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Ida B.
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30 Sep 2021, 8:41 pm

Hi everyone.

I'm a 27 year old woman, and a few months ago it dawned on me that I am on the spectrum. Realising that I've been masking and that this has thoroughly messed up quite a few parts of my life has been a bit of an epiphany, but at the same time I'm struggling with how to actually act on it.

Since abovementioned self-diagnosis (the official one being still work in progress) I've started to allow myself to act more "autistic" in ways that feel good and more real to me, such as stimming more, completely indulging in my interests, avoiding unpleasant social interactions aka most social interactions, and generally acting the way I feel I would be acting if I hadn't been told over and over again that it is inappropriate and weird and rude. It has been massively liberating.

However, I mentioned I've been avoiding most social contacts, which feels rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I'm ridiculously excited about just being able to say no to an invitation for lunch and instead spend the break hidden in my favourite dark corner as I always wanted to, like a childhood dream come true. But even I need social contact (for some reason I am not fully aware of), and as much as I hate having conversations I often feel vaguely but clearly better after. I just moved to a new country and common sense tells me that investing in some local friendship-like relationships would be a good idea, mental health-wise. I also have fairly severe social anxieties and it seems like a safe bet that just avoiding all kinds of social situations that make me feel even a tiny bit uncomfortable is going to make them worse. Finally, there is some undeniable truth to the claim that my autistic way of being is often rude, and I'd actually like to avoid offending people, if possible.

So, yeah. I'm not sure if I'm expressing my predicament very clearly. In my head, being social equals masking equals feeling isolated for not actually being myself around people equals being miserable, while being non-social equals being straightforwardly isolated because of simply not being around people equals being miserable. It's a bit of a mess. I just started grad school, and everyone keeps on telling me how important it is that I socialise and network and make friends with people in my field, and part of me is like, screw it, I'd like to wear a version of myself that actually fits me for a change, but then I also know that they are right in some way, I guess (?).

I really hope I'm making some sense. Given that my situation is probably hardly unique (and there is probably at least one among the 11532 topics in this category that addresses exactly my question but I really can't be bothered to go through them, apologies), I was wondering if folks here have some thoughts on this, of whichever genre. It would be very kind and genuinely appreciated.



Mountain Goat
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30 Sep 2021, 8:59 pm

I feel naked when the masking breaks down. I don't know how not to mask to be honest. I can only unmask when with my Mum or on my own, or during burnout when I lose the ability to mask which is horrible.I say lose the ability. I glitch back and fore between masking and unmasking when that happens which is a bit like that girl in the "Wreck It Ralph" film.



Mona Pereth
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01 Oct 2021, 12:54 am

I would suggest that you try to find ways to use your interests as a way to connect with people who have the same interests.

I would suggest that you look on Meetup.com for groups devoted to your hobbies. Most of these groups won't be meeting in-person until after the pandemic is over, but many are currently meeting online, usually via video chat, or in some cases via text-based chat.

I would also suggest that you start a blog about at least one of your interests, preferably on either Wordpress.com or Google blogger. (These will, at least eventually, give you much better Google rankings than if you just talk about your hobbies on your social media accounts, if any. Also you should use both a calendar widget and a tags widget to make it easier for users to navigate your blog. More about these technical matters if you ask.)

If you tell us what your interests are, some of us might be able to make other, more specific suggestions on how to find people with those interests.

If you want to make friends here on Wrong Planet, I would suggest that you edit your profile to include the following:

1) Your approximate geographic location. Don't be specific enough to endanger your privacy, but do identify at least your country and, if it's a large country, your province/state or general region or nearest major metropolitan area.

2) A signature line that mentions your interests.


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badRobot
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01 Oct 2021, 5:34 am

My advise is thinking of your interests and an excuse to meet new people, temporary social glue. But focus on building genuine connections with people by trying to focus on being genuinely interested in them, not just subject matter of your interests.

When I first realized I'm on the spectrum, I used it as an excuse to avoid any discomfort, but now I'm trying to avoid living in a bubble. I believe socialization is just a skill NTs pick up subconsciously, but it still something you can learn, we have to deliberately practice this skill to internalize it and at some point develop "muscle memory" make it effortless.

So approach it as if you are learning to meditate. When you are meeting people who have common interests, try to be mindful about paying attention to their motives, their feelings, values, what they are trying to say. When your focus shifts to subject matter, just gently notice it without beating yourself and focus it back on social aspect of interaction. It would be hard in the beginning, but as any habit or skill, over time it will become second nature.

If you experience sensory overload in social situations, practicing mindfulness, meditating really helps with ability to develop "passive observation" and concentration, ability to filter out noise.



