I’m beginning to realise, and I know that this seems pretty obvious, that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t stop being autistic. I’m never going to fit in, I’m always going to be on the outside looking in. No amount of masking, of pretending, of playing the part, is going to make me one of them. They’re always going to have a language of their own, a language I have no hope of understanding, simply because my brain is different.
Unless I am able to find people with whom I can drop the mask, people who can accept me as I am, I will always feel like an outsider in any group. There will always be conversations I am not part of, events I am not invited to and friendships that are really just acquaintancships.
It’s been a long time since I felt truly accepted and I miss it like crazy. When I was studying engineering at university I didn’t have to pretend to be anyone else. I didn’t have to learn new skills to make friends or conversation, I just did it. Everything seemed easy.
I still didn’t get some things, like the fact that people talked about me behind my back, I mean, who knew I was that interesting? But, overall, I felt totally part of the group. Totally the same as everyone else. True, we were all different, but we seemed incredibly accepting of one another, or maybe that was just me? I know I didn’t feel like I was on the outside for a change, I was truly in the group and I felt comfortable being me for the first time in my life, or at least the first time since arriving in Australia.
As a child, I had a hard time fitting in. I was left in childcare from a very young age – a few weeks old. I grew up among other kids and strangers, yet I can’t remember ever having a close friend among them. I cried nearly every day when I was left in daycare to the point that my mother thought the people there were hurting me. They weren’t. I just hated being so alone and in such unfamiliar territory. It’s strange that I never got used to it, as I never got used to school, even though I eventually made friends in grade 4 and 5. I even had a best friend from grade 5 onward, and a bunch of people I was very sad to leave behind when I emigrated in grade 7.
In the early years of school I remember trying so hard to fit in with the “in group” of girls, who would accept me one day and reject me the next. I never understood what it was that made them change their mind so randomly. It was the same on the playground outside where I lived. I never quite got the playground rules, never understood what a “secret” was, as in that you’re not mean to tell anyone (and no, there was nothing nasty going on). Sometimes the local kids would let me play with them and other days I was persona non-grata. There were times when I ran home crying because I would do something wrong, no idea what, and the kids would all scream at me. I would be too ashamed to show my face outside for days after an incident like that.
High school in Australia was a nightmare, as I had to deal with the whole immigrant thing. I spoke funny, didn’t understand a lot of things and didn’t have the correct uniform in my first school. I was bullied, along with my two Vietnamese friends and I guess it didn’t help that all three of us excelled academically. It wasn’t until Year 11 at my third high school, that for some reason I finally fitted in. I think I must have finally gotten good at masking, at pretending that I was normal. Or maybe I just got lucky with finding a nice group of kids who accepted me as one of their own?
Will I ever feel the same way again? Will I ever feel comfortable enough with anyone to drop the mask? I’m terrified to try. It was easier before I knew there was something different about me and that I had to try harder to get along with people. That I had to make a conscious effort to do the things that neurotypicals to without thinking to fit into society. For me, every social interaction requires thought and pre-planning. A lot of it is quite habitual now, but it is still an effort, not an instinct like breathing, and leaves me exhausted. A half-day at work, requires a full day in bed, resting, if not sleeping.
And yet, every time I go out and try to be normal, I am surprised that I can’t be. I mean, my normal is not everybody else’s normal. I don’t think I really understand what their normal is. I don’t understand how easily conversation and connection comes to some people. I don’t know how to be among other people once my conversation starters are exhausted.
I feel like I’m missing a gene. Maybe I am? Or have an extra one? Or like I’m observing a circus. Lots of pointless activity, just for show. Mind you, I love a good circus. And I love going out. Not often, but I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s more fun than others. Maybe I should try dropping the mask occasionally and see what happens. If I know how, if I hadn’t forgotten how to be me.