The Neverending Story

So there’s this 12-year-old kid, and he’s doing his homework in his bedroom one night.  Suddenly he notices that there’s a light on in the house opposite.  But that’s impossible, the couple who live there are on holiday.  He runs downstairs to tell his parents. They are good friends with the couple and have the spare key.  They go over to the house and discover that the doors are all locked.  The light is now off and there’s no trace of anybody or any disturbance.

Sorry, I better explain that bizarre into.  That paragraph is the beginning of a story I formed in my head a few years ago.  When I, as is frequently the case, have trouble getting to sleep or are daydreaming, my mind turns to it. Over time I’ve gradually added more and more to it.  I’ve almost reached a point when I’ve got the outline of a pretty solid story.

On a few occasions I’ve started to jot down my idea, I’ve got character and setting descriptions and my desired plot structure.  But I’ve never taken it further. ‘Why not?’ you might think, I clearly enjoy writing and have a modicum of ability.

There are three answers to that question; two of them merit a lengthy explanation.  The one that doesn’t is the simple fact that perhaps it’s not a great idea! But that’s pretty irrelevant to a blog about adult autism, so we’ll concentrate on the other two factors:

Confidence

It might be a preference to the habitual voyeur of what is known as Parklife, but it’s not something I’m blessed with.  I’ve touched on this issue before, when talking about my sporting ‘career’ and my working life, but I’ll now try and explain it more succinctly…

blur computer connection electronics

It’s all to do with having a brain that is ‘wired differently’.  A neurotypical person with a bit of writing ability and a half-decent concept would do everything they could to run with their idea. I’m pretty sure JK Rowling didn’t know she’d be swimming in bottomless pits of money when she penned the first paragraph of Harry Potter. But she committed to the idea, followed it through and now lives like Scrooge McDuck.

My neurodiverse brain constantly overthinks everything.  And when you overthink, you end up focussing on the negatives.  Look hard enough for a problem and you’ll find one.  I don’t see the glass as being half empty, I think the glass is half full, but almost certainly poisonous, so I’m not going to drink it.

I’m not for a second suggesting that my idea would make a great book.  It serves as an example of an issue that applies to the majority of my life.  Deep down I know I’m not stupid and I know I’ve got a lot to offer, but having the confidence to make that leap of faith deserts me.

Concentration

The ‘mystery light’ idea is by no means my only half-baked writing concept.  Over the years I’ve had ideas and started writing about (amongst other things) the history of the NFL in the UK, an NFL guide for beginners, a mystery about a couple finding a dead body in their walk-in wardrobe and a diary about completely changing the football team you support. I could talk at great length about any of those topics, but I’ve never fully developed any of them.

Aside from the confidence issue, my main problem is that I often struggle to concentrate for long periods. As I’ve mentioned before, if I’m passionate about a topic then I can concentrate for hours on end.  But if I’m not, or I don’t feel like I’m being listened to, or I don’t see it as being important, then my mind wanders and I can’t focus.

That’s by no means an issue exclusive to my writing ideas. Ask my wife about my efforts at cleaning a room or doing the shopping. I’ll have the best intentions in the world, but more often than not my brain will wander off and I’ll end up doing half a job.

photo of head bust print artwork

I don’t know for certain whether I’ve got ADHD, but when the doctors eventually get round to diagnosing me, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that I have. ADHD is extremely common among people on the autistic spectrum and I display plenty of the symptoms. I have problems focussing, I have a low frustration tolerance, my boredom threshold is very low and I am often restless.

 

In conclusion

The biggest takeaway from this is that whilst I haven’t invested enough effort or had confidence in the ideas I’ve mentioned in this post, I HAVE fully committed to this blog. Churning out a post every week hasn’t been a problem at all, it’s a pleasure.  I often write more than that, but don’t want to bombard people with too many posts.  Instead, I’ve stockpiled a fair few for times when I’m too busy to write something new.  The best conclusion I can draw is that this blog is a far better and more interesting concept than any of the others I’ve mentioned.

Through writing this blog, doing my day job and discovering more and more about my brain and disability, I’ve concluded that the best way of improving my mental well-being, happiness and working life is to concentrate more and more on writing. I’ve loved writing this blog and my favourite elements of my working life involve writing. It’s great for my mental health and acts as a kind of therapy when I’m not feeling great.

What’s more, it’s what I’m best at.  I know that, so what I’d love to do is to ‘take the plunge’ and commit to writing for a living.  Either as an employee or self-employed,  but just writing blogs, books and web content and copy.  Maybe part-time at first, but eventually I’d love to work full time helping small businesses and/or charities with their content (web, social media etc).

