little catalogue of scripts. And a little rulebook of when someone says this thing, you’re supposed to respond with this. And you start to build those up. And that becomes a conditioning that we carry, which means we’re then not being our authentic real self with those people. And we’re putting more and more barriers in the way of ourselves being our true selves with that person, or those people, or in those groups. And then that’s where we end up having all these different versions that when I’m with these people, like this, this is the set of rules that I follow with these people, it’s slightly different. And we just lose that track and that sense of who we actually really are. And the whole idea of having friendships is to have connection and to be seen and to feel valued and reciprocate those connections. Yet the whole time, we’re putting all these barriers and layers in and not even realizing it. But still kind of valuing that I need to act a certain way to fit in, rather than how can I be myself and find the people that I can belong with? Because we’ll all be having an allowance for everyone being there slightly weird, awkward, wonderful, messy selves. But yeah, all that filtering, all those layers of conditioning that we put on ourselves because of that expectation and that slightly, just knowing I’ve said the wrong thing, I should have said this, and that, kind of mulling over constantly, kind of pulling apart to finite degrees. What did I say? Was that the right things? Was that the wrong with it? Or what point did the conversation go wrong? And just like forensicly examining all those interactions. Again, only with reflection, do I realize that’s what was happening. It’s just happening at that really subconscious level of…

Alex Alexander  22:49

Before you find out like, before we found out, it was just so normal. It literally was something that happened some dozens, 100 times a day and that compounds, so it feels so normal to be analyzing I think, that all the time, which is exhausting.

Sadie Tichelaar  23:11

Yeah, overthinking is just like… that’s a standard base level of liners of things. And then there’s everything that’s beyond that. But overthinking is just that like a base level. And I didn’t realize that there is… that’s not typical for neurotypical… is to have like a dialogue in their heads of things, not just a monologue or a kind of narration, but like a mini party conversation, that happens as well. And all the parts of you that have different opinions on what you could have said, should have said, the observing what other people are doing and kind of filing that away for, okay, so that’s how you interact in here. And that’s what those people do that’s expected there. And it is exhausting in so many ways. It’s useful in so many ways, because funnily enough, those… the way that the brain works means that we can create these really complex masks, and do all that kind of that rich data analysis and pattern recognition. But at the same time, it’s building those barriers up and making things feel exhausting and stressful. So yeah, it’s… especially if you’re neurodiverse, having friendships of neurotypicals, there is such a… like a translation that needs to happen.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  24:30

There are two things I just want to touch on here. The first one is this idea of kind of building up these scripts, and figuring out how we’re supposed to, which I say an air quotes, “supposed to act”. Now, if you’ve gone back, or even listening this whole time, episode 15 talks about this idea of managing our differences and how important that is in our friendships. And listening to this whole section, all I can think about is, if we were all better at managing our differences, it would probably be easier for neurodivergent people to feel like they can be themselves in their friendships. Because then it’s less about fitting in, and more about figuring out how to operate together and be friends with those differences. So that’s number one. I’d suggest going back and listening to that episode. Number two, is when I’m talking to Sadie and we’re talking about, specifically the experience of being late diagnosed neurodivergence. You know, it’s so interesting, we talked about this grief piece, which is so real. But part of the grief is also actually the people around us. I’ve talked about this in multiple episodes about grief, this idea that, when you have something happen, whether it is the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a big life milestone or an experience, or finding out that you just operate differently in the world, but you didn’t know that for decades. In Sadie and my case, there is a sort of grief that happens because we spent decades, struggling so hard to do what other people were able to do much easier. Like there’s grief. There’s also probably grief here with our friends over past interactions. And this is one of those moments where now, I’m a woman with ADHD. And that version of me is what my friends are going to get to experience, we have to figure out how to manage our differences. And there are going to be moments where maybe I acted one way in the past, but I’m not going to act that way anymore. Because now I know that this is fine. This is the way my brain is. I’m not a bad person or a bad friend, this is just me. And my friends are gonna have to grieve maybe however I showed up for them previously and put myself through all the masking required to make them more comfortable. And like we’re gonna have to figure out this new dynamic, which is all to say that maybe roots that we had before, ways that they expected me to act, I may not do anymore. And that this adjustment is gonna be one of those moments, where as friends, we have to navigate this new version of our friendship. I have this quote, it’s my favorite quote. And it is by Heidi Priebe. And it says, ‘To love someone long term is to attend a thousand funerals of the people they used to be.’ And I think that that quote beautifully summarizes what I’m talking about here. 

