So a day after posting my last article as a contribution to the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign, one particular thing occurred to me. My origin story is one I haven’t told. However, educating people and giving them a chance to understand autism through one’s lens requires the credibility of telling them where you started. It helps to shape and identify the journey that you are attempting to communicate.
I could try to go back and recall every time in public school that I was singled out because I was acting “weird”, “odd”, or “quirky”. Whether I was being called down for something by a teacher or receiving weird looks and rejection from peers, there is just too much to try to account for accurately.
So I’ll fast-forward to three years ago. We had friends over one evening. After what was apparently received as a pointed exchange between myself and one of them, in a later conversation with my wife, she commented that she thought I might be autistic. She’s been teaching for awhile. Teachers, when they have multiple students with certain conditions in their classes, can begin to identify people with those conditions.
So after my wife told me about this, I did some reading, and I thought “that sure sounds like me”. However, the idea quickly slipped off my radar.
Fast-forward another year…
The job I was working at the time was taking a bit of a stress on me. It was the second job in a row where the company I worked for hired out of their area or region for the first time. I was trying to do my best to get along and fit in, all while trying to do the job I was hired to do. On one particular day, I truly don’t remember what went on that day (shows you how important it was), but I truly thought I had a mental breakdown that day. I found myself in the grocery store just muttering to myself. I couldn’t process what my inner voice was saying to me.
While I was better the next day, I was still worried about what had happened. The only thing I knew to do was to try and get in to see a therapist. Thanks to living in the middle of nowhere, it took an entire MONTH for that to happen.
A month later, and I have a clear head when I go see this therapist. He was fairly quick to identify me as autistic, of which he reaffirmed several times after. It turns out that day I thought I had a breakdown, I actually had a bit of a meltdown.
Having a meltdown was, and still is, unfamiliar territory for me. Whether stated, or just perception of being implied, I always thought I had to keep things like that to myself. Sometimes I’ve been able to deal with things. Other times, it’s been enough for me to just shutdown. So for something to effect me severe enough to have a meltdown is pretty bad.
You see, this is what masking can do to someone who is autistic. Yes, everyone does do some masking. But when an autistic person masks, they are being the complete opposite of their being. It taxes us sometimes so much that we are unable to compensate.
Masking causes health concerns…
That will dovetail in to the week three topic. Please, check the #TakeTheMaskOff hashtag on social media. Lots of autistic voices speaking up during this time.
Also published on Medium.