There was a moment right when I first realized that I was autistic. Like a bright, shining bulb. And once that bulb was lit, it lit up a maze I didn’t even know I was in. A tangle of emotions and discovering meaning within myself that I continue to navigate today. However, my internal discovery doesn’t change my outward appearance. This ‘eureka’ moment has led to so many answers to situations in my life, but it has also led to questions.
For most of my life, I’ve been a coded but open book. My emotions were a vulnerability that I bottled up, then shelved. I had a front that wasn’t really a front. I was cranky a lot and spoke in a verbally aggressive tone even if I was saying something nice. I spent a lot of time not knowing what was going on because my attention was continually shifting to my environment, and spent forever wondering what I was missing to be considered ‘nice.’
When I typed a social situation in Google, I was met with a plethora of forums, articles, and groups focused on single issues similar to the social situation I typed in. In forums, strangers comment on the person’s situation, and I would glean from those comments and finagle an answer to my situation. Each situation solution became a patch that was a social opinion of me, pieced together like a patchwork quilt. Sometimes I would ask my friends what particular actions or phrases meant to be better at socializing. It took up all my energy, and I still sucked.
I cared about social situations off-and-on depending on the situation until I understood why it was so important in the first place. There isn’t an economic logic to feelings, but there is an emotional logic. For example, if you hit someone, the emotional-logical next action is that the person will be angry and hit you back. Whether or not that is the case depends on the emotions of the person you hit and outside factors. Depending on the context of who you hit and how you hit them, it might not even be a problem, like in a boxing match. Another example, if you hurt a friend’s feelings accidentally, the emotional-logical next action would be to apologize. Again, whether or not you actually need to apologize depends on how close you are to the friend and the severity of the hurt feelings. Some people feel better with just knowing you’re remorseful.
Emotional logic got more complex, the more I learned about human nature and needs.
Masking is pretending to know what’s going on in a conversation involving facial cues, it’s acting “normal,” it’s hiding sensory pain, so people don’t make fun of you. It’s the struggle with coming up with the “right thing to say” all the time because it seems that everything you say is wrong. It’s someone you’re not so people will accept you.
My ‘patchwork quilt’ of outward responses to society was actually part of the foundation of my mask. It’s a mask I still put on in unfamiliar territories, like camouflage in a recon mission. Continue reading