Camp Everyone Else!
“We all have a social mask, right? We put it on, we go out, put our best foot forward, our best image. But behind that social mask is a personal truth, what we really, really believe about who we are and what we’re capable of.”
Thankfully the days of having to cope with the noises of everyday hustle bustle city life are long behind me. Those days when l was every inch the dapper dandy attired in brogues and bling, crispness and starch, pleated and tailored elegance and of course the airs and graces of someone in control! Except – the last part of this wasn’t entirely true – l had become skilled in the art of societal deception, pretence or fakery which ever sits best with you. I had learned the quintessential art of disguise! My artificial presence had been perfected behind a glamorous array of delusional illusion!
Masking up was a way of surviving society and everything that it threw in my path daily – from people, to environments, to smells and scents, vibrancy and colour and the cacophonous racket that everyone else calls life!
It had taken years as a youngster growing up and watching those around me – l was a huge people watcher back then – observing their every move, how they acted, their expressions and mentally recording them and then when at home, away from the reproachful eyes of my family l could exercise in front of the mirror similar to how there are those that used to kiss the corners of their pillows for ‘mouth to mouth’ practice! [OH STOP you ALL did it!!]
What? You mean it really was only me??
This practice allowed me to start the ‘To Fit In’ programme – which my Mother had suggested that l should give some thought to. Apparently l was somewhat on occasion inappropriate with my facial expressions to events, incidents or moments that occurred. You know, laughing when one shouldn’t, smirking, grimacing, looking guilty – the usual suspects that l feel sure not just my fellow autists can relate to?
Practice makes perfect is actually a truth – the more you look like a loon with your gurning the more you learn and acquire a certain skill set – and so, it was these afternoon after school routines that allowed me to achieve the finished product which in my case was the creation of a series of ‘society masks’.
I used these long before my diagnosis, and became extremely gifted to all of the outside world, no one could tell the difference between ‘little ol’ me’ and someone else – well let’s say that l had it at least 95% right!
So, all splendid and correct yes? No, of course NOT – this is a tale of reality not a fairy tale!
When at home and my masks were off, the whole day would catch up with me, my senses would instantly overwhelm and a meltdown, a blackout rage, a shutdown, self-harming episodes would pop in for a visit and say howdy!
You see, it’s not always easy pretending to fit in, or to be someone else instead of being the person you were born into – it’s not easy to look people in the eye if that goes against your very nature – it’s not easy to push away the comfort blankets of a stim to keep calm, and to not draw attention to yourself. Forcing yourself to be another personality all for the sake of keeping a strong identity is very stressful.
I found that l had to NOT just don various masks, but l had to dress a certain way to lure people to not look into my face but below my neck at my colourfully animated tie, or even a spinning bow tie or maybe a shiny bit of bling. Then l acquired the ability to look at people just above or below their eyes and sometimes just over one of their shoulders below an ear!
Society has expectations from its people – and that is to be like everyone else – as far as everyone else is concerned for that is how everyone else can fit into society! So when you are not in the ‘everyone else’ camp to begin with and trying to fit into the maddening crowd of ‘everyone else and their Mothers’ camp life can be somewhat tough!
In the end the mask wearing took a mighty punch at me and succeeded in knocking me out and down and floored me for years and l do mean years with the deepest darkest depression known to mankind! A period of time when self-harm and l knew no limits and bloodletting reached infinite heights! The pain was the only way to awaken! To awaken meant l was alive and thinking – and my biggest fear was to lose my ability to think for myself and so the bloodletting continued – a real nasty catch22.
My diagnosis arrived after this dreadful learning curve into the rollercoaster of hell and it was also during this time frame that l ‘woke’ up and decided that l was done and dusted with what society thought l should be. That fitting in was no longer an option and that the best l could hope to achieve was to simply ‘belong to my own tribe’ whoever they may be!
So l threw them all away, around the same time l was starting a new relationship and we agreed to each other as a NeuroAspie/AspieNeuro partnership that we wouldn’t wear masks between us nor the rest of the world and that is how it has been since then.
Nearly five years of no masks whatsoever! And how do l feel about it? Fantastic! Energised and refreshed! For l am now ME, the person l was meant to be, the person l am happiest being. I am not saying that l don’t experience any down days of COURSE l do, but at least l am no longer having to pretend to be someone that l am simply not.
It is oh so easy for Camp Everyone Else to pass judgement on the mask wearers of this world forgetting that there may well have been a time when they didn’t quite fit in, and all they wanted to do was – Belong!
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives”
Henry David Thoreau
Guy or Bloke, Your choice