This has been a long pandemic for everyone, but the return to society is what scares me. Suddenly the prospect of my son’s vaccinations, instead of bringing relief and joy, paralyzes me…
Because I’m an undiagnosed autistic woman.
The truth is I’ve been in various hermitic stages from puberty. Internet and social media allowed me to interact with people from the security of my own home. It took masking to a new level. “Real” interaction with other people compounds my 35 years of trauma, drains me of self-worth, and dumps the shriveled lump that’s left on a dirty curb with the rest of the trash.
I shared my struggle with depression yesterday on my business’s social media account. The response was heartwarming. Thank you for your support! However, one comment, while well-intentioned, triggered me to finally polish the first entry in my Autistic-Maker blog. This friend said, “Feeling like you have to mask yourself in public is a perfectly valid trigger for overwhelm and depression!” Agreed! 100%
Here’s the deal, though: It isn’t just a feeling. It’s a fact of life. Like analyzing metrics on your social media, Neurodivergent people learn (consciously or subconsciously) that our natural behavior is repellant to Neurotypical people. We try different approaches to behavior, developing a performative persona that appeals to others, and that’s what we refer to as “masking”.
Trust me, you’d know if I stopped masking. Then to compound matters even further, imagine being neurodivergent in public like being a spy undercover: You’re constantly anxious you’ll be “found out”, or in my case, you’re not masking well enough and the people you’re interacting with are put off.
I apologize all the time in person for my weird behavior. I do a little self-effacing song and dance to excuse myself. “I have a 4-year-old who doesn’t sleep,” “I’m so over-tired I can’t come up with words today,” or just “Ahhh! I’m being so weird! I’m so sorry!” These are employed when I see the signs that I’m losing my audience and it’s time to roll back, re-mask. In truth that’s just my speech pattern. That’s how my brain always speaks. That’s why I don’t participate in a lot of videos.
So, here’s what’s up. I’m going to blog, and be as transparent as possible, about autism. You’ll find that under this blog. I’ll post videos. You’ll get to hear me and see me unmasked. You’ll get the opportunity to understand every time I’m told, “You’re autistic? No way! You’re so normal,” that it just further validates my anxieties, because you’re interacting with my performance and not my natural state of being. Meanwhile, the rest of my business will remain masked-up, so if autism awareness isn’t your thing and you’re just here for colorful yarn, y’all I gotchu!
Next post I’ll talk about what autism is, what it isn’t, and some barriers to official diagnosis.