Minervx_2
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06 Oct 2021, 10:12 pm

For me, it took a lot of practice, self-reflection and learning from mistakes. I still get nervous and shy at times, but overall I feel like I can blend in with people while still being myself. So, I'm sort of "masking" but at the same time, I'm also just being myself and comfortable with how I am.



Ettina
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31 Oct 2021, 12:13 pm

One of the strategies I use is strategically disclosing autistic traits. I often frame them as personality quirks.

For example, if I'm starting to infodump, I'll often interrupt myself to say "by the way, I have trouble sometimes being able to tell how someone else feels about what I'm saying, and I have a tendency to go on and on about topics I'm interested in, so please interrupt me if you need a break from this topic".

If I'm getting overloaded, I'll say something like "I'm having trouble focusing with all this noise. Can we go somewhere quieter to talk about this?" (or "Can we discuss this later, after I've had some time to relax?").

Even if I don't say I'm autistic, describing relevant autistic traits and giving the other person suggestions on how to accommodate me has often gotten me good results.



AngelL
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15 Dec 2021, 9:56 pm

Mountain Goat wrote:
I feel naked when the masking breaks down. I don't know how not to mask to be honest.


I wrote this two nights ago...

Quote:
My masks are flippin' impenetrable. If you were in front of me right now, you'd think, "Now, there's one unflappable dude." Well, I mean, you would if you ever would use the word 'unflappable'. Which you wouldn't, of course. But in reality, inside, I'm on the precipice of an epic meltdown. In my house, alone. And my facial expressions, body language, and gestures are consistent with someone who doesn't have a care in the world - still. I can't even drop the masks in front of myself.



txfz1
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21 Dec 2021, 8:37 pm

AngelL wrote:
Mountain Goat wrote:
I feel naked when the masking breaks down. I don't know how not to mask to be honest.


I wrote this two nights ago...

Quote:
My masks are flippin' impenetrable. If you were in front of me right now, you'd think, "Now, there's one unflappable dude." Well, I mean, you would if you ever would use the word 'unflappable'. Which you wouldn't, of course. But in reality, inside, I'm on the precipice of an epic meltdown. In my house, alone. And my facial expressions, body language, and gestures are consistent with someone who doesn't have a care in the world - still. I can't even drop the masks in front of myself.


If you can't trust yourself, then who can you trust? I have none and that is the hardest part to deal with, for me.

As far as masking, NTs mask/assimulate/present. Is the issue the number of times it occurs or with the "lie or faking it" moral issue?



AngelL
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21 Dec 2021, 11:44 pm

txfz1 wrote:
As far as masking, NTs mask/assimulate/present. Is the issue the number of times it occurs or with the "lie or faking it" moral issue?


I'm not sure who you were asking, but I'd like to answer. I have no issue with the latter. I'm trying to tell the truth; that's enough for me right now. It [i]is[/i] the number of times, certainly; but that's not the real issue. Worse, I'm not sure I can describe it. Here goes nothing...

As a kid, I wanted to be good. Cause no one liked it when I wasn't good and when I was 'bad' I got hit. Hit by mom, the kids at school, the teachers at school, random adults for not looking them in the eye, and everyone else because it seemed like the thing to do. So it seems, since I can pass as NT (level two no less), I must have a really over-developed hatred of being bad getting hit. And it turned out that I was taught, from Day1 on Planet Earth, that every expression that could identify me as autistic was bad. I buried them so deep, and so long ago, that I no longer know where they are or what they'd look like if I found them. Had it not been for the Burnout of the Millennium about ten years ago, I wouldn't have been led down the path to a diagnosis two months ago at 56.

Because of an experience I had back in November of 2020, I can now feel the trauma I'm subjecting myself to by continuing to act instead of just being. I know the way I'm doing it is damaging...but I have nothing to replace it with.



txfz1
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22 Dec 2021, 10:25 am

AngelL wrote:
txfz1 wrote:
As far as masking, NTs mask/assimulate/present. Is the issue the number of times it occurs or with the "lie or faking it" moral issue?


I'm not sure who you were asking, but I'd like to answer. I have no issue with the latter. I'm trying to tell the truth; that's enough for me right now. It [i]is[/i] the number of times, certainly; but that's not the real issue. Worse, I'm not sure I can describe it. Here goes nothing...

As a kid, I wanted to be good. Cause no one liked it when I wasn't good and when I was 'bad' I got hit. Hit by mom, the kids at school, the teachers at school, random adults for not looking them in the eye, and everyone else because it seemed like the thing to do. So it seems, since I can pass as NT (level two no less), I must have a really over-developed hatred of being bad getting hit. And it turned out that I was taught, from Day1 on Planet Earth, that every expression that could identify me as autistic was bad. I buried them so deep, and so long ago, that I no longer know where they are or what they'd look like if I found them. Had it not been for the Burnout of the Millennium about ten years ago, I wouldn't have been led down the path to a diagnosis two months ago at 56.