Alex Alexander  28:16

Well, I think you and I had very different experiences with that, which is really interesting for this episode, right? As you kind of came here, when we first started talking to say you had this group of friends, you realized they hadn’t, I guess, maybe interacted with you with curiosity. Instead, they really tried to force you into that box and keep you in a way that they were comfortable. And I have a lot of neurotypical friends. And what I’ve realized is my interactions with them while I was not very kind to myself, I can’t really think of times that they weren’t kind to me. Like, the things that were… they didn’t try and put me in a box now I will say, looking back. The things socially that came out from me being neurodiverse became like endearing quirks to them. Like, oh, Alex loves a tangent and get lost on a tangent and she can come up with a tangent anywhere. But it’s not like they were trying to force me to ever not be that, it just became part of me. Which it is me, you know, or, oh, Alex’s found a new hobby this week. Or oh, Alex just accidentally wrote a book or Alex is the person you call when you want basically Google because she knows all these random facts and can direct you somewhere like these are all things that my friends would tell you about me but not in a mean way and like, oh, that Just makes Alex Alex, before I knew I had my diagnosis, or they knew any of us knew, I don’t know. Maybe they knew I should ask them if any of them had any inkling. But you had a very different experience where it wasn’t endearing. It was, stop doing that.

Sadie Tichelaar  30:18

Yeah, pretty much. And it was, I guess, never done in a way that felt really overt or directed. It was more just kind of a vibe that I picked up on about what was and wasn’t okay for me to do and say within this group. And I think one of the things that differentiated me from them, apart from being neurodiverse was, I’m child free, and they will… they all had kids. And that became, I think, for them, like a cornerstone of their relationship as we got older. And I always felt outside of that. And rather than I was… accommodations were made for me within that space, I kind of had to make myself into weird shapes to fit into that space, rather than it being the other way around. And occasionally, there would be things that were considered, that I might enjoy doing. But it was more kind of actually, that’s also quite nice for mums to do to have some time away from their kids now and then as well. Like a spa day or a trip somewhere. It was kind of like, well, we like doing that, too. So it suited me because that’s my experience of going out anyway. But it was kind of… that was the accommodation that was made. It was only when I kind of… I think kind of like 2017-2018, I was going through this turmoil of my own work. It became a lot, I thought of therapy. And in doing that, I think I started to ask questions and to start challenging things and to come back to things that I had lost touch with. And in doing that, I started to ask questions about my friendships and my relationships. And I started seeing them in a slightly different way. And realizing that there weren’t those accommodations being made for me and who I was. And that quite often, what I would do to fit into that space would just be the one who got drunk all the time. If we were going out somewhere, you could put good money that Sadie would be the one that would get drunk. And that had become a coping mechanism for you just to, I’ve got to sit here another evening of this. So I’m just going to… I’m going to pregame with wine in the bath before I go out.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  32:35

The perfect moment for me to drop in and just talk about roots for a second. So what do we have here? We have story roots. Those are beliefs and expectations. These have been friends for a long time. So there’s beliefs, there like, these are my friends, these are my closest friends, these are my oldest friends. And those come with expectations. Except that the interactions do not support the belief and expectations. So you know, if like, oh, they’re my oldest friends, then that might come with, they care about me, they listen to me, they want me to be the best version of myself. And the interactions are not supporting those, which means that they start to break down. That as much as we might believe them, like convince ourselves, if you really sat down and made a list of what is supporting that belief, there may not be a lot there. There’s also a lot of emotional intimacy roots, but specifically history, because I’ve been friends for a long time. You have all these memories together. And a lot of people will lean into those memories. They’ll talk about, “Oh, do you remember that time when we were in college and we did this? Do you remember that trip?” You really lean on that. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, it does sound like the, you know, small details you know about each other aren’t really matching up here. But maybe they’re not close enough, even though they’re interacting all the time. And I say that because if they were growing new emotional intimacy roots specifically in the small details we know about each other category, then they would probably notice that Sadie has these other interests, other things she wants to talk about that are outside of children. And then the third one are our shared experience roots and this is where we look at this. So, I say they’re so important. Not that you have to have the same ones. But there is a portion of most of the people in this group who can talk about being parents. That is a shared experience. You can talk about this. Sadie cannot, which means you got to find other things to talk about. out that she is experiencing or interested in, so that you can have this conversation. Nw, if they don’t share her love of… I’m just going to make this up art, let’s say art, they can ask her. But the reason they’re asking her is because they care about her. So that’s the story roots. Because they have the detail, the small detail they know about her and an emotional intimacy roots that she’s really passionate about art, and therefore they’re acting on it when they’re together. So, this all plays out. And if you look at it this way, like as she was telling the story, my brain was firing because I was just saying, it doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of evidence supporting the story roots anymore. The emotional intimacy roots, like the history is there, but all the current ones don’t seem very strong. Because if they were, these friends would be picking up on the fact that she’s trying to numb yourself out. And then finally, they are not actively trying to find a shared experience to include her in or using the details they know, to check in on her shared interests. Hopefully, that’s helpful when you’re looking at your own friendships. That’s why I like to break these down. Because I really do think that when you kind of look at it in these three categories of the roots, you can see where you need to invest energy or like where the breakdown is in your friendships. 

