I’ve been thinking a lot about how my ability to mask and camouflage has really taken a nose-dive in the past years. I used to be better at this — or so I tend to think. Surely, there must be a reason — other than rank ignorance and denial — for why I’ve been under the autistic radar for so long… and why when I was younger and thought about “acting out” to get attention, my efforts were usually immediately curtailed by something inside me that says, “No – wait – don’t do that.”
I’ve had a sort of internal thermostat that’s regulated the “temperature” of my autistic tendencies, which modulated them in public.
But in the past years, I’ve noticed a sharp decline in my ability to mask and camouflage my markedly autistic behavior (in public, not privately). And I realize I’m acting a helluva lot more autistic now, than I did in my earlier adulthood.
- My energy level. I hate to say it, but getting older does that to you. You get a little worn out. The older I get, the more the foolishness rampant in the world bothers me. It’s exhausting, trying to get my head around what people are doing, and why the hell they are doing it all. The worst thing, is when I actually know and understand exactly why, and then have to confront the systematic bullshit that’s so pervasive. That, in itself, is a huge energy suck.
- Where I choose to spend what energy I do have. There are so many things I’d rather be doing, than modifying my behavior to make others more comfortable with me. I know I don’t have endless supplies of vigor, so I pick and choose where I put my energy. And at this point, experiencing my life in my full autistic enthusiasm is more important to me than making others comfortable.
- Hormones. Seriously. Hormones. I went through menopause early, and at the age of 48, I was a couple years past my last cycle. My OB/Gyn told me I have “the hormonal profile of a 72-year-old”. And what a sweet relief it was! Not only did I not spend several days a month in intense emotional swings, followed by 3 days doubled over in pain, vomiting and nearly passing out, followed by 2 days of being a zombie, but magically, I realized I just didn’t give a shit about what others thought of me. While I was still cycling every month, I felt biologically compelled to connect with others, to relate to them, to take care of them, make them feel at ease, and assuage their anxieties. I blame whatever oxytocin, estrogen, and progesterone that was in my system for all those years. Post-menopause… You’re uncomfortable? In pain? Anxious? Ooop! Don’t care! Woo hoo! I’m free! Free at last!
- Decreasing need to fit in. By the time I got to my late 40s, I’d lost a sister to cancer, both my parents-in-law to horrible illnesses, my partner and I had been raked across the coals of financial distress, multiple relocations from one end of the country to the other, relationship ups-and-downs, and or own medical issues. Plus, by the time I was approaching 50, I’d gotten established in my career, with ample experience and insights to “know my way around”, so to speak. I was confident in my expertise. I didn’t feel like I needed to constantly impress everyone around me with my prowess. I just knew what I knew, and I was secure in that. I didn’t need to constantly prove myself. My CV told the tale. Also, I was in a stable and secure committed relationship, and I knew my needs were/are all met within that marriage, so there was no need to go “scouting around” for something better.
So, these have combined to make me a whole lot less interested in what other people think of me… and a whole lot less invested in covering up any “aberrant” behavior. My stims aren’t hurting anyone. My oddities and tendency to go on and on about things that excite and fascinate me isn’t harming the planet. And frankly, if other people are put off by me, it’s probably because they’re insecure, themselves. And if they just hang out with me a little bit and get a taste of what unconditional acceptance feels like, they might learn how to do it, themselves.
When I was younger, I needed to blend. I needed to fit in. I needed to be accepted. If I wasn’t, I got hurt — literally and figuratively. Kids beat up on me. They bullied me. I was afraid for my life. And in the work world, if I was too weird, it could mean I lost out on job opportunities. A seething meltdown cost me a Really Good Job. Other autistic outbursts (laughing at things that weren’t funny at all) got me in trouble with my superiors. I learned my lesson. Keep it under wraps. Blend. Camouflage. Keep it cool. Dude, chill.
In all this, I think hormones have played a really central part in my own masking and camouflaging. In general, I think the hormonal connection is totally missed, when people consider (with wide-eyed wonderment) the behaviors of autistic girls and women – and maybe even men. Let’s face it, hormonally, when we’re teenagers and young adults, we’re propelled by our homones to connect with each other in very intimate ways. Whether you’re straight or queer or even asexual, your biology is going to nudge you ever closer to others. Especially when you’re younger. And the need to fit in, to connect, can compel us to work overtime at being just like everyone else.
Just like them. Except, we’re not.
Additionally, females (generally) are biologically tuned differently than men — especially with that whole tend-and-befriend response which makes us more inclined to use social connections to deal with stress… we reach out to assuage our discomfort… which in turn disqualifies from “observed autistic behavior”. That oxytocin-driven impulse may make us even more likely to be missed, as we respond to intense stress of being autistic in the non-autistic world, by reaching out. And on top of it, the tend-and-befriend impulse may make rejection even more traumatic for us, because we’re being denied the very thing we’re seeking to relieve our stress.
So, we pull inward more and more… and more and more… try to reach out more and more … more and more… and while the rest of the world is overlooking ignoring our pain and stress (because we’re so social), inside, we feel like we’re dying. Suffering, struggling… unable to escape that vicious cycle.
This whole area just begs for extensive research. Autistic women have gotten the short end of the research “stick” — which has actually been used to beat us down. All because people in power (professionals, clinicians, researchers, funding sources) apparently didn’t realize that by our very nature (generally speaking) girls are different from boys, and women are different from men. Our worlds are dramatically different in significant ways. And that’s not even looping all the trans and genderqueer autistic folks into the mix.
Centering autism on the worlds of straight, white men, has done incalculable harm and damage to everyone outside their charmed circle. And the repercussions continue, even as the privileged few continue to guard the bastions of official autism diagnosis by enforcing criteria and methodology that clearly favors them? I have to wonder if white males might actually be in the minority of the autistic population, if the criteria didn’t center completely on them? Hmmm…
Well, that’s another blog post for another time.
For now, I’ll leave it at this — there’s a reason I don’t camouflage as well as I used to.
- I don’t have the energy.
- I’d rather use what energy I have to be autistic, rather than hiding it.
- I’m no longer hormonally inclined to blend.
- I don’t care as much as I used to about what others think.
And there we have it. Until I think of something else to add to the mix.