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Unmasked

A Neurodivergent Crisis

By E.N. GusslerPublished 6 months ago 3 min read
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Unmasked
Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

The version of me you get, depends entirely on you. I never thought of it as masking, even though I have a child on the Autism Spectrum and have learned a lot about masking as a whole. However, looking back on my life, so many things have started to make sense. It was surprising on one hand, but not entirely shocking, when I decided to take a closer look at myself.

You see, I never felt like I belonged. Anywhere. I had friends, but I always had the sneaking feeling that they felt sorry for me, or held onto this obligation to be my friends. Typically, I had one or two friends that I regularly did things with at any given time. The friendships would just fizzle out, or fade away. Where people “quiet quit” jobs, friends “quiet quit” me. I often got dirty looks when I tried to be included with others, or as a teenager when I tried to be involved in a conversation. I call it the “why are you talking to me” face. They might still reply, but they make it painfully clear that I am not welcome or wanted in the conversation. And then there are those who just straight up ignore me when I speak, or will tell me, directly, that I’m not wanted in the conversation. I was labeled a “know-it-all” because I would share any knowledge I had gained on random topics. It was never about knowing more than someone else, but about sharing things I found interesting. But this was met with repulsion and annoyance, so I tried to just keep things to myself to avoid bothering them.

I was always “too much”, so I tried to be less. Less talkative, less excited, less friendly, less loud. When entering new situations, or around people I don’t know, I am often quiet. I have to feel out the situation and the people present, so that I know how I will be received and perceived by them. Can I be myself? Or do I have to mirror everyone else to be accepted?

Rejection, whether perceived or blatant, is a constant reminder of that ever present fear that people are merely tolerating me, or feel obligated to include me. I police my facial expressions and change my personality depending on the people I’m around. Little stabs, jokes at my expense, even “harmless” teasing, catapults me back to that little girl who was made fun of for the littlest personality traits and I withdraw. I will back out of a conversation, stop singing along to the radio, retreat into a book, or music on my earbuds, and otherwise go as invisible as possible, to avoid the scrutiny of those teasing me. I’ve become hyper aware of when people dislike me, even if they are polite and not directly unkind, I can tell when someone would prefer to not interact with me.

Masking feels like a foreign label, but I have come to realize that it is second nature for me. It is the shield I put up to protect myself from the scrutiny of others. My security blanket to ward off the irritation, discomfort, and judgements. One teasing comment about me singing along with the music I hear, an off-hand remark about repeating myself, an eye-roll in reply to sharing a factoid I have learned, and suddenly I’m painfully aware that I have violated some social rule. The mask slips back into place, and I swallow down the hurt, sometimes fighting back the tears that burn the corners of my eyes.

It’s difficult to ascertain who you are when you have spent so much of your life molding yourself into the versions others have determined to be acceptable. They are masks I wear to fit in, to not stand out, but they are all part of the identity I have carefully cultivated. Only a select few get to see me fully unmasked, and even then, in most cases I stand at the ready, armed with another socially acceptable mask. Just in case they don’t like what they see.

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About the Creator

E.N. Gussler

Writer. Photographer. World-traveler. Adventurer. Ohio State Alum.

A California native living in Ohio, I pull inspiration from my travels & life around me.

Co-creator: VoyagersPen.com

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