Thursday, February 25, 2016

THE MASK OF NORMALITY - Hiding My True Self (An Asperger's Conundrum)

This video contains examples of extreme autism behaviors like self-injury and sensory overload, as well as visuals to help the viewer understand the not-so-great aspects of autism.]

An Asperger's conundrum: being accepted only if I act "normal." I am not neurotypical, even if I can look like it. It's draining trying to be something I'm not.

Sadly, a lot of the more harmless Asperger's traits are shunned due to being misunderstood, while the more harmful ones may be covered up without addressing the root problem.

(Video Transcript below)

Due to my Asperger's, I can't always express precisely what I'm trying to convey, so some points may be worded oddly or seem to mean something else. My mouth doesn't cooperate with my brain sometimes. Just know that these videos are meant to educate, not offend or confuse!

Also, my use of the words "us," "we," etc. is me referring to those on the autism spectrum (or human beings in general in some contexts). It's not referring to just me specifically, yet it's also not referring to every individual on the spectrum since we differ. So what I discuss may not be applicable to everyone! It is conclusions I came to based on a mix of my experience, what I've heard from experts, and what I've seen in other autistics. I do not know everyone's story or perspectives--I am only human.

So please approach this with an open mind and don't take anything personally.

About commenting... I love hearing from you. So all comments, opinions, personal stories, and constructive critism are welcome and appreciated. Debate are okay, but keep them civil. HOWEVER, senseless nitpicking or outright harrassment will not be tolerated, and any abusive comments will be removed.

Thank you.



I've gotten a lot of comments both on the internet and in real life that I seem very normal. Some people don't think I have Asperger's because I look so normal. I've been described as "well-adjusted," "articulate," "capable," but what most people don't know is how much I struggle with behind-the-scenes. I have a lot of anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and being generally overwhelmed from trying to look normal 24/7, ignoring any distress I might be from my Asperger's symptoms.

So the question is, why do some aspies look normal and others don't?

I think we're all taught how to be normal from a very young age. And this applies to I think everybody, not just people on the autism spectrum. It depends on your upbringing, depends on the culture, but generally, we're expected to act like everyone else, right?

And I think the more practice that we've had, the closer to "normal" we might seem.

So overall, people on the spectrum have to wear what I call a "Mask of Normality" to hide their autistic traits. And it's not always neccessarily the bad traits; there are some natural traits that come about that some people might--for some strange reason--not want to see. Like stimming, for instance. Like, if there's a little kid who's overwhelmed, and they're at the grocery store, and the lights and noise are too much to handle, and they start spinning in circles and flapping their hands and stuff--the parent will probably feel embarrassed because that looks kind of odd, right? So they'll probably train that out of the kid. But then how do they deal with things?

This is the condundrum that we have. There are certain things we're just expected to hide, but the core problem is not fixed. We still have the core problem. The kid is still going to be overwhelmed, even more so if they can't stim, for instance.

I also wanted to point out the fact that because a lot of aspies deal with being overwhelmed so much more--from sensory overload, information overload, just being overwhelmed in general--that mask tends to slip off a little more often than the average person's "Mask of Normality."

And it makes sense--I mean, try acting normal when your senses are being completely bombarded. Try picturing you're standing right in the middle of a war, like a battlefield, and all this stuff is coming at you. Your first instinct is going to be to RUN or to FIGHT. And it's really easy to freak out. And if someone is looking at you like "Why are you acting so weird?" You're looking at them like "DO YOU NOT SEE WHAT'S GOING ON?!?"

So I'd like to emphasize that when you see somebody with Asperger's who is completely overwhelmed or overloaded, please do not expect them to respong in a normal way, because they probably won't. They're past the point of being able to pretend anymore.

Now, it's understandable why someone would want us to hide things like aggression or behaviors that are going to hurt someone, because nobody wants that, nobody wants to be hurt. And I agree, but sometimes we kinda just put a bandaid over those things, And the kid might still feel aggressive, and they'll carry that on later in life, and the core of the problem's never fixed. So I think rather than putting a mask over these things, we need to figure out a different approach for people on the spectrum.

