I’ve been missing from the world of autistic bloggers for more or less a year now. I made one post on my Instagram, but otherwise it’s been complete radio silence on my end. Some people noticed I was still active on my everyday accounts, and a couple knew about my Harry Potter fan account, but when it came to here, nothing. If you looked at any of my social media accounts, or saw me briefly in real life, it would seem as if I just had everything together and was going about my everyday life. Well, that’s partly true. Mostly though? I’d started masking constantly again.
Masking is this way of not appearing autistic so neurotypical people will accept you. It’s exhausting, time-consuming and leaves you feeling very emotionally drained. Around this time last year, I started feeling a lot of shame about being in my late 20s and still being “childish”, so I tried hard to make myself seem like what I thought a “normal” adult was. Comparing myself to all the other people I knew, rationalising that they all had problems but seemed to be doing fine so I needed to just grow up. I caused myself months of torment, refusing to let myself stim or interact with things that made me calm down because “adults don’t do that”. Rather than celebrate my accomplishments, I punished myself for every single bit of behaviour that wasn’t up to a high, high standard. Not only was I making sure all my time was consumed by some form of work, I was also exhausted from the energy I was putting into masking it all. So eventually I ended up trapped in this cycle where I felt extremely guilty every moment I wasn’t working in some way. I kept pushing my standards higher too, which meant constantly failing to meet my own expectations, adding to the huge amounts of stress.
At the start of this month, I got sick. Normally I just get a common cold and it’s over within a couple of days, but this one stuck around. I was coughing heavily and struggling to breathe. I had bronchitis- and one of the reasons it’s become so bad is because my immune system is a mess thanks to the extreme stress I’ve been repeatedly putting myself under. I’d been pushing aside my mental health, telling myself I was just being lazy, to the point it impacted my physical health. I really can’t ignore it any more.
So I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. Letting myself stim without punishing myself, or by fighting back against the guilty thoughts. By starting up my autism blogging spaces again and talking to people once more. By immersing myself in my special interests and enjoying them thoroughly. I need to do it, or I’ll end up very sick again.
When we talk about masking, we think about it as this kind of thing you consciously do for a short period of time. It can be that! However, when you’ve spent the majority of your life being expected to mask, it’s easy to fall back into those patterns. While I would’ve been stressed and overwhelmed anyway, forcing myself to mask has only heightened those anxious feelings. I intentionally stopped myself from doing things to calm down, and punished myself in roundabout ways for not acting neurotypical. It’s not healthy, and it only benefits people who dislike autistic people.
From here on out, I’m going to try hard to just let myself be.