When the “mask” begins to crack…

I rocked a lot today.  Back and forth, almost until I felt queasy (is that even possible?).

Because I’m a little worried.  Okay, more than “a little”.

I’m peering ahead to a possible future.  I can’t tell if it will be bright or not, but even if it is, it won’t come without immense effort.

I see tiny cracks in my “mask”, the mask I had worked so hard (and still do) to construct and harden perfectly into shape all these years.  It has been my masterpiece, the ultimate “act”, with my life itself as the theater stage.

I’m finding that it’s taking more and more energy to keep up the act, to keep my mask on–and in place.  I’m afraid that someday, it’s going to fall off completely.

When I look ahead, what do I see, specifically?

I’m not quite sure.  Nothing is for sure; after all, there’s no history of anything until it happens.  But my tendencies are what they are, what they’ve always been, and I know them well.

Too well.

I think the cracks have already begun to appear.  Gradually, subtly, largely behind the scenes, written off with a simple chuckle and a wave of the hand.  “Just another one of Dr Silent Wave’s quirks.”  It’s easy to write off (for) now.

But will it always be that way?

I’m betting not.

I’m already seeing a subtle, behind-the-scenes loss of tolerance.  Tolerance for people who think they’re ready for my guidance–but aren’t, really.  People who fool themselves (and me, in the process).  People who don’t even know what they want, yet expect me to know, as if I’m psychic or something.  People who ask the same questions over and over again, getting testy when they don’t like the (honest and truthful) answer.  People who attempt to circumvent my well-laid and much-needed policies and procedures.  I’m a (professionally in-the-closet) Aspie, dammit; just go with me, people to whom I’m referring; it’s for your own good–and my sanity.  People who can’t accept that they don’t know as much as I do.  That’s not to be egotistical; it’s just the honest truth.  People who don’t understand that Google searches aren’t the same as advice from a human being who has taken formal training and knows the person seeking help.

And I do want to help.  My strengths are also my weaknesses.  I care too much, probably more than some of them do.  “Telling it like it is” is an advantage when I’m working with people with chronic issues; they need to know the facts, and they deserve a guide who isn’t afraid to lay it all out for them.  However, that same directness is a disadvantage when I don’t know any other way to express the information I have to give.  Not everybody wants to hear it, and many aren’t used to such straight-up conversation.

Another point of contention for me are those who say things they don’t mean.  Or they don’t mean what they say.  Or they misinterpret what I said and make (incorrect) assumptions of their own.  This leads to stress (a “frequent flyer” recurring theme in my life).  Stress that’s getting tougher and tougher to handle.  Stress that’s getting tougher and tougher to recover from.  Stress that’s getting less and less necessary.  “I shouldn’t have to put up with this shit.”

And I worry a little.  (“A little”…can we say “understatement”?)  I wonder if and when I won’t be able to keep up the charade anymore.  Because although I’m a real, live, licensed practitioner, I do put on a charade, an act, as I walk down the hall to greet and retrieve the person.  The act continues throughout the entire duration of the encounter.  It doesn’t stop–I can’t afford to let it down–not ever–until I walk through my apartment door.

There’s guilt there–and shame, too.  Those two concepts also seem to be recurring themes in my life.  Just today, I had to have the conversation with my partner, with whom (luckily) I also work.  He knows all about my Asperger’s, of course.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to go through any disclosure awkwardness with him; he has known, ever since I told him.  He’s been with me every step of the way.

But even that offers little solace when your superpower is revealing its other half of the equation: the disability part.  (Is Asperger’s/autism my disability?  For me, the answer is, yes and no.  I go back and forth about this a lot.  Sometimes it’s both at the same time.)

I had to give him the heads-up that it’s possible that at some point, I may have to delegate more of the face-to-face meetings to him.  He can “people” (a verb) better than I can.

I know that he doesn’t want to hear that.  I know he’s not entirely fond of this part of my neurotype.  I can’t say that I blame him.  I know it’s not going to be easy.  I’m sure he’ll come to resent me at times.  (Maybe a lot of the time.)

That only adds to the potpourri of stress, guilt, and shame that already plague me, swirling around in tornadic activity around my head.  (Go me.)

