Living the ‘lie’

I’ve written a lot before about acting and masking.  For the cheap seats, it’s a prevalent theme throughout the Asperger’s/autism spectrum community.

The way I see it, “masking” is the idea of putting on a proverbial mask, one that covers up your true personality, your true self, etc.  In essence, hiding who you truly are.  “Acting”, on the other hand, is related, but different; one either adopts the characteristics or even persona of another, or perhaps constructs a new persona altogether.

I’ve acted and masked all my life, from my second year of kindergarten onward (yep, you read that right; I spent two years in kindergarten.  Long story.  Not due to intellectual or cognitive impairment).  Acting and masking are survival traits of sorts for me.  I couldn’t have “functioned” in this world without them.  Masks and acting roles construct a hologram of me that is deemed acceptable by my peers.

If I mask who I am, and act like someone I’m not, and I do it well enough, people like me.

But I harbor a dark secret: I’m aware that the bond they’ve formed isn’t with me–it’s with my mask and my acting skills.  And in social situations, I’m only as good as my abilities to act and mask.

What if I took it off?  Every fiber of my being recoils, alarm bells blaring.  I don’t have too many conscious memories, but my nervous system sure remembers that I slapped on the mask, and auditioned for the acting role of Whole New Me, extremely early on, and so when faced with the mere prospect of taking off that mask, my brain folds its arms across its chest and says, “no way, no how.  The mask stays on.”

My brain must know something I don’t.

There’s a significant risk in taking off the mask; I know from experience; it’s happened before.  People react.  They treat you differently; it’s almost like they’re subtly scolding you.  It’s hard to place, and harder yet to explain, but there’s a sense of skepticism, or even perhaps a patronization. 

They do a mediocre job of hiding it; they think they’re concealing it well, but I feel it anyway.  They’re not as good at this Masking and Acting Thing as I am.  They put on the Social Face, but what’s really going on underneath is that they’re looking down on you.  There’s a distrust lurking there, in shallow waters beneath their surface expression.  They think you’re incompetent.  They don’t take you seriously.  They don’t really respect you.

They go through the motions of social grace, of course.  After that moment, the one at which they realize you’re Different, there’s the subtle shift in the air, in the way they look at you and communicate with you, although not much has changed, on the surface.  They deliver what is (or they think and what usually is) expected.  And maybe such an approach works for them, on each other.

But it doesn’t work so well on me.  Because I, like many of us, have a sort of sixth sense.  With a little practice, our bullshit-o-meters light up, and we get the feeling that somehow, we’re being played.

I know when the superficial cordiality is merely artificial.  I’ve had enough practice, and I know when someone is being less than genuine.  I can feel it.

They’re being nice to be nice, but it doesn’t ring true.  It doesn’t resonate.  It doesn’t echo.  It only hurts.

So I usually don’t remove the mask.  I carry it around, any time I’m outside of my apartment, like a security blanket. 

It serves me relatively well, at least temporarily.  Early on in a social setting, other people seem to like me, and I don’t think they can tell that I’m BS-ing them (innocently) quite like I can tell when start BS-ing me (usually not-so-innocently).

But they only like me until they realize The Truth – that I am Different.  They don’t understand.  They don’t care to find out, because there are oodles of other people just like them, so why make the extra effort to figure me out and adjust accordingly?  They’d rather not stick around.

Social interaction between NTs and NDs (in many cases) seems to be a cat-and-mouse game.  Hell, I think it’s often a cat-and-mouse game for NT-to-NT interaction, too.

And as long as my mask and my acting role hold up, well, so far, so good.

There’s one problem: they might “fall for” the mask and they may like what they (think they) see…but I don’t like who I feel I have to become in order to gain that acceptance.  I feel all slimy inside.

The best way I can describe this is in this way…

Imagine, if you will, that you’re a young adolescent, desperate to be accepted by the majority, especially the cool kids.  You’re either in the popular crowd already and trying to maintain that status, or you’re on the periphery of the popular crowd and trying to establish a more central position, or you’re trying to get into the popular crowd somehow. 

