Does this sound like masking? Does masking feel this dark?

Page 1 of 1 [ 3 posts ] 

orbweaver
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

User avatar

Joined: 12 Jun 2022
Age: 49
Gender: Female
Posts: 154
Location: NorCal

15 Jun 2022, 10:40 pm

So basically, I went through a period between 2005-2014ish where basically I had decided to disavow an old self and become someone new.

After I was diagnosed at 31, I basically doubled down on trying to get my life together. It was a tumultuous time and I was in a very short and very rocky marriage to another ND person. I also had some very dramatic friendships with other ND people.

Basically... I wanted to get my life together and learn to get along with "normies." I grew up in a heavily ND semi-counterculture family, my dad was involved with old school New Wave sci fi culture (60s-90s), my mom is pretty much a hippie anarchist and won't admit it, etc.

I don't feel like I was trying to copy NTs, I didn't copy and paste them (except for maybe this one time - mirroring my therapist), I didn't know I was masking, etc. I was actually trying to transform myself. I believed that perhaps maybe I was just reared wrong (because some people in some of my spaces tried to convince me of this) and I just needed to learn to think and interact like Normal People, and work harder at it. And a ton of the people I was around were into things like reprogramming your brain and the words you use. It's like I lost a ton of language for my own experiences.

I got deeply into reading New Age material and dating books etc because I wanted to know how NT women thought. (Indeed, I learned to interact with them on that level.)

Somehow I did not connect this to not wanting to be autistic, I connected it to wanting to belong to a cultural mainstream that I grew up outside of. I started dressing basic and wearing a lot of beige, UGG boots, highlighting my hair, etc.

At the same time, I also had a huge special interest in medicine, and I thought that I had to become this other person, and truly learn to understand mainstream middle class people, to take up a career of any kind in or adjacent to medicine. (I wanted to become a doctor, but changed my mind and wanted to become a nurse.)

I found that people were treating me as being more friendly, I was being perceived in a more trustworthy way, I was holding jobs longer.

At first, this was more like a costume, but gradually became a deeper and deeper reinvention. In the beginning, I had this other thing I was in the context of my EMT classes, but I also still had my friend circle of other ND people that I wrote and played tabletop games with. It felt like health care was actually a pretty diverse field and people came from a lot of walks of life. I managed this balance for a while, of having my health world and having my friends who were all nerdy ND gamers.

But then I moved away, and moved in with my new partner (also autistic). During that time - not long after moving - I would start working my ass off at a variety of social jobs, and later, juggling multiple clients as a home health aide.
I was beginning to struggle with my health, too. It was the beginning of a bust-ass-then-crash-and-bust-ass-again cycle that's largely only really ended in the last several years.

During this time, my partner got his own formal diagnosis, and came to believe I wasn't autistic, for some reason or another, while basically expecting NT behavior from me, and now no longer feeling I had an excuse, and not knowing why my ADHD meds weren't fixing me the way he hoped they would. I came to believe during this time as well that I wasn't autistic. My partner believed I couldn't possibly be autistic because he'd seen me change before his eyes depending upon who I was interacting with, and I would "seem different" depending on whoever I had last been around. And also, the whole relationship hinged on how much I could become an NT, and involved me having to stay away from all of the autistic people in my life (though my partner didn't admit this was the common denominator among them). It was pretty terrible. I started to feel like my *work* was more of a refuge than my home life, because at least at two of my jobs, between major tasks, I had a few hours at a time of downtime and got to just be "off." But I had to be "on" all the time at home.

I got into all of these message boards, it's like message boards were the only place I could really be myself, and became hugely addicted to the internet in ways I'd never been before. After my partner and I split up, I decided I had to learn to get along with "normal people."

I joined a religious org (a kind of Buddhism) and basically threw myself into the religion for a while, though I didn't even really believe in it, but the religious practice was a comforting stim and there were people from different walks of life so I felt relatively normal there. I was obsessed with normie dating boards and self-improvement boards and even some new age BS. I was more lost than I've ever been in my life. I also was struggling with burnout and my religious practice was kind of the only thing holding me together for a while.

But I was NOT OKAY. I lived on my own for about 10 months after I left my ex. I was beginning to enter a burnout, I was starting to have a major health crisis shortly thereafter, I had to move back home, I lost my job and didn't work for some months. I ended up going back to school and deciding to go back to doing my old, much more Aspie friendly profession, where at least I'm somewhat allowed to be weird. But basically after I moved out, my life became me staying in bed when I wasn't at work, doing the religious practice, and eating pizza or burgers every day. I couldn't function. Pictures of me from that time, I look bad. Moving back home with my mom at 36 wasn't really a choice.
I went back to school, but I was lost and struggling the whole time, and I managed to slowly and painfully rebuild my social world (trying to become normie had cost me all my *good* friends, but I hadn't gained a single real normie friend out of the deal.) I didn't even know what I believed anymore, what I wanted, who I was, it's like I'd hollowed myself out from the inside.

