Not ‘passing’ doesn’t mean ‘failing’

Over the past year and a quarter-ish, I’d been experiencing a lot of “first”s–the first time doing “this” or “that” since I made my discovery.  Sometimes I felt like my own personal version of Lewis & Clark.

This past weekend wraps up the second conference I’ve been to since I found out that I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.

Thus, it wasn’t one of my “first”s.  In fact, I haven’t had a “first” in a while now.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning new Autism-and-Me-Related Things.

This weekend, I learned a lot.  Most of the time, I was well aware that I was learning.

Sometimes, I’m not so aware; I’ll learn things without realizing that I’m climbing a learning curve.

This time, it was the fact that I’m not masking quite as much–not even among colleagues.  In fact, I’m coming out a little more.  And a little more.

Judgmental (some would say “Internalized Ableist”) Me says, it might not be a good idea to run around telling everyone you’re autistic/an Aspie, and it might be career-detrimental to disclose your status like that.

Carefree, Self-Accepting Me says ah, f**k it; I’ve been accommodating the world this whole time by masking and acting, for their comfort more than mine, because of what they expect from me, and I’m tired.  I just want to be me, and I want to be accepted for me.  And besides, I only told like two or three people.

OK, maybe I told more people than that.  Maybe five people.

I decided to conduct an experiment. I almost didn’t have a choice; I was extremely low on energy and resilience, and I just didn’t have it to give. My experiment was to go a day without masking and just allow the raw, Unedited Me poke through.

This was a dangerous experiment to run; the Unedited Me had not been well received in years past.  I had been ridiculed and proverbially stoned for my sins.

Adults, I’m finding, are much more like adolescents than I had ever wanted to believe.  They don’t always grow up and act with maturity or compassion, nor do they often operate from a position other than their own judgment and self-interest, which is increasingly a giant global pissing contest.  This made my experiment all the more treacherous.

But I had done this before, in my personal life, during my off hours, when I’m anonymous and unremarkable and the stakes were (much) lower, and it had been a liberating experience.  This was encouraging!

More encouraging yet were the few times (here and here) when I had come out to a few select patients in my professional life.

So I decided to take the plunge and do this with a few of my colleagues, people I respect and whom I might see again, people whose judgment mattered more, at a time when the stakes were higher yet.

In a room full of professionals, many of whom were dead set on treating autism, I let my autistic self shine.

I took off the mask.

I decided not to try to “pass” for neurotypical.

I came out to many that day, “many” for me being those five or six people, and at the end of the day, I was no “worse” off.

There was my friend (a doctor) whom I’d seen last year, at the “first” conference I’d been to since my Lewis & Clark Aspie Discovery.

Then there was the really cool lady (another doctor) with whom I schmoozed at the recognition celebration for new graduates of the program that had culminated with my exams two months ago.  Turns out that her grandson just got diagnosed as Asperger’s, too, and her viewpoint was very progressive, so my disclosure strengthened our newly-budding bond at a slightly accelerated pace.

Then there were the three people sitting around me who, when one of the presenters made the mistake of suggesting that we take a few minutes and discuss some of the recently-covered points with a “partner” next to us, I cringed.  At first, I hesitated, watching, seeing what others were doing.  When I saw that they were indeed taking the presenter seriously and obliging the suggestion to pair up, two very nice people behind me asked if I’d like to join their group.  My Intuition Antennae instantly told me that they were Safe Enough and gave me the green light to interact.

This was during the morning that I was having a really tough time due to several converging mini-crises (well, maybe not quite so “mini”), so I was grateful to have been invited to join their group, but my dish had run away with my spoons, so I was flat-out straight-up.  “I’m afraid this isn’t much of a verbal day for me today; is it OK if I listen to what you think of this, while I remain a spectator?”

They readily agreed, without any judgment, another moment for which I was grateful.