You’re trying to impress.  If the most popular kids in the group are wearing a certain brand of clothing, then you are, too.  If they’re making fun of someone or something, then so are you.  You might draw the line at alcohol or drug experimentation or crime, but if asked or pressured, you’d pretty much go along with almost anything else

You might not like it; the activity they’re engaging in might not be your first choice or your ideal pastime; maybe you’d rather be home or at the library or in the computer lab or whatever, but if someone wanted you to accompany them in a game of Ding-Dong-Ditch the neighbors or TP-ing a house on Friday night, you’d probably do it, if acceptance was what you were gunning for.

That was me.  I didn’t get into anything considered “really bad”, like substance experimentation or violence or crime, but I stooped pretty low at times in my quest for acceptance.  My eyes were on the prize of said acceptance, and I quested after it at almost any cost.  Those costs turned out to be higher than I realized.  And I wouldn’t even realize the full extent of it for a long time.

This quest for acceptance and belonging are more common than many may realize.  This is how “good kids” “go bad” (their parents or teachers start musing that they’ve started running around with a bad crowd).  This is also (at least some of) how gangs form.  Cliques, too. It’s all about trying to impress.  To show how bad-arse you are.

I know, because I was that kid.  I never ended up in a gang or a bad crowd, but there were times when my parents noticed a new friend, and expressed concern.  The concern always surprised me; it’s not that I wasn’t aware of the potentially problematic road that I would head down if I wasn’t careful.  That much I knew, and because of my instinctive tepidity, I kept my guard up.  I was more surprised by the fact that they had noticed what I hadn’t yet said anything about.

I was that kid who was desperate to be accepted.  I’ve said and done a few things I’m not particularly proud of.  It was incredibly selfish, because I placed my own need to be accepted by the popular kids above someone else’s wellbeing.  How classy.

I lived a lie and I felt shitty about it.  Because here I was, talking smack about someone behind their back, trying to impress people who I now know didn’t deserve impressing, people who wouldn’t have even accepted me if I revealed the True Me. 

Who or what was I doing this for?  It sure as hell wasn’t for the victim’s benefit.  This wasn’t exactly a Breakthrough Awesome Moment in their lives. 

It didn’t even do any good for the popular kids, because they would’ve been just fine without my participation.  They didn’t need my encouragement, approval, or reassurance.  Unlike me, they were sure of themselves. 

I’m not even sure if I was doing it for me, because I felt awful about it at the time, and it kept gnawing on me afterward, and I’ve even felt horrible about it ever since.

I acted crappy toward someone who didn’t have it coming to impress people I didn’t otherwise have anything in common with and who probably wouldn’t have liked me as I truly was inside anyway.

Not exactly the pinnacle of integrity.

I’m still guilty of masking and acting.  That hasn’t changed.  Masking is still a constant, conscious effort, but I have become (somewhat) efficient, and it has become ingrained.  My brain doesn’t know any other alternative.  I do not, however, join in anyone’s reindeer games of making fun of or harassing anyone else.

Rather, my acting and masking involve innocent gestures–neurotypical social “basics”, like trying to make eye contact and shake hands (although I still haven’t mastered either one), trying not to play with my hair too much in public, trying to remember that there are other people around me, sitting with a posture that makes the solid declaration to the world that I’m Sure Of Myself.  It’s still a bunch of posturing, but I take nothing from anyone. 

I’m still too eager to be liked, too hungry for acceptance.  I end up smiling too much, and I still try too hard to come up with witty answers and use current slang terms in the correct contexts.  I try to mind my appearance, although that doesn’t always come easy.  I try not to delve too deep with conversational material if I’ve just met the person.  I still try to mind the gap of personal space.  Lots of mental gauges to monitor.

“Just be yourself” is a common cliche.  It’s annoying, because it’s easy for those people to say that from where they sit (which, for most, is the privileged neuro-majority), because they don’t pay nearly as big a price for doing it as I do when I do it. 

That slogan also induces a smidgen of heartache inside.  “Just be yourself”?  Hell, up until last year, I wasn’t even sure who that was.  I had buried her long ago.  Fortunately, the grave was a shallow one, and my buried Inner Child was still registering vital signs.  And since I’ve unearthed her and dusted her off, she shines in the full moon light. 

But it still feels unnatural to act natural.  To let my true self poke through the surface, or to simply Be Myself, is an even more conscious effort than to mask and act per usual.

