At a very young age, I learned a hard lesson, one I’m still working to overcome. I learned that if I wanted people to like me, want to spend time with me, and be my friend, I had to completely hide my interests and who I truly was as a person.
It was in grade school that I began to figure out that people were off put by my behaviors, by how loud I can be, or how much energy I had. Talking about my interests freely and intensely got me labeled a freak, weird, etc.
I was trying to connect by sharing my interests, to talk about things that made me happy and that I was passionate about. Whether it was my favorite book that I’ve read countless times or a TV show I wanted to reenact to show you just how hilarious that certain scene was, my way of relating was “too much.”
It’s how I communicate, and it’s how I’ve communicated since I was a young child. But yet, the world taught me that I should be ashamed of that. It’s freaky and weird to act like characters on the screen. My way of communicating my interests were weird.
That is what society and my fellow peers taught me. People made it expressly clear that acting things out as a form of communication is weird and off putting for others.
It wasn’t until maybe my second year of middle school that I put the pieces together and realized why I had no friends. It’s because I was myself. And if I wanted people to like me or want to talk to me, I had to “tone myself down” and act like everyone else to fit in.
And it did traumatize me.
I still do it today. There are things I need to do to make myself comfortable that I ignore to make others more comfortable being around me. To not upset people. To be “polite.”
I hate making direct eye contact with others. It can be physically painful to look into a stranger’s eyes, yet I do it because it’s the “socially acceptable” thing to do.
Sometimes I need to yell, make sounds, or let my arms and legs go wild to get rid of an overwhelming energy in my body, but I can’t because I’m in public or around family, and it would be “weird” if I did. So I let that energy build until I’m exhausted physically and emotionally.
Loud sounds in general are painful to hear, and if too many sounds happen at once, it’s like someone is sticking ice pics in my ears and hammering away at my brain. I just want to scream, or cover my ears to make it stop, but doing so will get stares of judgement or laughter.
So now, I have learned to dissociate and leave the world for a while.
I have to dissociate from my authentic self to cope with the extreme stress my mind feels when I am overstimulated and unable to express it the way I need to.
Masking in general can be so deeply painful for me. Having to pretend constantly and censor your every word, action, movement of your body is so exhausting and agonizing. And yet, people wonder why I need time to recharge after a day of being around others.
Yet, despite this, masking has become my normal.
I’m struggling to undo the habits I learned from my childhood. I have no friends, and I’m not sure if I have no friends by choice or if I’ve convinced myself no one would want to be my friend because I’m weird and “too much” sometimes.
I’ve masked for so long I have successfully fooled everyone into thinking I’m “normal,” even to the point trained psychologists don’t believe me when I say I’m autistic. I mean, “You make great eye contact and communicate so well!” I will never forget those words spoken by my previous therapist.
I functioned “normally” and behaved “normally” for her, so I must be fine, right? She never once considered that I was taught to mask my behaviors and mannerisms since I was a child. Despite being in a setting where I’m suppose to be my full, authentic self, I still can’t break down those walls and act like myself for fear of judgement.
Once I step into a doctor’s– or any professional’s– office, I enter into what I call “super polite mode,” where I follow a specific routine I made from my observations of neurotypicals to be “polite” in a professional setting. Make lots of eye contact, keep hands in lap, nod to show interest in what they are saying, and only speak when appropriate. It’s like a reel playing in my head, a formation of various behaviors I’ve learned and categorized for different situations.
It’s not really me.
It never was me.
And it never will be.
It’s so very damaging to have to pretend all the time. So very traumatizing.
My experiences led me to a discovery: neurotypicals aren’t too kind to those who don’t fit inside their bubble. If you aren’t a perfect cookie-cutter example of everyone else, society will ostracize you and label you a freak.
If you have weird behaviors and interests, you’re a spectacle to laugh at, another comedy bit for neurotypicals to mock their differences. It creates shame. People don’t realize just how cruel their words and actions can be.
Or maybe they do and just don’t care.