Masking Autism

Last night was long and sleepless. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason that I couldn’t sleep, but it was by far the worst night I’ve had in a month or so. Despite taking Benadryl, I really didn’t sleep at all. My mind wasn’t particularly anxious and I wasn’t in much more pain than usual, but I could not get my body and brain to cooperate for sleep. I was nauseous, although that’s not uncommon at night. Still, it was frustratingly impossible to actually get any sleep. I rested by staying in bed and keeping my eyes closed, but I never entered any stage of sleep. It irks me when I diligently follow my sleep hygiene routine, yet still can’t get any sleep. The night stretched on and on. I listened to a lot of Hallmark movies!

Today is going to be a bit tough because of how tired I am. Ben has the day off though, so it’ll be nice to have company. We will probably table most of the projects until tomorrow and Sunday when hopefully I am more rested. At least I got all of the mowing done yesterday.

Yesterday, in my decluttering, I happened upon an old folder of all my report cards and notes from teachers and standardized test score reports spanning first grade through high school. It was interesting to recall my evolution as a student. Up until fourth grade, I had a lot of trouble controlling my behavior and hyperactivity in class. By and large, while all my early elementary teacher praised my intelligence and sweetness, they all agreed that I was an energetic handful, often struggling to follow directions, sit still and stay quiet, and transition between activities and stay focused on the task at hand. I remember a lot of time outs and scolding for my in-class misbehavior, hyperactivity, and fun-loving silliness. I remember it was always really difficult for me to pay attention and stay calm and quiet. I was a spunky girl and got easily bored in class. At the same time, it was humiliating to get reprimanded in public in class, especially because my friends and older sisters were all upstanding students (quiet, smart, responsible, well-behaved). Therefore, I stood out in my need for disciplinary action. I always felt so ashamed when I got in trouble or my parents received reports of my disruptive behavior. At least by the older years of elementary school, I developed ways to reign in my hyperactivity and be a more model student. However, I think it came with a big emotional price. This was truly the beginning of my autistic “masking” behavior, my intense commitment to be perfect and “normal,” the first roots of my extensive anorexia, and the end of my chapter as, what my dad called me, “the happiest girl in the world.” It was as if my joyous exuberance for life and my authentic self (behavioral issues and all) was swallowed and replaced with a persona I had to consciously don each day as a “good girl” that would be loved, applauded, and accepted. The more that mask was lauded, the more I knew I had to stifle the real me and change myself to be “right” instead of a “headache” as I was often called. The same age, right around fourth grade, is when I started becoming petrifyingly self-conscious and focused on being perfect and not an inconvenience or bother. I started fearing asking for help, voicing problems I was having. And thus started a twenty-plus-year saga of not being able to listen to my body, honor my needs, know who I am, and have any semblance of decent self-esteem.

This is all getting quite heavy for such an exhausted brain, so I think I’ll revisit these thoughts and the roots of my masking behavior at a future date. It’s important step on my journey of self-understanding and compassion because it can help me figure out who I am and gain confidence and self-acceptance of my true self. One of the most significant issues that holds me back and causes my chronic clinical depression is my abysmal self-esteem, and I think the genesis of that was that turning point in childhood when I started masking my real self and trying to be someone “better,” more lovable, and less of a burden.

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