The thing is with all of the stuff I was into... I got corrected relentlessly by the new people I was around. I treated it like I was taking a support ticket. Even my way of thinking and interacting was relentlessly critiqued. Later on, after my second burnout, I regressed even harder. This actually is the beginning of my climb back because I had chronic pain issues at this point and my support system accommodated that and the accommodations I needed for that, were remarkably friendly to my autism, while getting any sympathy for being ND or having mental health stuff, had been... yeah, good luck.

I am doing much better now, I live with my partner of the past 6 years who is an incredibly loving and supportive man who also happens to be one of the old friends I had re-connected with after I'd moved home. I started writing science fiction again, which had been abandoned during the entire time I was trying to be normie. I became a stoner and a bit of a slacker and have never since had the pace of life I had before my 2014 burnout.

But I feel like a part of me died during those years and trying to find myself again afterward, was really dark. I will never be the person I was before that time.

What I learned over time that made me realize that I'm autistic in recent years is that a lot of the things I learned about the social world, I can't apply.

But part of the pain is that I feel like I became this person who is a broken fake NT rather than the whole autistic I used to be, and like I no longer really fit in *either* world. Now I feel like there's a glass wall between me and my autistic friends *and* the normies I know.

I feel like I gained a lot of knowledge about how NT normies work, but I don't feel like it *did anything for me.* I'm not sure I'm better off for it. I feel like my time spent trying to be that, just hollowed me out.

The worst part is that I kept doing it because people - such as my high-masking mother - rewarded me for it. The irony being that I have more social support as an autistic with actual social skills than I did as a fake normie.

And a ton of this "normiehood" isn't even about being NT because I don't think a single "normie" friend I had was NT, they were just self-hating NDs instead of joyfully nerdy/artsy/counterculture ones, and the NDs trying to fake NT were no more successful than the nerdy/artsy ones, they were just far less happy/adjusted.

I literally was far more socially and economically successful being a slightly weird computer nerd/artist than I was trying to be a really mainstream Basic White Girl Health Care Worker.

Oh, there is a gender conformity component to this too because I am bi, I was pretty openly queer/identified as a lesbian for a long time, my ex-partner and I had a queer relationship, but for some reason I was rewarded more when I was looking like a conventionally attractive hetero woman so I kept it up until I couldn't stand to do it anymore.

I felt totally crawlingly uncomfortable in my skin and borderline gender dysphoric around NT women the entire time. It isn't until reconsidering my autism that this is settling down for me. I felt desperate to be accepted by middle class normie NTs in a way I'd never felt accepted before, and until my 30s, hadn't cared about.

I also feel like the pressure began to let up in my 40s and also because I'd re-invented myself as an artist/designer.

It's only recently that I'm realizing how much I had changed my way of thinking, way of speaking, etc... a lot of it because of the pandemic and it's like a lot of my facade has just crumbled.

The funny part is that when I watch an old video of myself from 2012 when I still thought I wasn't autistic, and I thought I was passing as normal... I still seem incredibly autistic. My voice and movements give it away.


_________________
"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." - Franz Kafka

ASD (dx. 2004, Asperger's Syndrome) + ADHD


StickBugette
Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

User avatar

Joined: 11 Mar 2021
Age: 45
Gender: Female
Posts: 28
Location: Washington, DC, USA

16 Jun 2022, 8:10 am

Yeah, this is masking. And the problem with masking is that you can lose your sense of who you really are. It is dark! And it's a disaster when you're in a relationship with someone who likes the masked you and not the real you.

I used to think that no one would love the real me. But to my surprise, my current partner is fabulous and I feel like I can be really myself with him. And my sister's been really nice about learning more about neurodiversity and trying to understand me.

It's not neuro-diverse vs normie, like two very separate things. Neurodiversity is a spectrum. Feel free to be you. It does take time to figure out who that is, and you're a dynamic changing living being!

I find that if I don't overschedule, I have time to do things my way, and that includes things I thought I couldn't do, like notice when other people are upset and try to help them. I also explain myself more but without apologizing, such as "I need a break from touch sometimes because I'm autistic, so don't hug me right now."

Good luck.



orbweaver
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

User avatar

Joined: 12 Jun 2022
Age: 49
Gender: Female
Posts: 154
Location: NorCal

16 Jun 2022, 1:58 pm

StickBugette wrote:
Yeah, this is masking. And the problem with masking is that you can lose your sense of who you really are. It is dark! And it's a disaster when you're in a relationship with someone who likes the masked you and not the real you.

I used to think that no one would love the real me. But to my surprise, my current partner is fabulous and I feel like I can be really myself with him. And my sister's been really nice about learning more about neurodiversity and trying to understand me.

It's not neuro-diverse vs normie, like two very separate things. Neurodiversity is a spectrum. Feel free to be you. It does take time to figure out who that is, and you're a dynamic changing living being!

I find that if I don't overschedule, I have time to do things my way, and that includes things I thought I couldn't do, like notice when other people are upset and try to help them. I also explain myself more but without apologizing, such as "I need a break from touch sometimes because I'm autistic, so don't hug me right now."