But as with many aspects of life, I’m working on it.  🙂


Related Posts:

I Tried To Be Cool ~ February 22, 2017

15 Reasons I Love My Aspeger’s / Autistic Friends ~ December 16, 2016

Let Me Tell You About My ‘Mild’ Form of Autism ~ November 12, 2016

The ‘Bell Curve’ of Acting and Masking Abilities in Asperger’s / Autistic People ~ October 16, 2016

The Challenges of Relationships For People ‘With’ Asperger’s / Autism ~ November 11, 2016

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52 Comments

  1. Well, you’ve gone and done it. Ya made me cry! It’s a good kind of cry, though. I relate to this so well….It would take an eon for us to talk and compare notes, I think. Right now, we are virtual strangers, but trust me….you really know yourself and anyone (me included) who reads this and can relate. You left nothing out.

    This post is exactly why my avatar has half a mask. The other half of the face on my avi represents my personal promise to myself to try to venture out there and just keep it real. It’s so damn hard, though, especially to the part of me that hurts when I lose friends….for just being myself.

    I am in awe of your bravery.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m so very touched, dear one ❤️❤️ Your kind words are like warm sun rays on my face 😊 I can relate to you as well – I’ve cried many times reading blog posts – it was so healing for me, and I really hope that’s how it was/is for you too – if so, I’m extremely honored and humbled 💙

      Losing friends very much sucks 💐🌷. It can feel like a rejection, and that stings bad. It’s kinda like accidentally hitting a hot, red, painful bump–it’s unbearable for a while, and then it aches and pulses for a while, and then only later does it finally heal 😘

      I would so love to be able to meet and compare notes someday! 🤗 That would be thoroughly awesome.

      Sending you love, friendship, and virtual hugs if you like them 💖

      Like

  2. Ah, yes, once again, this is me in many ways, though I would say I was much more on the peripherals most of my life. But, my mask was always there, quietly hiding my discomfort, keeping my true self contained, lest I make any waves. Still do it in many settings. There are still very few I can truly let in. Thank you. This is one place my mask can come down. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww thank you so much, girl! That’s a high compliment, and very kind of you 😘

      The periphery is so much safer of a place to be, isn’t it? One can get a panoramic view, be shielded from one side (if we’re situated with our backs to a perimeter wall), and since the center of the room gets more eye traffic, people are naturally drawn to that where the action is and less likely to give us unwanted attention💖

      Thank you so kindly, again 😘
      🌷💞🌷

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is very beautiful and honest. I have an autistic son and you offer such insight into how I can help him. I think whoever we are in life, it is a rare and exceptional thing to find people who love us exactly as we are. It is also a challenge to love ourselves exactly the way we are. Good writing connects with people on a personal level no matter where they are at in life and I think you have managed to do that. Great job and thanks for being authentically you!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so kindly! Wow, that’s so cool; so honored to be of support 💚💙. Your son is lucky to have you for a parent 😘

      Like

  4. “There’s a significant risk in taking off the mask; I know from experience; it’s happened before. People react. They treat you differently; it’s almost like they’re subtly scolding you. It’s hard to place, and harder yet to explain, but there’s a sense of skepticism, or even perhaps a patronization.”

    *long-suffering nod of acknowledgement*

    yeah, ive gotten it all my life. ive learned how to decrease it by going to absurd lengths to mask. oh, and its never quite enough. the more people want everyone to the same, the less the mask works.

    people that want everyone to the be same are extremely shallow and unreasonable people. in some of them, its their own pathology. before you think im “reverse-judging” everyone, i will likely be the first to defend any nt that tries to a. understand or b. be kind without condescension, even if they dont get it. i appreciate the effort– its what makes a good friend.

    “They do a mediocre job of hiding it; they think they’re concealing it well, but I feel it anyway. They’re not as good at this Masking and Acting Thing as I am. They put on the Social Face, but what’s really going on underneath is that they’re looking down on you… They don’t take you seriously. They don’t really respect you.”

    and its because of the trappings of normalcy, not your skill level, not your level of literacy or any of your accomplishments. you could win the freaking nobel prize– and if people dont take you seriously, they will just assume you didnt really deserve it.

    welcome to nt hell: just “act right, or go **** yourself.” (self-censored that one.)

    the funny thing is, they dont usually “really mean it.” i mean, i think most of them really believe that if theyre terrible enough, everyone will “come around” and look them in the eye, and stop fidgeting, and just act like everyone else. those who have put on a pretty convincing show know how unrealistic (and pointless) that is.

    everyone else is like: “what? i dont get it.”

    thats one reason this autism-speaks brand of “awareness” has to stop. what theyre calling awareness is like telling the dust on your floor “hey you! get back under the rug! someone will see you!”

    if you put your mask on (and i will never blame you for it– nor do i blame a homosexual for being closeted, if they feel the need. and i still admire the brave ones that come out and speak on behalf of everyone) then youll have the “advantage” of not standing out like a sore thumb somtimes. but youll also have the “advantage” of people doubting you when you really need something.

