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How to Be Human

How Camilla Pang embraces autism, ADHD, and anxiety.

Chris Mc Andrew, used with permission
Chris Mc Andrew, used with permission

As a child, Camilla Pang was baffled by other people. Why did she laugh when no one else did? What did they mean by “See you later” (how much later?) or “Tidy your room” (in what way?). She even asked her mother whether there was an instruction manual for humans.

Diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and anxiety, Pang eventually discovered that she could leverage her passion for science to relate to others. Now 27, with a doctorate in bioinformatics and a job at a pharmaceutical company, Pang has written the guidebook she sought years ago: An Outsider’s Guide to Humans: What Science Taught Me About What We Do and Who We Are.

How does science help you understand relationships?

A lot of people use characters in books or events to apply to different situations. I don’t really know how to do that. Science is the medium by which I understand humans. My life has been about trying to collect the pieces of evidence to get the full picture and feel whole with my species.

In terms of relationships, I think about chemical bonds. You can model the tightness, the flexibility, the distribution of effort in different contexts.

For example, covalent bonds are where you have stability between two people, an equivalence, and we need that concrete force of attraction in our lives to form the basis of a friendship or a marriage.

Ionic bonds are electrostatic, which means based on attraction or repulsion of charges. We need this bond because it’s intense and energetic. It can be very strong. This could be applied to romance or moments with your best friend when you think, Oh my god, I love you so much, I just want to hold your face!

Then there’s the weak force, which promotes the decay of the nucleus. Radioactive decay actually creates toxic substances, so it can parallel the toxicity associated with gaslighting or manipulation—the relationships that don’t sit well in your stomach. Forces like those can challenge your own evolution—whether you should stay put or leave. It’s not just about making bonds but also about breaking them and continuing to grow.