I’m not sure if they thought I was weird or not; such thoughts (worries) had long since stopped intruding into my boundaries of concern.  In short: I had stopped caring, at least for the most part, what people thought.  Nobody else lives inside my head.  Nobody else faces my struggles.  I had taken the yardstick, scratched out all the predetermined marks, and drawn my own.  Not only is that more accurate, but it’s also more fun.  Not to mention freeing.

Because I had my laptop with me and I managed to establish a wi-fi connection, I Google Image-searched for Asperger’s/autism “cards”, the ones that say things like “I’m trying” or “how to interact with me”, and I left one of them on my screen in plain view, in sort of an “I’ll just leave this here” kind of spirit.

Some might accuse me of displaying passive aggression, but that’s not where I intended to go with that, anymore than wearing one of those cards around my neck would have been.  It was more of an FYI, in a situation where it wouldn’t have been appropriate to talk, for the disruption that talking would have caused.  Doing this also let my computer screen do my talking for me at a time when my energy was low and my words might not cooperate.

It was the best I could do, given the circumstances, and I believe about two or three (or maybe five?) more people saw it.  

Nobody batted an eye.  Nobody avoided me.  It was a relief to not feel like I had The Plague or something.

Maybe, just maybe, the Asperger’s/autism spectrum is becoming more broadly accepted, in wider circles.  Maybe, much like the lady I mentioned earlier, some of their (the professionals’) own relatives are being diagnosed as Aspergian/autistic, and they knew those relatives (complete with their caring hearts and their intense interests and their unusual talents–all the positive stuff) long before their diagnosis came, and they’re realizing that Asperger’s/autism isn’t so “bad”. 

I have the feeling that the world is slowly changing, in a way that is long overdue and eagerly welcome.  In such a world, I may no longer have to feel like I have to significantly alter myself in order to “pass” and a “lack” of “passing” implies some kind of “failure”.  Maybe the time will soon be upon me/us where I/we can stop trying to “pass” for neurotypical without feeling as though we/I have failed in some way.  It’s possible that in a not-too-distant world, I can simply pass for being me, and it won’t be considered an “impairment”.

To not pass for neurotypical is not a failure; it’s to pass on one’s own accord, by being themselves.  And everyone should have that right. ๐Ÿ™‚

โค

โค

โค

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23 Comments

  1. Especially at a conference for doctors & medical peeps you should be able to expect some understanding & acceptance. Bravo my DD for being your AWESOME unmasked self!!๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ˜โœจ๐Ÿ’ซ๐Ÿ’ž๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒด๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜˜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “””Judgmental (some would say โ€œInternalized Ableistโ€) “””

    thank you for standing between us and the endless onslaught of politically-clinical terminology. sometimes its refreshing to just read it the way it would be said in english. โค

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hehe Plain English is my first language, sarcasm is my second, profanity is my third, movie references are my fourth, and politically correct is fifth or lower–I can speak some, but much to the chagrin of some people, I ain’t exactly fluent lol ๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Woo hoo! Sounds like you navigated brilliantly and honestly. So brave and inspiring. โคโคโคThe quest to be completely ourselves is perhaps the most important of our lives. Way to go! I only hope I can get to that point one day. Getting closer… โ˜บ

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, sister!! ๐Ÿ˜˜โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’™. Hehe it’s a process for sure ๐Ÿ˜Š. I take steps forward and steps back ๐ŸŒบ. Eventually I think we all will get there; with any luck there’s a proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’—โœจ๐ŸŒˆ๐ŸŒˆ

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think too that the world is changing. The other thing is that everyone will just mirror your own beliefs about yourself.
    So what if the thought that you have to try to “pass” was not valid anymore?
    What if you were forced to mask yourself only to see that this is not what you want?
    What if the world was just waiting for you to reveal who you are and how you are? Isn’t it the reason you came here for?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Cool beans that you went to a conference on autism. As a mother of an autistic I find them so helpful.

    Presently my son is looking for a full time job. He can’t seem to pull himself away from his computer games and get some dicipline.