I know I could be great at it and I know I’d enjoy it and be passionate.  The problem is having the confidence and faith to make the leap, instead of just seeing the potential hurdles such as money and time.  But I have at least got a goal now and something I can focus on.

And maybe one day everyone will find out why the light was on in the house across the street!

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16 phrases you should never say to people with mental health issues

Here’s a slightly tongue in cheek post about how you can best help people with mental health problems…

Autism isn’t a mental health issue, many autistic people are perfectly healthy mentally and physically. However, as I’ve discussed before, there is a strong correlation between autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  It’s great that more and more people have sympathy for that and want to help. If you’re one of those people then keep doing it, but be mindful of how you go about it.

Here to help you is my list of 16 things you should never say to people with mental health issues. (Oh and if you read my previous post you’ll know that sarcasm is one of my flaws!)…

  1. ‘It’s all in your head’ – Well, err yes. Where else is it going to be?
  2. ‘You don’t look depressed’ – Sorry, I promise never to laugh so it’s easier for you to comprehend.
  3. ‘Try and cheer up’ – Oh yeah, I never thought of that. There was me thinking that being miserable was the best way to go. Thanks for interrupting your MENSA application to put me right!woman holding a smiley balloon
  4. ‘You could do with a drink’ – That’s probably true on most days regardless of my mental health, but that’s because I like beer! It doesn’t improve my mental health or solve anything. Please note: buy me a beer.
  5. ‘It could be worse’ – Undeniably true, but I’m not sure how that helps. Would thinking about a blind and deaf paraplegic with terminal cancer be somehow beneficial?!
  6. ‘Just forget about it’ – Right, so you’d say the same if I had a broken leg would you?
  7. ‘It’s just a bad day’ – Now, I DO sometimes try and tell myself this when I’m having a bad spell. Just as a way of reminding myself that I will have better times and it’s not permanent. But there is something a bit condescending about being told that a serious health issue is just a ‘bad day’.
  8. ‘You’ve got a lot to be happy about’ – I’m fully aware of that.
  9. ‘Man up’ – What does that even mean? Is it more ‘manly’ to not have an illness or disability?
  10. ‘Stop focussing on the bad stuff’ – See point 3. Nobody wants to feel down or miserable. Trust me, it’s not fun.
  11. ‘You need to snap out of it’ – That would be a brilliant solution…so how do you suggest I do that?
  12. ‘Keep yourself busy’ – I’ve tried this many a time. But the idea that giving your brain a distraction solves anything is just wrong; if I’m feeling low then it’s always there. And autism means that the ‘distraction’ is that something else to stress about.
  13. ‘But you always seem happy’ – See masking.  Plus maybe I’m scared of what people will think if I show weakness. Or maybe I don’t want it to define me.
  14. ‘You just worry too much’ – Yes I do, that’s called anxiety. What’s your answer?
  15. ‘Don’t do anything stupid’ – I’m lucky in that I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, but plenty of depressed people frequently do. The idea that suicide or self-harm is ‘stupid’ is particularly unhelpful.
  16. ‘I never would have guessed’ – See point 13. Note to self: Do a blog on ‘high functioning’.

Of course, I’m talking personally and hopefully with a sprinkling of humour, but there is a serious underlying point. The overall message is that it’s great that people want to help and long may it continue.  Just be careful to consider what you’re saying and how you’re offering to give help.

achievement adult agreement arms

Consider the recipient of your words.  Maybe they would benefit from hearing phrases like the 16 above.  Maybe you need to adopt a softer approach, maybe you need to just be a soundboard, or perhaps you should just talk about something else completely and provide a welcome distraction.

My personal experience is those welcome distractions are just as valuable as advice. Escapism is great therapy and diverting some of my anxieties is priceless. Feeling a bit anxious about the result of a sports fixture is infinitely preferable to the majority of my worries.

So carry on offering sympathy and support, but make sure that it’s bespoke to the recipient of it.

Flaws and ceilings

Why am I selfish, rude, sarcastic and lazy?

You probably need to read this to understand…

Former Australian Rugby captain John Eales had the nickname ‘Nobody’, as in ‘Nobody’s perfect.”  As sporting nicknames go it’s wittier than most.  But I suspect if you delved far enough into Eales’s life you’d discover some less than perfect things.  Maybe he doesn’t put the toilet seat down, or perhaps he doesn’t wash his hands before cooking.  There’s bound to be a few chinks in the Eales halo because we all have flaws. It’s part of being a human.

