Tag Archives: mask

Beneath the Mask lies …. who?

In November 2014, when I was forty eight years old, I was diagnosed with autism. Since then I have been trying to write something about being diagnosed so late on in life, but I seem to have a complete block these days when it comes to writing, even though writing is something I have done all my life. My adult autistic son keeps asking me to write something for his blog, and I have tried so many times, but I just seem to blurb out a load of nonsense and not have the energy to edit or try to make it make sense in any way, and so there is never anything for the blog from me.
I have not had time to process what an autism diagnosis means for me – if it is a good or a bad thing – and do I feel better or worse for having this diagnosis? I thought it would it be a good thing, and give some meaning, some explanation for my past, and that I could use it to move forward in my life, armed with the knowledge that I am not broken, or a failure, or that life is wasted on me as I have always thought, but that I am autistic, and that is who I am, what I am, what I have always been, and that I finally know and understand who and what I am. That I could claim autism, being autistic, as my identity.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
In all honesty the one thing that has become clear to me since being diagnosed as autistic is that I have no idea who I am, what I am, or where, or even if I fit in to the world.
Every day it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that I have masked and faked my way through my life, and that no one really knows me, and I don`t even know myself. I feel as though I don`t exist outside of what I do for other people.
This is not to say that I have not had genuine feelings for people, that I didn`t care about them or love them, and the things I have done for them didn`t mean anything to me. That`s not what I am trying to say.
I`ll try to explain, but I am not sure I can.
It`s like from a really young age, probably four or five, I just didn`t know what to do, how to be. It`s like I read the hand-book on how to be a good daughter, sister, friend, partner, Mum, human-being, and I followed it to the letter with no veering from it, no time to think about myself or my own needs. I think I have always been, or tried my damndest to be, exactly what my parents needed me to be, exactly what my siblings needed me to be, exactly what my ex-partner needed me to be, and the perfect Mum. I have always given a hundred percent to every person in my life, every job, every action, with no room for error, no room for mistakes, no room for me.
It is like putting make-up on each day before you can face the world, afraid to let the world see you, who you really are, what you really look like, because you don`t really know who you are, but you know that you can never measure up to other people. And to be honest you don`t know what the fuck you should be doing, or how you should be doing it, so you watch, you observe, you learn, you copy and you do, just to fit in. But you can`t copy and do everything your peers do, at whatever age and period in your life you happen to be, because you can`t get it wrong. Mistakes are not ok. You have to be the perfect daughter. You can never put your own needs, or feelings, or wants above what your parents need from you. And you have to be the perfect sister. You can`t be selfish or think of your own needs, and no matter how overwhelming or exhausting or damaging it is, you have to do what your siblings need you to do. And friends? Well you have to be there for them constantly don`t you? You have to follow their ideas, do what they want to do, put off what is important to you and ignore your own wants and needs and prioritise theirs don`t you? And in a relationship? Well you can`t argue or shout or hurt someone`s feelings. You have to absorb all the shit, but never dish any out. And being a Mum? There`s no room for mistakes, you have to be completely selfless and give everything you have got, and never, ever put your own needs above those of your child. And society at large? Well you always have to be polite, and kind, and caring and put yourself out, even for complete strangers. And when people: family, friends, partners, work colleagues, people in general treat you like dirt, well you just have to take it and never, ever retaliate because the idea or hurting someone`s feelings – even if they hurt yours on a daily basis – is just unbearable. And they are the un-written rules of the metaphorical `hand-book` on how to be a good human-being, except, they are not. They are the rules I imposed on myself because I didn`t know how to be me, how to look after me, as well as being a good daughter, sister etc. I didn`t know how to be a real person, what I was supposed to do, so I subconsciously developed a persona of trying to be the perfect everything to everyone, to make sure everyone else`s needs are met. I still do it. I don`t know how to not do it.
Am I making any sense? I guess what I am trying to say is that because I was so confused and bewildered by life, all my life, I kind of learned how to be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, partner, Mum, employee, student, citizen, always trying to do the right thing by everyone else, that I never really learned anything about who I am? And somehow I have reached the age of 52 feeling as bewildered and confused by life as I did when I was five. And somehow I have blundered through to reach this age without ever really doing anything I have wanted to do (or I`ve had short bursts of trying but never really succeeded with anything) and I have never really known or understood me, who I am, what I want. And I don`t think that anyone else knows me at all, apart from my son. I think my parents knew me pretty well as their testament to how I was as a child went pretty far to me being diagnosed as autistic. I have always been extremely close to my parents, but even with them I had to put on a front a lot of the time when they needed me to help my siblings, and I couldn`t say no. I could never say no to my parents, or `what about me?` I always did exactly what they needed me to do to support my siblings, and I never once complained, or told them how hard it was for me to push myself to do the things they needed me to do.
I know I am not painting a very good picture of myself here, but I just don`t know how else to explain it. I am not the perfect anything, but I have nearly killed myself trying to be.
I keep seeing hashtags about `taking the mask off ` on Twitter, and being your true, authentic, autistic self, but I have many masks, for many different situations, and although I feel they are slowly destroying me, if I take them off what then? How will I go to the shop to ask for something? Make a phone call? Have an electrician or a plumber in the house? Order a taxi? Get my haircut? Interact with my family, neighbours, and society in general? Make sure my son`s needs are met?
Without the masks I can`t function, and if I don`t function I can`t support my son, or even do anything.
I am all for autistic people getting on with being autistic, and not having to go through the stress of trying to fit in to society, not having to `mask`, but if I don`t have my masks then what do I have to present to the world? I can`t present `Me` because I have no idea who that is ….

Jane Donlan

You can find my  sons book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762