I realized this week that I can get trapped in a social script when trying to match how people act at work. This had never been a problem before because I hated my previous jobs and I was so miserable I didn’t have time to make friends. I’m pretty friendly with my new co-workers and we often joke around while working, but we are at work and need to be professional. This is a problem for me because my scripts for friendly interactions and working interactions are very different. I find myself getting sucked into the atmospheres around me and get stuck in my friendly script, which causes me to not act as responsible as I normally would. I usually only realize it later that I was in the wrong script. This can be very embarrassing. Scripting at this point is the same as breathing, when in an unknown situation I naturally start blending into how the people around me act, but its frustrating because what everyone is doing is not always the right thing to do, I know this. I’m new to the concept of work relationships so I need to learn to trust my judgement and remember that there are no finite rules for social interactions.
When I was a teenager and had just discovered that I didn’t fit in I began trying to act and dress like everyone else. This went on until I gained enough confidence to try to find a version of myself that I liked too, but I quickly found that I didn’t know how to like things. I would go to the mall with my friends and get very confused, I’d ask them ” how to you know when you like clothes?” and they wouldn’t know how to explain it. I was able to have a special interest and like thing including it. I was able to dislike thing such as scratchy fabrics or a tight shirts, but I wasn’t able take an interest in anything else.
I find that many young autistic people have underdeveloped sense of identity . We are always learning, we have to be to function in social situations. We are constantly being judged and correcting our action, with all the opinions swirling around us sometimes it’s easier to just let other people take the reins. Why bother being unique with all the consequences? This second guessing of our identity is why many of us stagnate by the time we reach high school. By the time we’re old enough to show our individuality we’ve already been taught to fear the social risk. I found myself really depressed because of this, it felt like I had no way to interact with the world, I felt like I was a blank slate not really living just parroting “real people”. I felt so lonely. Knowing yourself, knowing how you personally interact with the world is so necessary. Autistic people need to be allowed to develop their identities, we cannot learn to care about ourselves when we don’t even try to know ourselves.
I worked on this everyday. My identity can be seen easiest through my clothes. I started wearing whatever was comfortable or special interest related, then moved to things I found weird, anything that would make my friends laugh, and slowly I was able to figure out what I like and let it change with me. I’m not a teenager anymore, but I’m still trying to find joy and enjoyment in my identity and it’s hard. Sometimes I want to stop, it takes a lot of energy to put yourself into the world, but it’s worth it. It’s through these things that I have learned to find confidence and now I try to encourage it in others. My little brother started wearing a necklace the other day and I overloaded on complements because it was the first time he had ever worn something just because he liked it. I believe that’s all we really have to do. Support autistic youth, let them develop there own personalities and don’t force ones onto them.
When someone gave me the idea of putting my thought and feeling out there to get them out of my head it seemed like a great idea. I have a lot to say and I’m not afraid to say it, but “start a blog about yourself” is a vague idea. There are no instructions, no rules, no baseline to make sure I am “doing it right” which can cause me endless stress. I’ve decided to do it anyways because its 2 am and I can’t sleep. Just like most things with no instruction I started researching and obsessing. I hate having no direction it can even throw me into a panic, I need instructions, examples, but I will never ask for them. I believe this need for rules is the root of masking.
It’s hard to explain how it feels to mask, I like to describe it as a cliff edge. Nerotypical climb the cliff in the daytime, they know where the edge is, they can walk freely and feel safe. Being autistic is like being on that cliff at night. You have your arms outstretched, you’re taking smaller steps being more careful because you don’t know where the drop is, but you know its out there. It’s sutler then nerotypicals usually understand I can usually just copy others and stay quite when I don’t know what to do, which usually works, but sometime I stumble and fall off that cliff.
This is the wrong way to look at this I know that, its ok to ask for help, but that’s the instinct with masking. You get good at it and you loose yourself, you forget who you are and you need the rule to tell you how to be, because without them what if you do something wrong. Young people, especially young girls with autism are taught to hide because we’re use to getting hurt. That cliff is there, social rules are there, but it’s ok to ask for help and more importantly, it’s ok to fall off the cliff. Social rules are there to communicate, but communication doesn’t stop because you get them wrong. Masking can be a shield, it can be who you are in unknown situations, and its fine to use it to navigate the world, everyone is doing similar, but the problem I see is if I start believing that I’m only worth something when I am masking that becomes self hatred.
I’m working hard to change how I treat myself. I am starting this blog with no instruction. I am allowed to make mistakes, have other people judge me, or not care at all. I am trying to understand that people will still care about me if I annoy them or if I stand out. Others will still love us and we will still love ourselves not despite our differences or because of them. I am allowed to just live.