    I’m so tired of being his cheerleader and kicking his butt to get going.
    I know he is scared, but time to stop hiding in his room and grow up and act like an adult.
    So I took a pt job so i wouldn’t go stir crazy around him sleeping in late, erc…
    Taking care of myself.
    And never be afraid to be yourself. You’re authentic and people will realize you have a lot to say and listen.
    Keep on blogging. I love your posts. It’s like my own autism conference. I can learn so much here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words! ๐Ÿ˜˜โค๏ธ. I am so glad you’re taking care of You and doing the best you can; the part time work sounds good ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ. I feel for you and your situation; I can’t imagine that it’s easy ๐Ÿ’ž. I’ve been the video gamer, too ๐Ÿ˜‰. It can be captivating, and it can be hard to know when to stop and move on to something else. For a long time, I struggled with what I wanted to do with my life; I switched university majors 8 times, searching to find what would tap that special place inside ๐Ÿ˜Š. I never thought it’d be medicine, but then, I don’t practice “normal” medicine ๐Ÿ˜Š. It took a lot of thinking outside the box to realize my niche in life. I was 25 when I finally figured it out; I was 32 when I graduated school. I’m now just a few months shy of 40 ๐Ÿ’œ. I still remember my 20s very well, though – the confusion and lack of direction, primarily because my path had not yet been illuminated. It wasn’t for lack of searching, but despite my efforts, nothing revealed itself.

      I did work, though, as a cocktail and restaurant waitress, and doing construction. Lots of odd jobs, sporadic schedules, anything but stable. But construction was fun. The waitressing, not so much, but I thought it was at the time. I burned out, though ๐Ÿ˜Š

      My parents gave me no option but to work and it was a given that I would leave home at 18 to go to university. So I did. I stayed in classes, for the most part, working the odd jobs in my afternoons and evenings and weekends. It sucked, but it was part of my life, and it was temporary. Looking back, I can say that I’m grateful for the experience and the challenges it brought, but I wouldn’t want to relive those days at all ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ’–

      A book called “What Color Is Your Parachute?” helped me a lot, although I didn’t realize that for a long time. It planted a seed, though; it got me thinking about how I could take an existing job and meld it into something that is my own. It got me thinking about possibilities. I tell my story in hopes that it helps on some level ๐Ÿ˜Š. How old is your son? ๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’š

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Yes. I have heard of that book.
        My son is 24. He graduated from St Mary’s College after 6 LOOONG years of struggling through classes. He is dooone. So happy for that blessing.

        I know he will figure it out. Hard to know how long to let him live at home. I’m sure things will work out somehow. No big rush.
        God to know your age. Always wondered that. I did tell my son about you and your blog today. It is very insightful.
        Have a great week and thx for the feedback.

        Like

  6. It sounds like you did the right thing, and it all went very well, so that’s good. I was wondering what it would actually look like to let the mask slip, but you gave examples, so it became clear. I have obviously been passing all my life, still do, since nobody ever suspected anything. I guess it’s just my “normal”. I’ve been thinking about peeking out from behind the mask a bit more, but since I’m not ready yet (when will I ever be?) to fully identify myself even to myself, I don’t know what shape that would take. The only thing I’ve done is buy a couple of things specifically for stimming, and I use them at work when I’m anxious, but it’s just some unobtrusive fiddling (one of them is a spinner ring). I’m not helped by the fact that a person everyone here knows (not a colleague, but a person all my colleagues know) has taken to dropping “I’m autistic” into the conversation basically as an excuse for shitty behaviour, as in “I can’t help being rude to people, I’m autistic”, or “I got completely drunk twice last week because when you’re autistic you can’t stop”. This is a new thing, I don’t know if they got a new diagnosis or what. They were previously known to have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Whether this person really is autistic or not I don’t know, but if this is the impression the people around me are getting of autism, there’s no way I can mention it in connection with myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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