Visibly autistic (the art of masking)

Did you know you can play chase the stim? If you’re not autistic you won’t. The answer to that question will always be no. Without exception.

But I wonder how many actually autistic people know this, because I’ve never read about it in a textbook. Yet it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that what the textbook says autism is like and what living it is like are so far removed it’s like reading about Ancient Greece.

All very interesting but ultimately remote.

First I didn’t think I was autistic because those same books didn’t tell me I was. Then I didn’t think I was autistic enough because Twitter was full of people who didn’t work and I did so I was ashamed almost to talk to anyone because of my privilege. Then I didn’t think I was autistic enough because I didn’t think I was smart enough. Then I didn’t think I was autistic enough because I didn’t stim, hated the word, didn’t have many sensory issues, had friends, drowned in empathy, rarely had meltdowns…

The textbooks tell you something. They tell you what is ‘expected’ of an autistic. The diagnostic process, too. It tells you how you will be judged and weighed, what value you do or do not have to ‘normal’ society by assessing how far you deviate from it.

It is a dehumanising experience. It highlights every single thing about you that’s different and offers no comfort or retreat from it. It forces you to face your own ‘defects’ head on, a litany of failure and fuck up.

Then out into the big wide world you go with your diagnosis. You find your community online, your tribe. Because you are so relieved, because you finally have a tribe. It might not be the neuro typical one but who cares? For the first time ever you’ve got a label that explains why. Why the isolation, the confusion, the pain, the fast and the slow, the lack of common sense, the freeze/fight/flight, the empath intuitive silliness, the accidental rudeness.

But you don’t fit with your tribe either. Because you’re not autistic enough. So even as an autistic person, as actually autistic, you have failed. You don’t flap. You don’t struggle with the same things. And the old feelings of alienation, of despair and pain come flooding back as you realise you are nothing, no one, and will never belong.

Except.

You lied. Or rather, you didn’t lie. You just didn’t have any self awareness. The textbooks told you have the story. They told you the male half. They told you what autism looked like for male. Not for female. They told you about meltdowns but not shutdowns. They told you about flapping but the description was so specific you didn’t see yourself in it. They told you about IQ but made a really big point that Rainman was a super negative connotation and reflection of autism so you kind of felt ashamed of your own…super powers.

I didn’t see myself. I still don’t. But slowly, surely, I am coming to understand something. Not all autistics are the same. Not all female autistics are the same. Not many of them are like me. I am not like them. Not many of them seem to like me. I seem to wind them up to hell, truth be told. I get shouted at about how at least my autistic mother understands me. (She doesn’t), about how when I had a partner how lucky I was to have someone to hold me who understood me (he did neither because he couldn’t learn how to hold me the right way and wouldn’t read the books I gave him to help him understand me because I wasn’t worth the time).

My experience of interaction with other actually autistic girls and women has been heart sore inducing, made me feel an inch tall and hurt me, rather than helped me.

Not autistic enough. Can’t join our club.

I don’t let people see. Or rather, I haven’t even been letting myself see. I have been so ashamed of all my autistic behaviours I have spent epic amounts of energy suppressing them. Bottling them. Hiding them. Concealing them so deep down that not even I myself could see them, see the need for them.

So I don’t look neurotypical enough to be accepted by the neurotypicals and I don’t look autistic enough to be accepted by autistics and there’s me. In the middle. Alien freakgirl. Sitting listening to people tell me neurotypicals don’t get a manual either and biting my tongue and biting my tongue and biting my tongue while all I want to do is scream. And scream. And scream.

Because that’s what I’m keeping locked in. Locked down. The fear that if I open the box, if I let it all out, I won’t ever stop. Screaming.