Tearing down the mask, my journey begins.
My last blog was a rather depressing one. And after writing it, I realised something. My depression and anxiety are getting the best of me.
Perhaps, I'm focussing on the wrong things.
One of my latest heroes is Hannah Gadsby. For all of you who don't know her, Hannah is an Australian, autistic, openly gay, stand-up comedian who became internationally famous after her show 'Nanette' aired on Netflix. Ever since I saw her show, I have been obsessing over her (one of my autistic talents). I have by now watched almost every interview with her, saw most of her stand-up shows on youtube and know most of her stories by heart. But why do I admire this Hannah so much?
For one, I can really identify with her. She's autistic, she's smart, she's struggled with depression, she suffers from chronic pain and she's been through trauma.
And second, she's many things that I wish to be: successful, seen, heard, funny and she seems to have found her purpose in life.
She serves as a great example for me and yet she demotivates me in so many ways. Why? Because I am none of the things I mentioned as second and there is no way I'll ever be able to live up to someone like her.
No matter how hard I try to be successful, executive dysfunction will screw things up for me, social deficits will screw things up for me, ADHD and my lack of focus will screw things up for me. Or is that just an excuse I can use now that I am formally diagnosed?
It is so important to me to be successful, to be seen, to be heard and my ambition is seriously endless. I dream of status, I dream of succes, I dream of being on top of it all.
Is it because I was always told that I couldn't? I still remember when my father told me I shouldn't move to another city, away from home. 'You're not a social person at all', he said to me. He was sure I'd fail and return home with my tail between my legs. But I didn't. I graduated from university, I found a wonderful man to marry and a travelled lots. But despite the fact that I managed to build up a life for myself, it is only his lack of faith in me, that keeps lingering in my mind.
Or, is it because I have always been taught as a child that succes equals love, admiration and acceptance. I cannot remember the number of times my mother compared to me to a more successful peer. How she would scoff and pull her nose up, the time I backed out of a risky business deal, and told me how other successful people would have taken the opportunity. How she would point out girls who were more beautiful and skinnier than me and made me hate myself.
Now, years later, I am starting to learn that my mom might be right. I might have peaked when I was at uni because now... I've never won any beauty pageants and let's face it, after baring two children and approaching the big 4-0, I'm not getting any better-looking. I'm no rocket scientist, I don't have this amazing career, despite that fact that I'm masking like there's no tomorrow, I remain this awkward and uncomfortable person, for fuck sake, I'm not even a nice person at times.
But for someone who has been kicked out of her own family, only because of the lies my mother has been spreading about me, that shit is important. I want to prove her wrong. There's nothing in life that I would love more than to shove my succes into her face and say: 'see! You were wrong about me, I do matter!' And it's not just my mom I want to amaze with my capabilities. A successful, autistic WOMAN in charge! What a headline that would be. Because let's face it, even in movies, it are always the autistic MEN that have the super powers.
But what if my mom IS right? I'm in my late thirties and what successes have I accomplished? Apart from two beautiful kids, absolutely none. I feel like I'm walking through life like a shadow. I'm there, but always in the corner of your eye, in the field of peripheral vision, just outside of the point of fixation. I feel like someone who is always just beneath the surface. The girl that always leaves early because she can't handle the crowd. The girl that seemed smart but for some reason couldn't perform. The girl that tries, but never really fits in. The little engine that could... But didn't.
I know I am smart, I know I can be capable, I know I can contribute, but I feel like I'm trying to keep my head above water while a dozen of rocks are tied to my feet.
- physical pain/discomfort
- executive dysfunction
- short attention span
- hyper sensitivity
- social inabilities
- Negative giftedness (Oh yes)
Just to name a few.
Lucky for me, there's more to be seen on Netflix. As I was scrolling through possible time-killers, I noticed a documentary series called 'The kindness diary' presented by Leon Logothetis. In the very first episode, Leon mentions that so many people live from their heads instead of their hearts, and all I could think was 'that's it'. It sounded so easy, to live your life from love, from your heart. What better way to become whole than to spread wholeness?
But - and this is where that negative giftedness comes to play, in case you wondered. I can take the most beautiful concepts and turn them to absolute shit with logic - the whole 'being inside your head' phenomena, it kinda comes with autism, doesn't it? I think that instead of blood, I have theories running though my veins. I can hardly ever identify my own emotions, let alone express them. How do you spread love, when you have trouble feeling it yourself? To spread love and kindness, like Leon Logothetis, you'd have to have some natural set of social skills to make your message come across. When you are kind and loving, people will flock to you like moths to a flame. But what if you're awkward, socially tentative, have a hard time processing simple conversations, when you are distracted by every bug, every dust particle, every sound, every flicker of light, then what? How do you become whole, if you have the darnest time truly connecting to the people around you, something that seems paramount to being able to spread love and kindness?
I'm guessing, you don't.
So, perhaps Leon's way isn't the path for me. Perhaps for autistics, life isn't so simple and the answer not so clear cut. So I'm stuck. Unable to prove my worth, to show off any succes and unable to feel whole and loved and connected to anyone besides my children and my husband.