    “you seem ok to me!”

    yeah. wearing the mask has serious costs to your well-being. taking it off also has serious costs to your well-being.

    this is known as a “lose-lose” situation. best of all! when no one takes you seriously, trying to navigate a lose-lose situation, means that roughly half the people will say “well why dont you just mask a little bit and find out if it helps?” you have your whole life, but theyre not convinced that youve tried until you prove it to them.

    so they judge you for not wearing it (some more) even though you have.

    and then other people say “well if youre not getting your needs met, just take it off!” (piece of cake! eh?) and perhaps youve tried that too, but when people dont take you seriously they seem to want proof of every minor thing. “really? are you sure?????”

    so first you get a situation where youre screwed if you do, and screwed if you dont. thats always fun. then, no matter which choice you make– people still dont take you seriously, and they are divided between people that judge you for not choosing the option you didnt chose, and people that judge you for not choosing the option you did choose, *but more!*

    this is what life is like when “awareness” is based not on acceptance, but on treating people as problems (oh youre gay? we can HELP– join us and we can teach you how to be straight again!) instead of treating people as… you know, people.

    if you say this, people will say “well, you sound bitter.” gaaaaaaaah! so in other words, just shut up, right?

    heres the deal– until *enough people*
    who *understand*
    can get through the absurd (comical) defensive scrutiny of those who dont–

    we will always be at the mercy of those miseducated by the blue-puzzle-piece bastard brigade.

    that brand of “awareness” is just feeding on peoples concerns. “your son is gay? oh, im so sorry. but dont feel bad, that affects 1 in 10 people. we believe if enough people are aware, we can FIX it!”

    youre right up there with the baptist fundamentalists, autism speaks. youre a hate group with a monopoly on “awareness” that wont last.

    as for the rest of the world– eh… we are still trying to make our own point for ourselves. i was talking to my friend today, who i know is a sweet and caring person– and still when we talk about this, oh (i know she means well) but its so hard to get her to drop the skepticism.

    i did convince her (of the factual information) that another voice other than “autism speaks” represents us. i used ASAN as an example of one organisation. i used the neurodiversity movement as an example of a broader movement that ASAN does its part to represent and be part of.

    p-flag is a better (more inclusive) lgbt organisation than hrc.

    its funny, the organisations with the least inclusiveness often have the best (or best known) logos. hrc will throw the trans community under the bus, but theyve got an equals sign! autism speaks throws aspies under the bus, but everyone knows the big friendly puzzle piece! 😀

    how would YOU like to be a “puzzle piece?”

    disclaimer: i had a good friend that worked for p-flag last i checked. but then, we already felt that way about p-flag vs. hrc even years before they worked there.

    everyone is aware of gays and autism already. unfortunately some organisations are unethical and condescending, even when it comes down to their mission.

    autism speaks– against me. if you want to understand, youll have to get to know more self-advocates. the number is growing, so it will get easier at some point. a really wonderful campaign is “it gets better” (itgetsbetter.org) which is to help troubled lgbt youth understand that their entire life will very likely move in a good direction as they slowly get to know more people like them. its a self-advocacy campaign, with lgbt celebrities reassuring youth that if they dont commit suicide, they can eventually find acceptance– not just awareness.

    that certainly applies also to people on the spectrum. any time that is not the case, thats exactly where we need to be working on it to make things better for each other.