But at some point, I fear that the mask will disintegrate into a pile of heaven-knows-what and all that will be left is my naked face, my true self, open and vulnerable, revealed to a (large) part of the world that isn’t ready to accept it yet.  What happens when I can’t keep it plastered to my face anymore?

What happens when, suddenly one day, I say something too bluntly?

What happens when, one day, I’m too inflexible?

What happens if, one day, I burn out altogether, throw down my pen, and say “screw this; I’m tired”?

I don’t want to do that.  I really don’t want to do that.  But sometimes I feel this peculiar “countdown”, an inner stirring of intuition that says: plan your escape.  Get those plans laid now, while you can.

Sometimes, life isn’t fair.  Sometimes, I wonder, why me?  What kind of past-life karma am I having to atone for?  I must have really screwed up somewhere.  Not to “have” Asperger’s/autism, of course–that’s not bad karma–but to have the “shy, insecure” type (I was surprised to learn that some Aspie/autistic people are supernaturally good at “letting it roll off” and not caring nearly as much about what other people think.  I would love to be more like that.  But alas…).

And then I (increasingly compassionately) lecture myself: that’s what the coaching is for, silly.  That’s also why you’re plotting your escape, into other, less stressful ways to work in your field.

And I hear my mom’s voice inside my head: everything happens for a reason.  And I remind myself: this isn’t any different.  This “trying time” will serve its purpose, too.

So I give myself some tough love: put on your big-girl panties, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and just do it.  You can still do that.  Don’t just quit; you’re too smart and too strong for that.  You’ve made it through tougher times than this; you can do this, too.

And I think, with a little help from my specialist and my partner, that I might could just make that happen.

But for now, the insecurity, stress, guilt, and shame continue to swirl.  They probably will for a while.

And for now, mask stays on.  I can’t afford to have it fall off, not yet.

(Does anybody have any duct tape?)

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17 Comments

    1. Awwww thank you, sweet friend ❤️ One of these days, I’ll post a photo. 😊

      Maybe on April Fools Day? 😉😉

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  1. Yet more alignment in thinking!

    For YEARS, I felt ugly. I could never explain it, as I am not ugly physically. I am far from beautiful, but certainly not ugly enough to warrant my inner self disgust. I know I am not so odious a person to justify my ugliness via personality. But it was there. Under my mask, a ball of pus lay within, and something I felt to be so ugly about me had to be hidden.

    I know what that is – my autism. I keep waiting for my mask to slip and shatter. In a way, I want it to. I can no longer keep up the pretence. I am unable to willingly let it drop, so like a secret told to the gossip, having my ugliness unveiled will let me run my life, my way.

    It IS scary to think of the future. Especially mask free.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen, agreed with all of it! I’m sad for you that you ever felt you were ugly, but so happy for you now, because you’ve been able to appreciate your rare beauty – and you are! I’m proud and grateful to call you my neurosibling 💞💖✌🏼️

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  2. This is all part of it… adjustment… acceptance… finding your balance… sorting it out as you go. Just remember, this is all perfectly normal and to be expected. We have to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other (esp. when we’re ON the spectrum), and eventually find out what works for us. I think of myself as a Roomba… blindly blundering through life, bumping into corners, hitting my own boundaries (and those of others), and gathering ever more information as I go. It’s all information. Data. Experience. And it’s all there for you to take in, ingest, digest, and put to use in your own unique way.

    Don’t worry.

    You’ll be fine.

    Just keep going.

    Think of how you’ll be in another 6 months to a year… you’ll know so much more, and you’ll have so much more expertise.

    Now, think of what your 10-years-older self would say to you, if she could…

    Don’t worry.

    You’ll be fine.