Alex Alexander  36:32

When you figure this out, you know, when you decided it didn’t feel good, how did you then go about approaching like rebuilding a new community, new connections, new friendships that support you? You this whole time but you being you?

Sadie Tichelaar  36:54

That’s a great question, because I don’t think I did it with any intention. I think it happened because I started being more of myself, even before I got my diagnosis. I just started thinking, I’ve had a couple of years of feeling really odd and off. And now I identify that is burnout, that is persistent burnout, chronic burnout, with a couple of bouts of acute stress in there as well. And I thought I do not want to do this. Again, it is not fun, I don’t enjoy it. And I guess the upside of that, if there is one, if anyone’s been through any of that kind of burnout and acute stress thing, is that everything tumbles apart. And you have to spend some time just being for a while, that’s all your nervous system will allow before you can start to kind of move back into whatever it was that you were doing before. And that was kind of work, any kind of creativity relationships, all has to kind of be rebuilt. And in doing that rebuilding, I was able to pick up these pieces that had fallen apart and crumbled everywhere and look at them go, is this me? Is this part of something that I think is true about myself? Or is this something someone has told me? Is this a story? And start to be a bit more selective and use my discernment about what I wanted to keep for myself and what was true. And in doing that, I then started to, I guess, show up differently in the world, and show up a little bit more messy, a little bit more imperfect, but much more human, and much more real. And I think just by doing that, I naturally found spaces where I felt I belonged more. And I could start to tell the difference between this is somewhere where I can be myself and don’t feel so judged and feel more accepted and feel more energized. Versus this is somewhere where I could feel that I tighten up where I shrink, where I feel insecure or not good enough, or it’s exhausting. And by working out that difference, I started to realize who the people were that I felt different around and what qualities of those people were as well. And a lot of this happened just because of timings and things. It was all very online. My business is online. I’m a coach. So I spend a lot of time on Zoom, I spent a lot of time in places where other people do that as well. And that may have made it easier perhaps and kind of having to meet people in real life and that kind of thing where it was kind of… it was easier. But those people that I’m friends with in that way over the last kind of three or four years are not just online friends, they are my friends. Some of them, I’ve met. Some of them I haven’t but I count them as friends. 

Alex Alexander  39:41

They are friends.

PODCAST EPISODE! What is a Friend? and the 4 Types of Friends We All Have. Listen here.

Sadie Tichelaar  39:42

Yes, completely. 100%. Completely. And funnily enough, a lot of them are neurodiverse or I can see there is perhaps some there that’s kind of not been identified yet. And some of us have known that longer. Some of us are kind of more recent into it. But I don’t know if that is perhaps the intentional thing as well, or just this kind of gravitational, neurodiverse energy that works that we find each other.