I’ve got a whole host of flaws that carry varying degrees of annoyance.  Most of them annoy me as much as anybody else.  Some of them often lead me to think that I’m a bad person. But as I’ve delved deeper into my behaviour and my character traits I’ve realised that a lot of my ‘bad’ characteristics can be attributed to autism and associated mental health issues…

Sarcasm – A lot of autistic people struggle to understand sarcasm as they take everything literally.  I’m not in the boat. I use sarcasm all the time, which is far too much of the time.  It’s sometimes rude – especially when aimed at people I’m not close friends with, it’s boorish and it’s often inappropriate. It can be funny at times, I certainly don’t think it’s the lowest form of wit (That’ll be Mrs Brown’s Boys), but it’s not always a great look.

I know I do it and I often subsequently beat myself up about it. But I’ve come to realise that I use sarcasm as a coping mechanism.  If I’m feeling stressed or anxious (aka most of the time!) then sarcasm helps to make light of whatever situation I’m in. It makes me seem more confident and in control. If you can try and be funny then you can’t be feeling that stressed, right?

Selfishness – You see somebody falls over in the street or a friend is upset. You’d probably try and help.  Two years ago my dad died and my friends were superb in rallying round and helping through a very tough time. But would I have been the same were the positions reversed?  I’d like to think so, but I also know that I can’t definitely say that I would. I know from experience that I’m not always the first person to help out when someone’s in trouble or the first to show sympathy.  I often come across as uncaring.

So does this make me selfish? I used to think so and I hated myself for it. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all to do with my untypical way of processing information and reacting. Autistic people reach sensory overload more easily than neurotypical people, and at this point their ability to cope with situations diminishes. So instead of engaging with the situation, they become very inward in order to avoid it. Which can come across as selfish.

man doing boxing

Aggressive – No I don’t want to start a fight when I’m in a bad mood.  I’m smart enough to know I’d lose.  But when things don’t go my way or I hear things that don’t fit in with want I want I get agitated. This sometimes manifests in me wanting to remove myself from the situation, but if that’s not possible my responses become agitated and mildly confrontational.

That’s not to say that I’m wrong in my views (sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not). Where I go wrong is in the way that I project my point of view.  It’s essentially a minor form of a meltdown, caused by the way I process information and the impact it has on my temperament.

Laziness – Yes, I’m lazy a lot of the time. And no I can’t attribute it all to autism. But, in some cases, I’ve realised that it’s a huge factor. Again it comes done to mental overload. Certain things that you would do without thinking about – catching a train, cleaning the car, sitting in a meeting etc – often cause me to take up more headspace. As a consequence, I don’t have enough headspace for lots of other activities, plus I have a greater need than most to try and relax from the stresses of life. All of which can create the impression that I’m lazy.

Rudeness – We all have to sit through conversations we’re not interested in. I’m just not as good at faking interest as you. So who’s the rude person really?  The honest person or the one who pretends?  It’s probably neither of us, we just have different ways of dealing with the situation, but pretending to be interested is a more socially accepted method.

woman in red lipstick opening her mouth

 

There are many more flaws I have. I’d love to blame them all on autism and thus claim that I’m actually perfect! That’d be very disingenuous, but it is clear that having a neurodiverse brain can have a negative impact on your behaviour and how people perceive you.  That being said, plenty of autistic and non-autistic people are complete dicks, so you’re better off avoiding them!

Talking of other people, my next article will be on the thorny issue of – what not to say to people with mental health issues!

9 contradictions of Adult Autism

A short post about the contradictions of autism

The hardest part of writing about adult autism is explaining exactly what it feels like. I mean, as the word neurodiversity implies, the autistic brain doesn’t work in the same way as a neurotypical one. So trying to explain it is a tricky task. Well, this post will do absolutely nothing to rectify that problem!

Below are a series of paradoxical statements and contradictions – but they all apply to many autistic adults. Some of them apply to me, some don’t.  You can play along at home by guessing which do!

Autism brain

  1. I have to organise everything in my life BUT I regularly forget where things are
  2. I have some brilliantly creative ideas BUT I struggle with day to day reality
  3. I’m really caring, BUT I struggle to empathise
  4. There’s loads I want to say, BUT I struggle to communicate
  5. I want to be popular and sociable BUT I want to hide away from everyone
  6. I know an absurd amount of obscure facts BUT I forget basic stuff all the time
  7. I can hyperfocus on a few things BUT I struggle to focus on most things
  8. I can start hundreds of projects BUT struggle to finish any
  9. I am extremely intelligent BUT make simple mistakes

 

As clear as mud then! To use a cliche to sum up the whole situation –  it’s both a blessing and a curse.

