Context: As many of you know, I am autistic. While the specific syndrome is yet to be identified, it has been medically determined for the last 12 years that I exhibit many of the traits and characteristics typical of children and teenagers with ASD variants.
One of the biggest issues I've faced as an autistic person has been the conflict of masking. For those who aren't familiar with the term, masking is the principle of trying to "hide" or "mask" parts (or all) of the issues that come with different forms of illness, both physical and mental. This is something that many people (usually with mental health issues but sometimes with physical issues too) practice on a regular basis. For example, a person with ADHD who takes medication may choose not to disclose to others that they have ADHD, because 1) the person can function in a neurotypical-oriented society and 2) the person is afraid of criticism, judgement, or the million forms of mollycoddling that seems to be included with every serving of mental illness. This second point is the most critical: that people mask because they are afraid of judgement. For those who are unable to mask (either because their condition is not being treated, or because it is too severe for treatment to be effective, or simply because they don't know what they're doing "wrong"), they typically have some form of jealousy for those who mask, while those who mask are jealous of those who don't need to.
Reset brain. You guys should be familiar with my tangents by now, because I made this blog as a safe space for myself to break off into tangents without worrying about wasting anyone's time (you can always click away, but I appreciate you either way. This tangent is quickly becoming meta, so back to the essay.
My masking has taken me far. From a decent-paying job (especially for my age) to relative financial and social independence, I think that for the most part, masking my ASD has had a positive impact on my external life. However, recently I've started to push more introspection into my self-analyses (Refgd holdouts and some friends will be familiar with The Spreadsheet™ which I use to track All The Things), and this has resulted in me considering the impact of masking on my mental health too.
A lot of the people I've talked to, including psychoanalysis Ph.D. graduates, have agreed that masking, if not used in moderation, can result in negative mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and of most notability for me, heightened impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome, the chronic feeling of inadequacy or underqualification (this is a massive oversimplification, and reflects only my perspective), is no stranger to the 2 people who read these introspection posts. Long-term readers will be familiar with the constant questioning of "is what I'm doing good enough?" or "what if I've managed to bluff my way through everything so far?", and many of you have reiterated the sentiment both in personal conversation or in online discussions. Recent crises of mental and physical health have resulted in me failing to mask in situations I, in hindsight, consider to have been essential to mask. A complete mental shutdown, an endless sinking into a state of paralysis and cataclysmic dread, have rapidly become the norm for me, as the façades I applied to everyday life crack and leak. It's a case of when, not if.
The failure of my façades has become a Crisis of Significance in my life. Attempts to maintain and repair my masks will, indubitably, result in a continual increase in the dread of impostor syndrome, as well as the myriad of consequences that come with hiding depression and anxiety. However, the consequences of mask failures has resulted in an even sharper incline in doubts about myself and my relationships with others. My issues were always exposed, eventually, in the form of blog rants, or Youtube streams, or arguments, but all of these came when I was ready to process them, and when I had a cohesive narrative which portrayed my perspective as I saw it. Unmasked, however, the raw, torrential form of many of my issues becomes exposed, including parts which aren't true, cohesive, or logical, such as split-second determinism. Usually, a week or two of processing time passes before I come to a conclusion about how to expose what's going on in my brain, because I want to have an informed perspective before I discuss a topic.
Obviously, this doesn't apply to my fictional writing. If something is tagged as Fiction, there's a non-zero chance that everything in there is completely false. I hope you haven't been quoting my fiction stories as fact.
There doesn't seem to be a clear solution to this problem, and psychologists, neurologists, and psychiatrists have presented me with dozens of different, conflicting explanations, none of which have resonated with the intricacies of my current issue. Usually, I try to end introspections on a "what can you do?" note, but this time, I don't know if there's anything to do. It's become a case of "keep trying the same thing and hope you get a different result", because the alternative of "try something new" MIGHT work, but it'll PROBABLY not.
If you've dealt with or are dealing with something similar, or just want someone to talk to and/or bounce ideas off, I would love to hear another person's perspective on anything in this post. Leave a comment or, if it's too personal, DM me on Instagram @hyperbolicpurple or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.