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your reassurance and encouragement, girl! ❤️ I smell an awesome blog post for you in this 😉 I’m still finding my balance, (it’s a process lol), but I’ll get there. We all will 👏🏼💜

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, yes, the mask! I feel mine disenigrating more and more. I fret about whether this will bode well for book sales or speaking engagements when all I want to do is write without having to find clever ways to push my work or talk to people. I worry this will mean I am a big letdown to my publisher, my supporters, and a poor example to my kids. Yet, I know giving myself permission to be me is perhaps the best thing I can do for myself as I have never fully allowed it ever with anyone-not even those fewI am closest to. I agree with VisualVox there that we have to find what works for us. In the end, I believe that is what will bring out the best in each of us. Keep at it. You’ve got this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words of support, luv! ❤️ I don’t think you’ll let anyone down, dear one – they’ll love and accept you; you’re a whole package after all! 😉 Stay just as you are; simply grow and evolve naturally, with no added pressure 💞💞

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been there in my own life. There are few people I remove the mask for. However, after my old mask became a web of shattered cracks I couldn’t wear it anymore-it was too fragile. I created a new one. This one is much thinner and easier to breath in. It takes a lot of doing to refit yourself for the new mask, but it makes a world of difference. I will try to explain more specifically to avoid confusion. The mask does NOT have to hide everything. A part of you should always be visible to everyone (that cuts down on a lot of anxiety for you and others b/c there’s less miscommunication). If you have to be blunt because you can’t think of another way to say it, don’t feel bad, just tell the person that you’re going to be blunt and ask if they’re ok with it. If they are, you’re fine and no guilt. If they’re not ok with it, tell them you are having difficulty thinking of another way to say what you mean. A lot of the times, the people will tell you to say it bluntly anyway and it’s what they need to hear. If they still refuse, you can try to rethink it, or you can make a note to ask someone else (who understands you) to help you come up with a softer way to say it.

    This way, it’s not the full heavy mask you’re wearing, it’s a lighter mask that’s less prone to chipping. But it is a difficult mask to build because you’ll feel vulnerable, and because you’re so accustomed to the old mask.

    I suggest starting to figure out how to build the new mask and start building it – that way, when you’re ready to remove the old one you have something in place already.

    Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “The mask does not have to hide anything” – I love this so much! So true! I hadn’t thought of that before, but you’re absolutely right! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼💙

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Because for the 40 first years of my life I didn’t know I was “on the spectrum”, I abused (and let other people abuse) of my sanity, of my body, of everything “me”. At the same time, giving everything, even my last bean, to everyone. Anyways… In the end, after having to leave my boyfriend, being 3-4 years being kind-of-homeless (long story), and keeping up with my (poorly paid and full of really bad work colleagues) job at the mean time (plus several other sad events who happened during these years, shit seems to attract shit, you know), I had a really bad episode of depression and severe anxiety. And, then, IT happened, the mask felt. I couldn’t handle anymore one of my colleagues, which was a real sociopath, and I said it loud. I lost my (bad) job. I went homeless. I could not get any money from the government because my employer refused to fill in the required paperwork for months, and had to request the deputy to do something! really bad times. However, this allowed me to finally get a family doctor and a psychiatrist, and, most importantly, a diagnosis! Even if these few years have been the weirdest, toughest years of an weird, though, life, I would not change them if that meant not getting to know I am “on the spectrum”. I can see things so well no, like I’ve spent all my life in a pitch black night. I don’t wear a mask anymore. As I had lost everything anyways, there is no risk for me to do so (I wouldn’t recommend dropping your mask if you’ve got a nice life, full of stuff and people !!!!!). And it’s so funny to see the face of the people who have know me for years (for example my chiropractic doctor), when I am stimming, or doing some other “weird autistic stuff” (LOL). I’m poor, but happy, and TRUE to myself. And I would not exchange this newly found happiness and trueness for any money, big house, fame, or whatever! But, if you’re the kind of autistic person who has plenty of things, people, a job, and so on : please do yourself a favor and do work on a plan for when the mask will fall (because it may very well, one day, when life will throw you a loadfull of shit). I also agree with other people here who say you can work on wearing a thinner, more comfortable mask.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen! 👏🏼👏🏼. I’m so happy for you that you’re not having to wear a mask 😊. I’m glad you’ve decided *not* to 😊. I have done some work since I wrote this; the mask is coming off. Not only does it take so much energy to keep it on, but I’m not sure the people I’d be wearing it for are worth that energy. In all areas of my life except work, it’s pretty much gone. My philosophy is, I’m me; take me or leave me 😊. If they’re worth my time, they’ll take me as I am. If not, good riddance. My work is a little less forgiving, but only for now. I’m making my plans for when the rest of the mask shatters 💞

      Thank you so much for adding your voice! I really enjoyed your comment 😊💖

      Like

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