What is clear is that explaining autism to neurotypical people is extremely difficult, so just think how hard it can be for autistic people to live with brains that function in that way.  To be both brilliant and useless, often at the same time, can be massively frustrating and depressing.  And that is definitely something that applies to me!

You’re not alone

What support can I get during my adult autism adventure?

As far as I’m aware, I don’t have any autistic friends or family members.  In terms of my ‘journey’, I’m on my own in the sense that nobody else I know is having an ‘adult autism adventure’. But whilst that might sound like a lonely experience, I’ve discovered that I am getting quality support and that support is coming in many different ways…

The most surprising and positive discovery I’ve made is that there is a wealth of online support out there for people going through experiences like mine. Discovering that I’m not the only person to go through this, and that pretty much all of my autistic traits belong to plenty of other people is great for my well-being.

The National Autistic Society is a fantastic resource to find groups and support networks, as well as being a comprehensive guide to the condition.  When I get round to writing a post along the lines of ‘What is autism’ it will be my primary source.  It also has a busy forum where contributors offer advice and tips, as well as sometimes just unloading their thoughts and problems. As I mentioned previously, just reading about others who share my issues is a great source of comfort.

facebook instagram network notebook

For the first time in about 10 years, I’ve been venturing onto Facebook over the last few months.  I previously gave up on Facebook as I got annoyed with the endless stream of humblebrags, politics and people who seem to have a bizarre view that anybody else gives a shit about their train being ten minutes late or what alcoholic drink they have on the table.  But I’ve found a couple of very good UK based adult autism groups. The content is similar to the NAS forum, but because of the nature of Facebook, you can do a bit of casual stalking!

‘Casual stalking’ is of course completely harmless and in no way similar to the ‘serious stalking’ favoured by the likes of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction or Robin Williams in One Hour Photo.  Casual stalking just involves a few seconds of finding out who the person behind the post is. And that can be invaluable – not because the person is especially interesting, but usually because they are perfectly normal and uninteresting…just like me!   Normal job, maybe a partner, a few hobbies, post annoying nonsense on Facebook and so on.

Some Facebook posts are from people going through, to put it lightly, a really rough time. Be that down to depression, anxiety or just the sometimes extremely tough side effects of being autistic in the world.  And that’s when the community aspect of the groups really kicks in. Whatever your circumstance, no matter how close to giving up you are, somebody has been there before and can offer hope and advice.

I’ve made a few posts introducing myself and my circumstances, as well as asking for feedback on this blog. I’ve had lots of encouraging messages and constructive feedback. All of which has helped me feel less overwhelmed by events.

Offline, there are plenty of local support groups out there for both children and adults. is a twice-weekly meet up in Birmingham city centre for adults with autism. As well as similar events in cities all over the UK.  I don’t think I’m in a position to want to go to these just yet, but that may change post-diagnosis.

blogging blur business communication

Not surprisingly, there are also a fair few blogs from autistic adults out there. Equally unsurprisingly, they vary in quality and content – I mean, obviously none of them are as good as this!  But regardless of that, it’s great for spreading the word and raising awareness amongst fellow autistic people.

Despite the often negative places people are in, there’s a real sense of positivity about all of the online (and I presume offline) communities. The internet can often be a nasty place, but when it’s used for the right reasons it can be a really heart-warming, useful and empowering place.

I didn’t really start writing this blog with the aim of appealing to autistic people, it was more about raising awareness for people who weren’t on the spectrum. But if anybody reading this is either autistic or knows somebody who is, then I can highly recommend getting involved with the online communities I’ve mentioned here.

The other aspect of support that I’ve found a great comfort is the support I’ve received from friends and family.  My wife and mum have been especially supportive, but (in the nicest possible way) that’s not been a great surprise to me as they’re great. Equally, close friends have regularly got in touch asking how I am and offering to meet up, but again I almost expect that from close friends and I hope I’d be the same were the situation reversed.

What’s been more surprising and, in some ways, more heart-warming has been the messages from people who I wouldn’t have expected to have offered support.  Work colleagues, ex-work colleagues, ex-school/university friends, even people who I hardly knew from school who had read the blog and got in touch.  Honestly, every single message is a great source of comfort and support.

All of which is helping me to stay positive and look forward, despite my brain trying to look for negatives at every corner. Which leads nicely on to my next blog post…why autism is so difficult to understand AKA the paradox of autism.

Burning issues

What is autistic burnout and how does it affect me?