Isn't that enough, you might ask, and I would answer 'No'. Because I am not just part of a family, I'm part of a society, a civilisation, a world filled with people with whom I cannot feel connected. And if I cannot feel connected to them, how am I truly a part of it all?
Do I need to be this amazing, successful person to deserve love and respect? Probably not. Would I feel more loved and connected and whole if I ran a successful multi-million dollar company? I honestly don't know, but from where I stand now, it sure would fix a lot.
Thinking of this, got me thinking of the speech Jim Carrey gave when he won two golden globes: "When I go to sleep at night, I'm not just a guy going to sleep, I am two time golden globe winner Jim Carrey going to get some well needed shut-eye. And when I dream, I don't dream just any old dream, no sir, I dream of becoming three time golden globe winning actor Jim Carrey. Because, then I would be enough. It would finally be true and I could stop this. This terrible search for what I know ultimately won't fulfil me."
Is my ambition to be successful all just a mirage, a pipe-dream? Am I just making myself miserable by putting the bar so high? But if I stopped aiming for the sky and started just being here, grounded, why does that feel like admitting defeat?
Jim Carry also said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
But, what is the answer? The older I get, the more desperate I get to find some answers to it all. What is the key to being truly fulfilled and happy? What is the reason for my existence? What I my purpose in life? What do I contribute? Why am I autistic? And I don't mean that in a biological sense but in a spiritual sense. How can I be of meaning? What, ultimately, truly fulfils me? How can I fully accept and embrace the world I live in? What road do I take next?
Or am I just chasing existential rainbows?
In the words of Jim: "Depression is your body saying: fuck you, I don't want to be this character anymore." And it's so true. I'm tired of being me. I'm tired of being the worn-out mom, the autistic misfit, the business owner who can't quite get her shit together, the wife who's packing on pounds, I don't want to be in this sick, burn-out body anymore.
And I am complaining like a little bitch, aren't I?
Yesterday, I saw this post come by on LinkedIn. I saw the face of a man who was over the moon happy and starting reading the text below. Twelve years ago, this guy had an incredible job and was well respected. Two years later he suffered crippling brain damage. It took him four years to get back to his old level of abilities. He had to relearn how to speak, how walk and how to move his arms and hands all over again. Imagine that. Four years of your life, working your butt off just to able to move around again. But that wasn't the end of it. After four years of being sick, he did all he could to find a new job but, unfortunately, he had no such luck. No one would hire him and he had file for long-term unemployment. So why was this man smiling? Two years ago, after eight years of being sick and unemployed, he finally found a new job. And today, he was over the moon to be able to be a part of the workforce again, to just be able to contribute. What a hero.
There are so many people out there who are off so much worse than I am. That doesn't make my own issues any less real, but it does put things in perspective.
When I told my husband about all the things I didn't want to be anymore, he asked me: 'So, what, or rather who, would you want to be? Apart from everybody else's opinion, who do you want to be? What kind of mother, entrepreneur, wife, friend would you be? Without striving to fulfil 'a perfect role', how can you be comfortably you and what kind of person would you be?'
Honestly, no idea.
All my life I have done nothing but adjust to others. Adjust to what I thought would be the perfect friend, wife, lover, business owner, etc. I strived to prove my father wrong, I'm still striving to prove my mother wrong, I'm striving to prove 'society' wrong... I'm striving to fit in, and I'm striving to fight ableism, I'm striving to fight prejudice and I'm striving to fight discrimination. I guess you could say I'm quite busy... No wonder I'm so frucking tired all the time.
What I am doing, is called masking, in every sense of the word. I think and act in such a way so that others will accept me. I'm hiding my autistic self, I go above and beyond to be accepted, and maybe one day, I might even be admired.
There's that need again. That need to be seen, admired, approved of. Why is 'being admired' so high on my agenda? Why is it so important?
I think I know. For once in my life, how nice would it be if others didn't just accept me despite my autism. If others didn't accept me despite my quirks? If others didn't care for me despite my need for alone time? If others didn't enjoy being around me despite my social awkwardness and straightforwardness... BUT BECAUSE OF IT.
Because really, what I'm experiencing and the hidden message that I sometimes get is: "well, okay, so you're a bit weird, kinda blunt and awkward and you have some really funny interests and needs, but yeah, you know what, I'll be the Good Samaritan here and I'll be your friend, well sort off, because that's just the kind of person I am."
What I often feel I'm getting, is not true friendship, connectedness and equality, I'm getting the sympathy treatment.
But maybe it's me. Maybe I play a huge role in that process. Perhaps I'm getting that sympathy treatment because I'm so apologetic all the time, masking my inabilities and insecurities to the fullest and when that doesn't always work, I beg pardon and exit the building like a beaten dog. It is hard-wired into me that really, autistic me is not okay.
The other day on twitter, the question was asked 'what makes taking the mask off difficult?' And in all honesty I responded 'The mask has become my identity. I don’t know who I am without it anymore...'
That statement is so true, that it hurst deep within.
This will become my quest from now on, because I think this is the only way I can crawl out of this darkness. I need to find out who that person is behind the mask. What truly drives me when I'm not looking for approval or admiration? What makes me happy? What state of being makes me happy? What way of behaving and acting makes me happy? And can I stop apologising for being me?
I'll keep you posted...