Alex Alexander  40:12

I think we just find each other. And I say that because when I found out, when I got my diagnosis, there were a couple of friends, that had already known that they were neurodiverse. And because I’m a pretty open book in real life, and because I wanted people to know, honestly, it wasn’t about anything. But part for me being around somebody neurotypical is just owning the fact that I have ADHD and kind of being open sometimes about things that I do, or like, I will regularly do something or say something. And then you’re just like, well, that’s the way my brain works. Yeah, so that they can start to connect that. So anyways, in just having these open conversations not about them. This is not about them. I have probably 8 to 10 friends, people in my life, who have gotten diagnosed, or acquaintances, people, and I have another probably three or four, who were diagnosed a really long time ago, but never, like, openly really talk about it. And then me being honest, they were like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been diagnosed since I was 12.” And I think a big reason for that, is that some people joke like, the neurodiverse people have a spidey sense for neurodiverse people. But really, I think it’s just that pretty immediately, you can tell in the way that we’re talking to each other. That like the patterns, we use, the tangents, the circle thinking. I don’t know if you’ve heard the term, I love this, spiderweb thinking.

Sadie Tichelaar  42:10

Okay, I can… I haven’t heard it, but I can picture.

Alex Alexander  42:13

Right. Immediately, you know? That you say one thing. And my brain is now thinking of seven things. And I can jump from here to here to here very easily. And we don’t ask each other how we got there. Because we probably saw that pattern too. And it’s fine. Maybe that wasn’t our main pattern, but I get it. Moving on. 

Sadie Tichelaar  42:31

Yeah. You see the link. Yeah. 

Alex Alexander  42:33

So I think truly, just because it’s more comfortable. We end up sticking around. because it’s easier when we are together.

Sadie Tichelaar  42:45

The friction is less, I think, because there isn’t that kind of side eyeing that you can pick up on energetically or are you just know someone thinks I’m being weird. And because now someone thinks I’m being weird, I’m aware that I’m being weird and now making it awkward. Whereas if there’s just like, okay, cool. So that’s just how you show up in the world and I’m really interested in what you’re talking about. And we can just bounce a conversation around, there isn’t that… I guess the self awareness gets lowered. Because there isn’t that feeling of being observed or of trying to wear that mask and trying the am I fitting in? Am I doing it right? Am I leaving enough space? Am I making enough eye contact? Have I been talking too much about myself? When is the pause that I can jump in and have my say in the conversation or having missed it? All that narrative that happens is less so because there is just more of a crazy bounce around of things that feels more natural. But perhaps maybe someone looking in is like, I’ve got no idea how you’re having this conversation? Because what? Where did that come from?

Alex Alexander  43:52

In a room with friends where like, as I said, Now I have quite a few neurodiverse friends, I have neurotypical friends. If we’re in a room together, I will have maybe a conversation with somebody who’s neurodiverse where we’re doing that. We’re just hopping and jumping and whatever, and somebody who’s neurotypical will try and join the conversation and you can tell that they like, kind of can’t track don’t know. And they… you know, my friends won’t push back on that. But you can tell they’re a little uncomfortable, which is how quite often neurodiverse people feel when they’re trying to mask and asking those questions. But when we let the guard down, it’s pretty, I don’t know, probably a wild thing to watch. Because it’s fast and it just keeps going. I as somebody who does these podcasts, it’s actually funny, right? Because my friends no matter what, I just am kind of me at this point with them. But it’s easier to talk to them, right? This podcast, I talk to people I’ve never met before all the time. And although you’re the first episode I am recording like specifically about neurodiversity and friendship, there are a number of guests who have been on this podcast who are neurodiverse. And I can tell in the podcast recording how much easier it is to record these podcasts, it takes less work for me than recording with a neurotypical person. It is 10x the amount of effort to record those episodes in my brain, and they probably sound different. If you went back and listen to them, they probably sound different.

Sadie Tichelaar  44:35

Yeah, that’s so interesting, isn’t it? That that’s something that happens without any kind of explicitly saying that this is going to be different because of a typical neurodiverse. It’s just the way the energetics work and the way that the connection happens, and the way that those differences… there’s a creativity that comes from those differences, that has more ease to it than when you’re trying to contain them and be more structured, or that you are spending all that energy on maintaining a mask, that that’s the cost of that kind of creativity, and that natural kind of fired up brain and letting it just do its thing. The energy comes into, okay, how do I appear normal in this situation? And tone down the weird.

Alex Alexander  46:31

To give people a very tangible example, when you and I have been talking, people might notice, I very rarely ask you a question at the end of me talking. You just have already been thinking, you hear my natural pause and you start talking and it just naturally goes that way. We aren’t… it flows for us. Now, when I interview a neurotypical person, if I do that, there is quite often a really awkward pause, or they will just agree with whatever I said, they won’t add to it. And then I’m fumbling to… my brain is already, like four steps ahead, to go back to where they are, and come up with the next place we’re going. It truly is exponentially more work for my brain to record these episodes with a neurotypical person. And I mean, these episodes are just a conversation. This is no difference really, other than maybe eye contact and body. I mean, there are… that’s why there are some things different between an in-person interaction, but it’s very similar. So I think that’s a great example of how much more work it is. Even in a social setting, if I’m like at a party, for example.