Good luck.



Part of what I've been trying to wrap my mind around with encountering the term "masking" is that I've had to sit with, is what I've been doing, "masking."

I have been able to let a lot of it go because after I stopped trying to be Normie White Lady and realized I couldn't (for one, I'm Jewish and actually a bit of a tomboy, it was a real cultural mismatch), I kind of re-embraced an alt look and went back to school to study design, and I didn't have to work while I was in school (except during the two semesters I was a TA, which energized me, I actually loved it). But it's like lots about Normie NT Stuff is that I can't tell the difference between trying to conform to middle class normie mainstream cis het WASP culture, and trying to be NT, and had no idea which I was trying to be. I didn't believe I was autistic at the time, so in my head, that's not what I was trying to overcome. I tried to make myself fit in with those spaces *without* masking autism, because I didn't presently believe I was autistic, but I was finding myself getting corrected over and over again on behavior and mannerisms that I'd never been corrected on before by my social world.

Because I'm really lucky: autistic nonconformist family, partially homeschooled, dropped out of high school early, pipelined right into nerd/artist/alternative crowds - it's not until my 30s that I really, really experienced *this* level of conformity pressure. I mainly got it dealing with NTs and people who were trying hard to "fit in." The level of masking asked of me by my tech jobs was just... be professional? Though it was often harder when I had to work with NT women because I feel like women are socialized to watch each other like hawks.

At first I was struggling to be Normie, which was just a costume, but then as I got more into Normie culture... it became struggling to "be NT" - once the critique started happening. (And literally everything about my life was wrong and had to be reformed according to this crowd and this mindset, because in the spaces I was in, I just couldn't even admit to the crowds I'd been part of, that my long time best friend was an atheist autistic furry, etc. Let their brains explode if they knew that this person recently came out trans. And is still my best friend.) It wasn't just an NT makeover, it was a Cis Het Normie Culture makeover. I don't even know what mannerisms of mine I was hiding that are autistic, vs which ones are Jewish. Talking with one's hands, and being really opinionated and animated in a conversation, are associated with Ashkenazi Jews too.

Anyway, it was a headf**k.

The very worst part? It's not like I was just wearing a costume, like when I went to my tech jobs or went to my job as a design TA at my school, where I remember to have manners and professional behavior. It's like everything about me was WRONG. EVERYTHING. I thought wrong, I had the wrong language, I had the wrong feelings, I had the wrong friends, the wrong likes and dislikes, the wrong preferences. There was a ton of female normie stuff in there too and I was also getting lots of my "how to be a girl" stuff from borderline trad spaces where I found out that I even had the wrong feelings and motivations. ("Women aren't supposed to actually want anything. They're supposed to fit themselves around men.") OMFG the best thing that happened was that I ended up having a really bad crush on a new woman friend and realizing that just being heavily bi and having weird feelings about my gender, I was not compatible with the world I was trying to move in. (Though part of it is that I wanted to be like her.) LOL (cringe) I later found out that the woman in charge of one of my spaces was involved with Stormfront.org, and I'd had no idea that whole time. Yeah, knowing *that* has made me walk away from the kinds of spaces I'd been in.

I was a much more functional autistic before this period, but during this period I had 2 burnouts. I lost *so much of myself* and even so much of my *knowledge* and how to even DO so many things. And even after I quit trying to be a cultural normie (I was slowly deprogramming myself from some of it as of 2011-2014) without believing that I'd been autistic all along, it's like... I was still struggling.

I have experienced full on shutdowns in social spaces and episodes of selective mutism that I hadn't had before, I forgot how to drive for a while, etc...

The weird thing is that the pandemic/lockdown has kind of brought me back (I did not even realize I was experiencing sensory overload until I wasn't), and I have kind of been wandering back into working in tech, and Work From Home helps, and my partner is very very supportive of me.

Also it feels like it takes much more energy to mask than it used to. I can go out as The Professional but I'm dead inside the whole time, running on autopilot, and completely drained.

The worst part of my heavy masking period is that I was trying to kill who I was, and become something else, and I never even became that other thing - I didn't end up with one long term NT normie friend the entire time. I ended up friends with this one physically disabled woman who was heavily ambitious/Girlboss and basically was friends with NDs up until she attained a certain professional level and married a semi normie man. Then she ghosted all of us. She was highly critical of me the whole time and I took all of her advice thinking it's how I wasn't passing as normal. (Often pattern-matched me to her ex-boyfriend who I am 100% convinced was autistic). I wasn't even invited to her wedding, even though I'd stayed up all night with this woman when she had alcohol poisoning, sat with her through numerous breakups/romantic traumas, etc. Basically I gather that we were all an embarrassment to her and she felt that once she was in a better economic and status position, she could attract "normal" friends and a "normal" partner.

Anyway. F**k normie culture


_________________
"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." - Franz Kafka

ASD (dx. 2004, Asperger's Syndrome) + ADHD