I’ve always known I am different, but for most of my life I haven’t known why.
I’ve had to suppress the real me and try to be like everyone else in order to try and fit in.
Masking. Mimicking. Copying. Pretending. Camouflaging. Whatever you call it – it all amounts to the same thing: Survival.
The cost of trying to fit in is high as many autistic people succumb to physical and mental exhaustion at some point in their lives. Like me. I burned out at 46 years of age.
The moment we leave the security of our homes we become somebody else in order to survive.
We are performers.
So much for autistic people not being able to act, eh?
As well as mimicking my peers, I took inspiration from characters in books and TV. Sometimes it was hard to know where the characters ended and I began. I remember asking my mirror reflection, ‘Who are you?’
Forty years later, I was diagnosed autistic.
Finally. I knew who I was.
Make-up has always been a tool in my ‘how to survive life’ box. Like clowns who hide their true identity behind over-sized clothes and painted on smiles, I tried to hide my ‘weirdness’ behind eye-liner and a layer of foundation thick enough to plaster walls. I’d seen how make-up changed my mother’s face so I experimented on my own and suddenly I didn’t look like me anymore, and if I didn’t look like me, then surely it would be easier to pass off being like all the other girls and, just maybe, they’d like me?
I wore eye-liner at first, but Dad went paternal on me and made me sponge it off. He didn’t understand my reasons for wearing it. How could he? He was a ‘man’s man’ and he just wanted me to stay a little girl as long as possible. It’s understandable, I guess.
Girls my age were wearing make-up – the difference with me was that make-up put a barrier between me and them – at the same time allowing me to blend in a little better. It was psychological because in reality I was still different. I just looked more feminine..
“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.”~ Courtney Summers – All The Rage
For me, make-up wasn’t about beauty or fashion. It was about protection. Just as a riot cop would never go into an affray without their helmet on, I would never go out without my ‘mask’ on because I would feel vulnerable and exposed.
It was about pretence.
“Costumes and makeup play an important role in the drama, character creation.”
I have reinvented myself more times than Madonna, only with less success. And money.
Is it any wonder I burned out?
Since my diagnosis there have been changes. I feel different. Lighter. Less tolerant of people’s crap. I’ve found that the word, ‘no’ comes a lot easier these days.
I’m a long way from being make-up free as some habits are hard to break. Plus, I look bloody horrifying without it, but the mask is slowly falling and hopefully one day I will wear make-up simply because I want to – not because I need to.
So, what’s changed?
I accept myself for who I am. Also, I’m knackered from decades of trying to hide who I am in order to fit in and for what?
I GOT BULLIED ANYWAY.
Bullied. Ostracized . Whatever. It’s basically human beings exploiting vulnerability instead of offering protection and support.
I’d hazard a guess that most autistic people have encountered bullies at some point in their lives?
Bullies are cowards. Bullies are not stupid enough to abuse people bigger or stronger than themselves. They dominate those who are different in order to boost their own self-esteem and there lies the problem: Bullies actually have low self-esteem.
While I am new to knowing I’m autistic – I have always been autistic and I’ve been feeling resentful towards the people who have let me down over my life. However, resentment will only harm me, not them. That said, I feel more in control of my life than I have ever been. This is why the mask is starting to fall because I no longer need to hide. For what’s left of my life, I will embrace being autistic because it’s who I am. Some people say their autism will never define them but I don’t feel that way. If I wasn’t autistic, I wouldn’t be me.
Being autistic explains everything. Every moment of my life. People think I struggle because I’m autistic, but that’s not true. I struggle with an overwhelming (and confusing) world and I struggle with people.
People are a major problem.
I’ve floundered about from one self-help book to another trying to ‘find’ myself and only when I had my third child did I finally get my answer because he was diagnosed autistic. I have so much to thank him for because without him I would still be struggling with my identity. I’m not sorry that I’ve passed my autistic genes onto him because he’s the happiest little boy I know. He does NOT suffer. He’s NOT a burden. He requires NO CURE. However, I’m am sorry that the world still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding him.
Not so long ago, the school asked him to name things he liked about himself and do you know what my beautiful autistic son said?
“I LIKE BEING ME.”
Will I ever be able to say that about myself?
Lets just say that I’m working on it. Yesterday, I left off the eye-liner AND eye-shadow and I went out into the world. Maybe to most women, that isn’t a big deal, but to me it’s HUMONGOUS because it means that the mask is slowly coming off.
I’m also growing my hair-dye out. This is a challenging process as I need things to be visually ‘right’ and the mad badger look isn’t exactly flattering. However, I choose to think of it as a transformation from my old (and confused self) to who I am now and with each inch of silver hair, I can see the real me emerging. Like a butterfly, no?
Sounds wanky, but it stops me from reaching for the box of hair dye that’s in the cupboard..
For most of my life, I have been a pretender – always trying to be someone else because I thought that I wasn’t good enough.
I AM good enough.
I always have been.
Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are ~ Kurt Cobain