Sadie Tichelaar  47:56

Yeah, and then that… so I hadn’t noticed that you weren’t asking the question and I’ve just kind of picked up the thread of the conversation, but… and it also feels like I have a whole Rolodex of things that I could bounce off with, that there’s a whole load of things, and I’m just… it’s just kind of what words are gonna come out. And I guess trusting as well, that’s gonna go somewhere that is related. Because there is just so much that you could speak to. And I think that’s why if you are having conversations with friends, is the way you are trying to contain yourself and follow that structure, then it can feel off. Because you’re not allowing yourself to flow in a way that feels natural, and you’re kind of editing yourself and holding back and doing that overthinking piece that creates that sense that maybe things are awkward. Maybe people think you’re awkward. But actually, if they got you talking in a way that was… that felt more flowy and felt more natural, then that awkwardness, I think, falls away.

Alex Alexander  48:56

I agree. And I think, you know, the funny thing is that, although maybe speech patterns and social cues and things are different between neurotypical, neurodiverse people, I do think a lot of neurotypical people are masking in some sense, right? They’re trying to fit into society’s box no matter what we want. It’s just harder for neurodiverse people because you add all these other factors they’re trying to control. So I do think it’s funny because there’s a lot of conversation out there of like, okay, well, if you’re neurodiverse, just go find our diverse friends. Just go. And yes, you want those people. Believe me, it’s like, so heartwarming to have people who get it. But I do think that there’s kind of a lead by example thing here where if you can get around some neurotypical people and allow the mask to fall and stand up for yourself, if comments are made and allow that curiosity to flow, I actually think it almost inspires neurotypical sometimes to not get stuck in their own boxes.

Sadie Tichelaar  50:01

Yeah, like a permission slip to this is how different you can be.

Alex Alexander  50:06

Exactly, exactly. So like your own things that you’re trying to control. Let them go. 

Sadie Tichelaar  50:12

Yeah, there is a permission slip there to drop that front, whether it’s a mask you wear for being neurodiverse, or just the standard that you’re trying to hold yourself to, because society expects something from you, which means then that the places that we should be getting the most support, and understanding and validation from our friendship groups become just another place that we have to play a role in and live up to, and we’re not getting the most from those relationships. It’s just a shame to think that we don’t have that level of depth that it could be possible if we all just were a little bit more vulnerable with ourselves and each other.

Alex Alexander  50:54

We have to close this episode up soon. Because you and I truly could talk, we’d do a three hour episode. But I do want to know, you taught me on our discovery call about this term and I just would love to hear about it, which is strawberry friends from Dr. Devon Price, the book” Unmasking Autism, I was hoping I could share a little bit about that.

PODCAST EPISODE! Listen to the Three Types of Roots here.

Sadie Tichelaar  51:19

Yeah, so this is mentioned in the book. And I think it’s… it was someone else’s idea that they’ve referenced in the book. And the idea was that this person was wanting to kind of realize who were people that they could be themselves around the most. And when they went through their friendship list, they identified the people that brought those qualities out in them by putting a little strawberry icon by their name, and knowing that when they saw a message from that person, then it would be a good idea to respond. Or if they wanted to reach out, then they could reach out to someone who had that icon by their names. They knew that there would be value in doing that. This idea of kind of strawberry friends comes from there. And the idea is that these are people that there are certain qualitiesto the relationships and the interactions that you have with them. These are the people that you don’t feel forced to spend time with. It doesn’t feel like an obligation, it doesn’t feel like… that you’ll be made to feel guilty, if you don’t spend time with them. If you do, it’s great. They’d love to have you. But also, if you said I can’t make it or change your plans, then there would be a sense of ease about doing that. They are people that you don’t feel you need to get approval from, for what you do, what you say, how you act. They’re just kind of like, cool. You’re Alex, that’s fine. I’m happy with that. You’re happy with you, I’m happy with you. They’re not exhausting to be around. They lift you up, they light you up, they energize you, and you don’t need to edit or censor yourself around them, you can be quite free. And there isn’t that surface level or there isn’t just that surface level interest, there is a depth to it. So if you can identify the people that feel like they fulfill those criteria, or as many of them as possible, then they’re your strawberry friends, they are your strawberry people. And it’s a good idea to maximize your engagement, your interaction with those people, build trust with them, have those as people that even if you’re not feeling your best, but you’re craving some connection, or you know, that you will feel better if you reach out to someone, then that’s the person that you reach out to. And I think it’s also a good list to kind of measure up and say, well, who are the people that don’t fulfill these criteria? Or they make me feel the opposite? And then kind of consider why do I have them in my life? And what am I getting from that relationship? What are they getting from me? And just kind of bring some curiosity to exploring that side of it as well. So I think it’s… I think it’s a really beautiful way of kind of considering, is this someone I want to spend time with or not because of how they make me feel, not because of any external expectation or commitment?