Because of an experience I had back in November of 2020, I can now feel the trauma I'm subjecting myself to by continuing to act instead of just being. I know the way I'm doing it is damaging...but I have nothing to replace it with.


I tried just being honest with myself and allowed myself to talk before thinking over the summer. I was surprised at the repetition that was voiced. I was also surprised by how my sub-conscious said things that my conscious had not processed yet or had blocked, and it (SC) was 100% correct. I still "acted instead of just being" when the stress was there and I'm very much afraid that I will never find myself in this mess. My only "bad" corporeal punishments, in my youth, were for the lying which I never understood. The moral issue still confuses me today.



Finn Razelle
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07 Jan 2022, 1:31 pm

I almost started a new post with my own masking issues but then saw this thread so figured I'd contribute here, as you guys are already discussing the same thing. (Having some seriously appalling realizations on how much I mask in daily life. The following is a bit of a ramble, so feel free to skip if you are less of a reader and more of the "TLDR" persuasion.) For those folks who don't mind wordier posts, I would appreciate your feedback as much as the original author of this thread.

Today I started re-reading Way of the Pilgrim, by Gordon R. Dickson, a novel I studied intimately when in college as part of my graduate thesis. But even before I studied it, I read it and re-read it and loved it despite its stodgy writing style and sexist undertones. It was about a courier-translator named Shane Evert (whose first name implies “shame” and last name, translated from the Latin, literally means “turned outward,” as in, “turned outward and away from oneself,” or perhaps “turned inside out”). His every moment was governed by the alien conquerors of Earth for whom he worked as translator, and his constant compulsion to hypervigilant study of his alien masters, the Aalaag… his attention to every nuance of their voices and body language and wording … was because he knew that his very survival and existence depended upon the accuracy of such study—being able to intuit and predict their actions, and act and react accordingly, to be so faultlessly correct by those alien standards that no harm would come to him through inadvertent mistakes. It is masking at its most intense—the use of empathic ability to avoid provoking adverse reactions from those by whose power he is dominated, and whose rage at his mistakes could literally end his existence in a moment of pique.

He trains himself so brutally thoroughly to act like the alien race that has subjugated him that he loses all sense of who he truly is.

I think I always felt a kinship with his hypervigilance, with his extreme introversion, with his sense of separateness not only from the aliens around him, but from the humans around him who seem to him alien as well, because he exists between the two worlds and therefore cannot truly be a part of either one. I felt a kinship with his longing to be loved, his longing to be a part of the human world—to be understood and cherished for who he truly is… while simultaneously being unable to show others who he truly is and thus create an opportunity to be loved authentically.

How can anyone love someone when they are not allowed to see behind the mask? If they fall in love with the mask, it is a separation as damaging to the person behind the mask as it would be to never be loved at all.

Shane casts aside his mask finally, and throws in fully with the human race, and saves it even as he embraces it… He saves the Earth from the aliens by becoming fully human. And in doing so, he saves himself.

I understand now that I have masked all my life. That I continue to do so daily. That even though I often enjoy the interactions I engage in while wearing one mask or another… I labor under the knowledge that no one truly knows me as a person, because I do not truly know or understand myself. I stand alone, afraid to speak my own truth to the world because I do not know what it is. And the frustration of that lies so invisibly deep within me that I often do not realize I feel it, until something brings it to the surface.

Like being told that my polymer clay art (MY art!!) “makes other people so happy.” It was meant as a compliment but felt like an insult, as though the deepest work of my heart was somehow only allowed to be praised if it pleased others. As though MY art were itself a mask.

Like being told that I am my mother’s “travel buddy,” there to make her journeys more enjoyable, there to meld with what she wishes to do on those journeys, destined to bear the brunt of her disapproval if my mood darkens at all from the cheerful companion she expects.

Like being expected to craft advertising documents as part of my job—taking someone else’s ideas and placing them within careful sugar-confections of delicate wording to be sampled by a wide populace and judged for their sweetness of tone and appropriateness to the purpose and the moment… Rather than writing my OWN things to be published: wild, raw, unalloyed from the deep emotions of rage, frustration, and criticism that may spawn them. Because God forbid I write anything that may offend another.

I don’t know how to remove the mask from my life: from the version of myself I present to the world. It is such a reflex… the kneejerk need to please others in order to avoid conflict, pain, criticism, and stress—I do it before I can even consider what I truly want for myself in any given moment.

How do you stop a lifetime of hiding behind perceptions of what is appropriate?



HighLlama
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07 Jan 2022, 1:52 pm

Finn Razelle wrote:
(Having some seriously appalling realizations on how much I mask in daily life.


