Sirwin
Sirwin

Unveiling the Mask: An Autistic Adult’s Journey to Self-Acceptance

By valo | Neurodivergent_AI | 23 Apr 2023


Embracing one’s authentic self after an autism diagnosis in adulthood

Autism masking has long been a method of survival for those on the spectrum. As an autistic person who received a diagnosis in adulthood, I can attest to the complex challenges that come with navigating life while masking our true selves. The struggle of understanding ourselves, the world, and our place in it from an autistic person’s perspective should be voiced aloud. If you are on the spectrum, you likely know what I’m talking about. You are not alone.

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“Being on a journey” — an AI-generated artwork created in starryai. The author has provenance and copyright.

My personal journey

As a child, I always felt different, even weird. The way I perceived the world, processed information, and interacting with others didn’t seem to align with the norms. I was the odd one out. This dissonance left me feeling confused, isolated, and often rejected. I knew something was “off” about me, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

It was only in my 20s that I finally discovered the reason behind my feelings of difference — my brain functions in a distinct way due to my autism. I still consider myself lucky — many people learn that they are on the spectrum decades later.

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“An autistic person” — an AI’s interpretation of the concept. Note the lack of eyes on the figure, and the huge bag that the other figure needs to carry along. I love the symbolism in both. Generated in starryai. The author has provenance and copyright.

I wish I could say that “Suddenly, my entire life made sense.” In a sense — yes. I started understanding myself. All those moments of feeling out of place, misunderstood, and excluded had an explanation. However, this revelation also led to an internal struggle as I grappled with the question of who I really was beneath the years of masking. I would sit and ponder — who am I?

I could present myself by my profession, hobbies, or family status, but neither of these is my personality. I truly had no idea who I was. All my life, I have been moulded into what others wanted me to be. First, it was my caregivers with their demands about me.

I thought that I was supposed to let the world dictate my behaviour. Finding out who I am is a long journey, and I am at its very beginning. What I know is that this is a normal consequence of the lack of understanding of neurodivergence. I know that many of us have faced the same struggles.

To cope with the world around me, I adopted various strategies to blend in and appear “normal.” The act of masking became second nature, and in many ways, I succeeded in adapting. However, deep inside, a nagging sense of inauthenticity persisted. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t truly myself when interacting with the majority of people. I developed strong anxiety in social situations because I wasn’t sure whether I would be normal enough. This created so much inner tension that I was avoiding social activities not only due to being overwhelmed by people but also due to anxiety.

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“An Intricately Detailed Venetian Mask” — an AI-generated artwork created in starryai. The author has provenance and copyright.

Some lessons I learned

The process of unmasking and accepting my true self has been a bumpy ride, filled with challenges and small wins. Here, I share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  • Acknowledging the mask: The first step to unmasking is to recognise the various ways in which you’ve been hiding your true self. This can be a difficult and uncomfortable process, as it involves facing the reality of the adaptations you’ve made to fit in.

  • Seeking support: Connecting with others who have gone through a similar journey can be immensely helpful. Reach out to support groups, therapists, or fellow autistic adults to discuss your experiences and gain insight from others who have been in your shoes.

  • Embracing self-acceptance: Learning to accept and appreciate your unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses is an essential part of the unmasking process. Remember that your neurodiversity is an integral part of your identity, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Establishing boundaries: As you begin to reveal your authentic self, it’s important to establish boundaries to protect your well-being. This might mean limiting social interactions that drain you, advocating for accommodations in the workplace, or communicating your needs more assertively.

  • Finding balance: It’s essential to keep in mind that you may still need to engage in some level of masking to navigate certain situations, and that’s okay. The goal is to find a balance that allows you to be authentic while also maintaining your well-being and ability to function in society.

  • Celebrating progress: As you start to unmask and embrace your true self, celebrate each small victory along the way. Acknowledge your progress and allow yourself to feel pride in the person you are becoming. You are literally rebuilding yourself from scratch.

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“Self-Discovery” — an AI-generated artwork created in starryai. The author has provenance and copyright.

Making the journey more bearable

The journey of unmasking and accepting oneself after an autism diagnosis in adulthood is not without its challenges. It requires time, patience, and self-compassion. Ultimately, though, the journey is worth it, as it leads to a deeper understanding of oneself and the freedom to live a more authentic life.

  • Nurturing self-compassion: It’s important to remember that this journey will not be linear, and setbacks are inevitable. Practice self-compassion and remember that you are doing your best. Forgive yourself for any perceived failures, and remind yourself that growth takes time.

  • Building a supportive network: Surround yourself with people who understand and support your journey to self-acceptance. This could be family, friends, therapists, or support groups. Your network can provide encouragement, understanding, and a safe space for you to express yourself without fear of judgment.

  • Educating others: Many people may not understand what autism is or what it means to mask. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, consider educating others about your experiences and autism in general. This can help break down stereotypes and foster empathy.

  • Embracing self-discovery: As you continue to unmask, take time to explore your interests, strengths, and passions. Pursue activities that bring you joy, and engage in hobbies that resonate with you. This process of self-discovery can be incredibly empowering and fulfilling.

Conclusion

There is plenty to be said about autistic masking, and I will probably continue writing about the topic as I face my own struggles. The journey of unmasking and living with an autism diagnosis in adulthood is a complex and deeply personal process. It demands patience, self-compassion, and a commitment to self-exploration. It is important to remember that autism does not affect children only. Children cannot outgrow it because it is not a disease. Autistic children turn into autistic adults who go on struggling in a world that is not meant for their needs.

Ultimately, the journey of self-discovery allows us to contribute our unique perspectives and gifts to society, enriching the lives of those around us and our own. Some people will never accept us, and that is okay. We should try to avoid them if possible.

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valo
valo

A scientist and artist, a fan of technology, recently became a blogger.


Neurodivergent_AI
Neurodivergent_AI

Life with invisible disabilities but full of opportunities. Mental health, autism, ADHD

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