Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You
by Jenara Nerenberg
Book Review by Kristine Madera
What is normal and who gets to define it are the central questions in Jenara Nerenberg’s Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You. The core of modern society’s “design” that excludes divergent minds are its economic and social systems, which, let’s be honest, strive to optimize by standardizing people to fit into well-oiled profit and power structures through education, employment expectations, and other standardizing systems. Like discarded tomatoes that don’t fit neatly into a packing crate, the expectation of conformity to made-up standards excludes a significant percentage of people who are then classified and categorized in disparaging ways.
Nerenberg focuses on high-functioning women who process information in non-standard ways, including high sensitives, ADHD, and women on the autism spectrum who slip through the cracks because they do well enough in school that they must be okay.
I have to admit that the book was an eye-opener for me. I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), which I’ve known for years, ever since a new friend who worked with HSPs said, “Oh girlfriend, you are so HSP…” She ticked off the ways I fit into an actual spectrum of actual human beings and assured me that I wasn’t a freak of nature because I had to manage my nervous system and interactions with the world in what could seem like extreme ways. The eye-opening part was that, according to Nerenberg’s lists, I also have a majority of both ADHD and Asperger’s/Autism traits when I combined current traits with the childhood ones that I have spent my life trying to overcome.
Like me, many women who have commented on this book have shared their dismay at newly seeing their struggles and quirks as part of an expanded sense of normal that includes talents and abilities not found among the general population and thus not generally acknowledged or valued in modern systems unless they can be monetized somehow—and consistently, without the need for things like self-care, stimulus moderation or other accommodation.
Divergent Mind has been criticized for the usual things whenever a person delves into a highly-charged subject. It uses the outdated “Asperger’s” category of autism. It focuses on high-functioning, successful women, who, BTW, have not been considered part of the neuro-divergent community until recently. It focuses mostly, though not exclusively, on white women’s experiences. All these are true, and maybe the subtitle promised a more broad-spectrum book that didn’t deliver for other neuro-divergent people. But for high-functioning women who process information differently than the norm, and are exhausted from masking and trying to pass, this book has been a godsend.
If you fit into that category, or love someone who does, give this a read!
Normal is a term that needs some serious expansion and inclusion in a more protopian world, especially when you can look out at the state of the world and see where “normal” has gotten us. Normal currently implies being able to conform to a particular (and narrow) spectrum of thought processes that don’t question too much, energy levels that can consistently show up the same way and to the same work day after day, the ability to redirect attention away from interesting things and multi-level perception to what is being taught or what makes someone money, etc.
In a world that truly seeks solutions to complex challenges like feeding the world without destroying the environment, adapting (physically, socially, globally, etc.) to climate changes in holistic and forward-thinking ways, addressing the underlying issues that drive refugees from their homes, we need people who can think through and conceptualize multiple levels of information simultaneously. Many neuro-divergent people excel at this, but because they don’t do it in recognizable, socially sanctioned, or conveniently monetized ways, their personal potential and potential contribution are cast aside.
“Normal” in modern society has demanded that people contort themselves to fit into the larger culture or risk being marginalized, institutionalized, or even imprisoned. For me, a more protopian world allows people the space and support to reach their full potential and contribution, even if it looks different or otherwise diverges from the narrow system of “success” as it is recognized now. We could start by seeing all people as able, support them in developing their abilities, and expand the ways people can interact, collaborate, and thrive personally, socially, economically, and globally.
But who would pay for this? How can school systems be expected to accommodate each child’s uniqueness? How could businesses be expected to profit when people don’t fit into the system like cogs in a wheel?
Yes, those are exactly the kinds of systems that need to change to grow a more functional, inclusive, protopian world.
Kristine Madera is a #1 bestselling Amazon author, novelist, hypnotherapist, and pro-topian with a passion for helping people better themselves and the world. Informed by global travel, teaching abroad, and a stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Kristine believes that everyone plays a part in imagining and creating our collective future.
Volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Calcutta inspired her novel, God in Drag. She birthed her upcoming novel, The Snakeman’s Wife, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Papua New Guinea.
Read the first chapter of God in Drag HERE