Quote:
his constant compulsion to hypervigilant study


Quote:
being unable to show others who he truly is and thus create an opportunity to be loved authentically.

How can anyone love someone when they are not allowed to see behind the mask? If they fall in love with the mask, it is a separation as damaging to the person behind the mask as it would be to never be loved at all.


Quote:
though I often enjoy the interactions I engage in while wearing one mask or another… I labor under the knowledge that no one truly knows me as a person, because I do not truly know or understand myself. I stand alone, afraid to speak my own truth to the world because I do not know what it is. And the frustration of that lies so invisibly deep within me that I often do not realize I feel it, until something brings it to the surface.


Quote:
Because God forbid I write anything that may offend another.


Quote:
I don’t know how to remove the mask from my life: from the version of myself I present to the world. It is such a reflex… the kneejerk need to please others in order to avoid conflict, pain, criticism, and stress—I do it before I can even consider what I truly want for myself in any given moment.

How do you stop a lifetime of hiding behind perceptions of what is appropriate?


I quote the parts I relate to. You described so much of my life, especially realizing how much I mask in adulthood. I have let people see me without the mask, but whenever they do, they just think, "He's being weird," or I'm having a bad moment. They don't understand the person they suddenly see, and realize it's me. They also like the version which makes them laugh...keeps life entertaining...makes things easy for them. My pain is a burden, even when I just want to vent and don't want solutions.

If I ever write a memoir, it could be called You Don't Have To Do That. Whenever I do something natural for me, it appears weird to so many NT people. I feel like someone is always rushing over to tell me I don't have to do something. Because, of course, I'm too stupid to do anything on purpose. And as a different person, I couldn't possibly have a different preference to them.

For me, the masking got worse when I had to work full time. I still work on taking it off, but for me it helps to start at home. I don't know if you live alone, but try to have a private space where you can be you. Be as "weird" as you want. Don't second guess yourself, your instincts, your needs. I started to find I enjoyed a lot of those masking interactions way less than I did. It's a process, but I am becoming happier. Journaling is also good for this, to get out any thought without judgment.

It's about discovering what's natural, forgiving yourself, and learning to hear your own voice again. I think we also have to really learn to love ourselves. It's easy to mask in pursuit of love...to find the relationship you've always wanted...but as you know this is doomed. For me, at least, it's knowing I have to be patient for the rarer, but deeper, connections. And also being honest about my own limits.


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CrisChalcedony
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10 Jan 2022, 3:56 pm

Finn Razelle wrote:
I don’t know how to remove the mask from my life: from the version of myself I present to the world. It is such a reflex… the kneejerk need to please others in order to avoid conflict, pain, criticism, and stress—I do it before I can even consider what I truly want for myself in any given moment.

How do you stop a lifetime of hiding behind perceptions of what is appropriate?


I'm here, too, and I don't have any answers, but maybe it helps to know there are more of us? Trying to unravel the "whys" is really hard. I have only recently become aware that the time my brain needs to process incoming "signals" from other people is a lot longer than it is for NTs. I think that has something to do with it. My automatic defense of "do whatever my brain hopes will minimize the chances of conflict and pain" kicks in BEFORE I can process and override that impulse. So it's not so much a question of consciously de-masking, in that moment. And it's tough for me to admit this even to myself, because I'm a member of MENSA. I'm smart. But in this particular process, I am also slow. So what to do when the mask kicks in BEFORE the cerebral processing necessary to unmask? No good answers here, but I sincerely hope you find something that works for you.



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10 Jan 2022, 4:10 pm

Masking social anxiety is one thing. Masking my discomfort with any associated sensory input is another. I can't pretend that the sunlight, fluorescent light, endless prattle, background noises, perfumes, and other scents don't bother me. I end up with my hands over my ears and my eyes shut, even when the conversation or activity might be somewhat tolerable. How do people accommodate their sensory angst by masking?



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10 Jan 2022, 4:19 pm

I don't know really. Maybe...

LIGHT: Sunglasses, polarized lenses. Maybe two pairs stacked over each other. If you don't mind weird looks. lol

SOUND: Noise canceling earplugs. Muffles sound. Lowers decibels. But you can still hear.

OLFACTORY: Perfumes, I don't like strong things like that. Chemicals sprays also bother me. I've always hated stuff like that. I have no solution, except grin and bear it.


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10 Jan 2022, 9:48 pm

Ettina wrote:
One of the strategies I use is strategically disclosing autistic traits. I often frame them as personality quirks.

This sounds like not only a very good way to disclose one's issues that may hamper communication, and also a fun "hobby" to explore, given the endless permutations possible in ways to subtly or overtly disclose such things!

Darron


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