I learned about autism masking in 2021 and began unmasking my autism in 2022. I used to think the timing was bad or that I was wrong for choosing to unmask my autism, because of everything that happened as the result.
Simply put, I started unmasking my autism — stopped pretending to be a non-autistic person — and began embracing my autism…and, well, some relatives who influenced a lot of my life took issue with that.
Somewhere along the way of unmasking my autism, I realized I’d have to unmask my neurodivergence. This frightening epiphany was further exacerbated the more criticism I received from just…living my life.
Not every autistic person has the privilege of unmasking their autism, even if they’re an adult.
Who TF am I without a mask?
I have dissociative identity disorder (DID), so derealization and depersonalization happen more often for me than they do for the average person.
So…okay…I realized I’d have to unmask everything. I’m not going to journey you through everything that’s happened in my life the past year and a half.
What matters right now is what I feel and have been feeling lately, which has me feeling all kinds of confused and screwed up: I don’t know who I am when I’m not living to please others or pretending to be neurotypical.
I don’t like defining myself by my relations to other people as some kind of description of who/what I am. I’m a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, aunt, cat mom — those are just relationship labels.
Who I am, what relationships I hold dear to me, what I like — these are three different things. Two of them are just things about me, not that which thoroughly defines me. I am a cat mom; however, I also am other things.
The problem is, I don’t know what those things are.
My autism, DID and cat mom status define me; however, they aren’t the only things that define me.
Living life as a Real Girl
I hate porcelain dolls. As a kid, they terrified me; they still do as an adult. People always asked me why, and I never had the answer.
Thinking about it now, the only reason why that feels right is my having felt like I was a doll my whole freaking life. I wore clothes others wanted to see me in, let them dictate how I wore my hair, and was the pretty thing people liked looking at.
My feelings didn’t matter. Dolls don’t have feelings, you see; they feel only what the person playing with them decides they feel.
I’m no longer a doll. I’m, like, a real person free to live her life however she wants — something I was conditioned to fear and feel guilty for pretty much my whole life.
So, like, yeah. I feel like a “Real Girl” now instead of a mere plaything.
Except…I also used to feel like Playdough, what with people trying to mold me into how they wanted me to be. And I feel like that colorful dough now, as I stumble around trying to figure out who I am, what I want to do, and how I want to be.
This kind of freedom? It’s ironically imprisoning.
I have learned that life isn’t about “finding” yourself. You’re not lost — and if you are, ask for directions.
As long as who/what/how/etc. a person wants to be doesn’t inflict harm on other people (like murder), they’re free to be who they want (privileges aside).
I’m like a blank slate
While there will be moments of masking my neurodivergence, as masking is still really necessary in a predominantly neurotypical society, the moments where I needn’t hide who I am in order to live my life are the ones I hold dear to me.
In many ways, I feel as though I’m a blank canvas waiting to be painted. That’s not to say my complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is magically cured. No — without my past, I never would have arrived where I am right now.
I feel like a contradiction
I don’t know how to articulate anything properly, but I want to post about it, so I’m trying my best. 😅
I feel like a walking contradiction, not matching who I was in thought, likes or wants. Or the case is more that I am realizing now what I actually want versus that which has been spoon fed to me by people who couldn’t care less what I wanted.
Whatever the situation, it feels like the direct opposite of what I’d have wanted, been interested in, etc. before unmasking my autism.
For example, writing and publishing books was always my goal. It’s what I’ve always wanted! Now, I want to learn how to draw so I can instead create graphic novels around my stories. I want to make art!
Coming to terms with that took me a while, and now I’m teaching myself how to draw again. In 10th grade, I became obsessed with realism drawings after creating a piece that the art teacher decided to display.
I find myself rethinking whether I might be interested in podcast guesting or one day giving speech presentations. All these years, I thought I was shy because everyone told me I was.
People used to come with me to do something and had perplexed facial expressions when I said I’d do it myself. Some even said, “Are you okay? This isn’t like you…”
I used to blog for specific people, as if they’d finally get it if I posted about it — as if they’d reflect on themselves… some kind of vain BS like that. Now, I’m asking myself if I’m posting about something because I hope people will turn into dynamic characters or because it’s what I want for my blog…
And I don’t always have that answer.
Unmasking my autism has mostly been a journey of asking myself why:
- Why do I think I’m like this?
- Did someone else decide that this is what I want or how I am?
- Why can’t I do ____? (Is it a feeling or because I’m disabled?)
I think the most shocking part of everything related to unmasking myself is that I spend more days feeling grateful for choosing myself than feeling guilty.
I’ve been thinking I’ll be saying, “Yes, and…” the next time someone decides to comment on who I am or tell me who I used to be.
Yes, I used to be like that — and now, I’m not. People contain multitudes; they’re allowed to change. It’s called character development…or are you static? 🤔
P.S. I wrote an article about autism masking for one of my clients. Please go read it. 💓
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