Alex Alexander  54:00

And for all people, definitely neurodiverse people, this is probably a great exercise to do and actually write down. Because we all know quite often, out of sight, out of mind. Like write it down and put it somewhere you’ll see it so in the moments where you do feel lonely, or like you need some connection, you’re craving that you aren’t trying to mentally run through some Rolodex like you actually have intentionally cultivated, written down like this list so you can just reference it, you’re not trying to do that work in the moment you need it.

Sadie Tichelaar  54:38

Yeah, I did find that my habit used to be I would look on my phone or the whoever I got contacted recently and feel guilted or it was guilt that was a trigger, but I didn’t realize it was guilt but whoever I’ve spoken to for a while, I should contact them. But actually there may be people that I haven’t spoken to in a while for a reason. So I think having… at least knowing, okay, who are my strawberry friends? Who are people that I can reach out to? And I know that even if they don’t respond straightaway, because they may have their own timescales, I’ve still initiated that conversation at some point, they’ll reach out. Or even I just know for myself that I’ve done something that I know is going to feel supportive for me. So yeah, having that list of people that you can identify as bringing out the best in you, and maximizing your time with them, I think that feels like a really good kind of curiosity, way of exploring your friendships and exploring who could be possibly more of a friend to you, as well as an acquaintance perhaps that you think actually though I think we could maybe get on better, and spend more time with them and just explore that.

Alex Alexander  55:48

I love this because it’s such a like, neurodiverse way the brain works, like analyze it and write it down and be intentional about it. And I wasn’t going to talk about this, but I’m releasing a book. And without knowing what a strawberry friend is, my book is basically this. Like, it’s how to analyze this and really move through this process. So you have put the intentional thought into it. And now that you’re talking about this, I’m like, oh, my gosh, which I’ve already realized, I couldn’t have written this book. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without my spider web brain. Like the reason I am able to do this is because of the way my brain works. 


10 Friendship Belief Reframes Cover and screenshots of pages


Reinvigorate your friendships and learn how to create stronger ones by incorporating my Top Friendship Reframes into your life. BONUS! An exclusive look at my upcoming book. Want to bring more purpose and value to the relationships that matter to you? Download the guide now. 

Sadie Tichelaar  56:27

Yeah. 100%.

Alex Alexander  56:28

Sadie, thank you so much for being here. This was such an easy and… yeah, my meter is full. I’m full. This is a beautiful conversation. Thanks for…

Sadie Tichelaar  56:38

Oh, that’s lovely to hear. Yeah, likewise. It’s… yeah, the time went so fast. I think that’s a really good… a good meter of how engaged with a conversation, how free and easy and natural it feels. Yeah, I’ve had a lovely time. Thank you so much for having me.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  56:55

I love this conversation. So full. So thrilled that we are talking about these nuances of our friendships. Because I just think there are so many conversations happening out there that are like blanket statement. This is how you make friends. This is how you keep friends. This is how you break up with your friends. And really, if we dive in to these nuances and like subtleties in our friendships, this is what’s going to make it easier for us to keep them. Now maybe there are new boundaries, maybe if you are somebody who is neurodiverse, you want to build more neurodiverse friendships. But maybe, you know, you can still keep these other friendships, but just in the new version, right? Maybe you let them go. Maybe you build what you need. I don’t know. The point is that you create what you want. And that no blanket statement can cover all of these connections that we have. 

Podcast Intro/Outro  58:58

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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