I got this comment on my documentary which I think describes this so well. It reads:

"I'm partially annoyed by the fact that some of us have learned to mimic social behaviours of others. In MY case, it is a tiny bit of a burden. Because I act "Normal" most of the time, I can't have an Aspie moment. My mum get's annoyed about how aggressive i've been getting recently, the reason behind it is I'm putting WAY too much energy into being things that I'm not."

This is the conundrum.

It's not that we're terrible people. It's not that we want to hurt other people or offend them in any way. We're just trying way too hard to act normal. That's what I think what causes a lot of the depression, and a lot of the anxiety, and a lot of the behavioral problems. We're trying to fit into this box, and we don't want to fit into this box, but everyone wants us to!

Now, my friend Katie, she brought up this really interesting outlook on this: The world is kind of like a stage, and we are all actors on that stage. And people with Asperger's, they're put into these roles that we are not necessarily meant to be in. And so it becomes very uncomfortable after a while, trying to act like that character when it's really not you, and it's tiring, it's draining.

And yet, people look at me and they assume I don't have Asperger's, because I am so good at playing this role. It's draining, but I'm really good at playing it. Now, in my case, my normal traits, those are the only ones I tend to show in public. So that includes even being with my friends--even if they know I have Asperger's. To them, I look normal 80% of the time, because when I'm around them, I'm normal. 
But that's not the real me 80% of the time. The real me 80% of the time is quiet and focused, I don't have as much capacity to listen sometimes--I actually made a list here of some of the traits that I have:

ALYSSA REALLY IS... (Asperger's Deficits)
- Obsessive / Perfectionist
- Can't hear you when extremely focuses
- Rants a lot
- Thinks "in a circle" or broadly before getting to the point
- Messes up verbally sometimes
- Misinterprets others and is misinterpreted
- Misreads emotions

This is why I prefer spending a great deal of time alone (among other reasons), cuz I don't want people to see all these things about me that they might not like. And I need a lot of rest from trying to act normal.

Also, the only reason (among other reasons) why I can look normal is because I make a realistic plan for social ocassions, and I prepare myself ahead of time. Even for this video, I prepared myself ahead of time. I've kind of got a rough transcript I'm reading from, but I had to rant this out over and over and over before I could actually be articulate for the video.

Since my deficits are highlighted often... I sometimes forget to mention my strengths (I don't like bragging publicly). However, I will list the positives, too. Because they are important.

- Am a "thorough" learner. I can quickly become an expert at almost anything I am interested in.
- Like everyone regardless of their differences.
- Can focus intensely for long periods of time (i.e. It took me two days straight aside from eating and sleeping to make this video.)
- Can analyze objectively without emotions geting in the way (mostly)
- Have a very strong visual mind, vivid dreams, imagination, etc. and an overall rich perception of life (sort of like being high...)
- Have deep self-awareness and insight
- Work thoroughly and skillfully, when given proper time frame

These are things I don't want to hide. But our society seems to value social competence and verbal skills more than these. I value them, though. They are who I am.

My advice from what I have learned recently: Don't hide who you are.
Even if no one seems to care about the real you. 
Even if they don't approve of the real you.
Even if the real you doesn't meet their expectations.

No need to pretend. 
No need to apologize.
We're not here to impress everyone.

True happiness (and self-acceptance) can be found when we take off the mask.

Even if it's just for a little while.


➤ My Asperger's Documentary

➤ My Asperger's Blog

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1 comment:

  1. I'm really pleased to have discovered this blog. It really chimes with my experience and is very well expressed. I do wonder though about the words 'mask' and 'masking' (though I know they're commonly used in this context), because they seem to imply dishonesty. That thing I've been doing since childhood isn't remotely designed to deceive anyone into thinking I'm something I'm not; I didn't even know I was doing anything unusual. I've heard it called 'compensating', but I think the best phrases to describe it are probably 'trying to fit in', 'trying to be a good person' or even 'trying to be normal'. What I absolutely recognise is that in contrast to regular people, this 'trying' I do sometimes just snaps off completely without warning (at least to others, but even I'm usually surprised), so I seem to go straight from 'coping' to very much not. It's alarming and depressing to think that it's the meltdown version of me that's the real one, and the rest of it is just a 'mask', and I don't really think that's the right way to think of it. The real me is both the vulnerable autistic part of me and all the properly impressive stuff I do every day, often without thinking, just trying to be brave and good.