    love you all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anyone that would like to link to the above comment (sorry laina, anyone but you ❤ if youre going to promote that id rather we chat about the details of that first. but here it is, so people can link to it) the link to the above comment is: https://thesilentwaveblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/living-the-lie/comment-page-1/#comment-4802

      of course laina has every legal *right* to share this link, on a publically accessible blog (even her own) but shes also a friend, and will probably respect my wishes about it. ❤ likewise, we could talk about any instance where she just "*has* to." but as a rare thing, im providing a link (i got it by right-clicking the date) to the comment so that the rest of you can do anything you want with it. lets make an undeserving organisation obsolete.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Awesome comment! Absolutely, ASAN is definitely a cool organization. I really respect them. They are also pretty politically balanced, non-partisan, just advocating for the rights of those of us on the autism spectrum 👏🏼👏🏼. Fig, you make such excellent points, throughout your whole comment 🤗💞

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks. heres a bonus: most of these organisations are non-partisan. apart from making it easier to find donors, its a requirement of 501(c)3 (typical non-profit) status. if they get too openly partisan they can lose their 501c3, and with it their ability to accept tax free donations.

        source: well it is on the government website, but if you hang around enough non-profits, theyll tell you.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yep 😊. I’m thankful for that; (my humble opinion is that) we’re already so inundated with politics in our lives; I certainly don’t need to be having to be suspicious about a group’s agenda 💚💙

          Liked by 1 person

          1. i dont mind the politics as much as the legalised bribery that is modern (in our own lifetimes) lobbying.

            lobbyists shouldnt get to vote “twice”, while citizens vote only once (and count zero times.) but thats the nature of politics these days.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. with you on that just the same. if ASAN were a campaign PAC i doubt id be as quick to support them.

            sadly as lessig has tried to show during his campaign, you can probably get more done (and faster) with a pac than a non-profit. but thats politically. culturally, a non-profit can still do wonders if its not too bleeding-heart/sjw about the whole thing.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. You rock! Thank you so much!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Hell yeah! Let’s do this thing 😊

          Hehe just wait until April lol – I’ve been busy lately (studying for an exam on 3 April), but have pre-written and scheduled a few blog posts 😉🎊🎉💙

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Squee! I’ve been working hard towards April since I got internet back in Jan. Seeding the internet, plastering sponsors and media with letters and tweets, and generally just trying to figure out what everyone is doing to join voices and help support the movement. TY TY TY for being badass!

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Omg awesome!! I admire your energy and dedication. You’ve got a serious fan and ally here 👍🏽👍🏽. That is pure Awesomesauce 🙌🏽💓💓

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Awesome!! Omg I’m so happy for you! Congrats! 👏🏼👏🏼🎊🎉🌟 Fantastic kickstart indeed 🙌🏽.

            Yep, I’ll be checking in to reply and stuff, and I apologize that my blog posts aren’t freshly written, but I figure it was best to do it this way. Three cheers for balancing life, and three more for when this exam is over! 🎊🎉😂👍🏼

            Liked by 1 person

    1. For me it’s so-so 😊. I hadn’t thought as much about the survival mask and social mask being different; for me they’re pretty much the same. But that’s only because that’s the most I had thought about it. You bring up a really interesting idea, though! ❤️. I’ll think about that one a little more 😊💜

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So much truth here. We are probably all guilty to some extent about masking, or at least we are. Why is this? Perhaps its the world constantly trying to tell us what is right and what is wrong according to them. Greatest growth spurt in our life was asking why am I doing this (fill in the blank). Is it because my parents did it this way, my friends do it this way, the world is telling me to do it this way or is it because I want to do it this way because it’s right for me (as long as its not illegal, unethical or immoral). It is so much more nice being our real selves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So much agreed 😊. Even in my pre-discovery days, I wondered the same thing about people – why do they do this or that? Not that I wanted to make anybody’s business my own, just more of a curiosity about humans in general ❤️. And you’re totally right – when we turn that question inward, we often go through our most significant transformations 😉💙💜

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you dude!! You’re the bomb, girl 😘❤️. I can’t tell you how reassuring and encouraging your support is to me! Believe me the feeling is mutual 💜💙

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve long been aware that in certain situations I put on a mask, but of course didn’t connect it to autism until I entered the land of questioning. I never noticed people reacting strangely or a shift in their attitude when the mask slips a little – or so I thought, until you mentioned “patronization”, and suddenly something clicked. Oh god, yes, do I get patronized! The kind of “ah, bless, she’s a bit child-like isn’t she?” kind of thing. The thing is, mostly when they do it I just think they’re friendly, and I only notice afterwards how patronizing they were. Also, sometimes being patronized is preferable to being disliked. But still, I’d rather they didn’t.

    Like

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