When I started this adult autism blog I made three promises to myself:

  1. Don’t be preachy – I’m no autism guru, there are plenty of those out there. I’m aiming to just inform people about what it’s like to be autistic and how it’s affected me. I’m not aiming to dish out advice.
  2. Don’t bang on about depression – See above. I’ve got depression and anxiety, and it is related to my autism, but it’s just one aspect of it. I’ve written a post covering that off already.
  3. Don’t be too downbeat – I want this blog to be positive for me, as well as being a fantastic read that will lead to people thinking I’m amazing! I don’t want it to be just me whining about how shite things.

I’m having a really crappy time at the minute with my depression.  Earlier this week I drafted a post in which I preached about depression and was really downbeat about it. I’m NOT going to be posting that article today, as I don’t want to break the promises I made myself – who knows, I might release it as some kind of bonus post for Christmas or a special personal post for my millionth visitor!

Instead, I’m going to try and approach my current situation by looking at the issue of autistic burnout.  I’ve previously touched upon the issue of autistic adults suffering from burnout and that leading to depression, but given as that’s what I’m experiencing at present, it seems like a good time to go more in-depth on the topic…

 

What causes my burnout?

Masking – I talked about this in my last post. The effort involved in being ‘normal’ is draining. Suppressing the things my brain wants me to do is tough.

Stress  – As adults, we have far more responsibility than children. Bills, maintaining a home, having a career et al are all constant issues.  There’s always something going on to occupy the mind and that can lead to an overload.

Ageing – To compound the above issue is the sad fact that as we get older we have less energy.  We need more downtime to function effectively. Perversely, the older you get the less downtime you seem to have.

Changes in life – You know, stuff like discovering you’re probably an autistic adult and going through the whole diagnosis process. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it somewhere. Yes, I am trying to see it as a positive, but it’s a lot to take in and is a massive change in my life.

It’s worth mentioning here that the above is what causes MY burnout.  There are a few other causes that impact upon on autistic adults – illness, sleep deprivation, sensory overload.

 

How does my burnout manifest?

Easily overwhelmed – Everything seems overwhelming and ‘too much’ for my brain or body to cope with.

photo of bonfire

Easily agitated – I’m not a big shouter and I’m certainly not violent, but when I’m burnt out I get put on edge at the drop of a hat. Even the smallest, insignificant issue can cause me to lose the ability to think straight or make decisions. I regularly ‘meltdown’ and regress.

My masking skills diminishI pick my fingers more, I find it harder to concentrate or pretend I’m interested in something. I don’t have the energy to put my mask on.

Lack of motivation – I know that doing the things I enjoy is beneficial to my well-being, but I find it hard to muster the enthusiasm or desire to do them.

In short, I’m not very happy and I’m not much fun to be around.

Other manifestations that I don’t suffer from include – loss of speech, loss of memory, digestive issues and lack of self-care.

 

How do I cope?

Exercise – I sometimes jog.  I’m no gym rat, and I’ve no aspiration to be a fitness freak. For a start the gym is largely non-competitive; if I’m exerting myself I want to beat someone. I play for a local rounders team (!) and it’s really good fun, but more importantly, I’m pretty competent at it and there’s a competitive element to it.

I do go for a run 2 or 3 times a week, and I make it less tedious by listening to music or a podcast or book. It helps me ‘escape’ and take my mind off the fact that I’m running around for no competitive purpose! But I can’t claim that I enjoy running.

I prefer long walks. Aside from the audio benefits, I can enjoy the scenery and give myself a bigger window to relax. I recently did a 13-mile charity walk, it’s not exactly Bear Grylls stuff, although it was very hilly and had about 50 stiles, so feel free to call me Bear!  It gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me feel good. I’m definitely going to do more of that later in the year.

Similarly, I had a lovely day out at a park with my wife and daughter at the weekend. The venue was beautiful, we had a picnic, got lost in a maze and generally had a really good time.  For a while, I could forget my troubles.

I need a lot of ‘me time’ when I’m feeling down.  A time when nothing of consequence matters and I can at least try and switch my brain off. It doesn’t solve a thing, but it does at least give me a break.

app entertainment ipad mockup

I do like to ‘Netflix and chill’. Or even Amazon Prime and chill or ‘other’ streaming methods and chill!  But while I do watch plenty of shows I enjoy, I find it hard to find a series I can completely ‘lose myself in.  Previously I’ve got obsessed with series like The Wire, Veronica Mars and Harper’s Island (I don’t know anybody who’s watched Harper’s Island. It’s probably the most enjoyable trash whodunnit I’ve ever watched). I love a good mystery, especially if it’s a series-long arc. I am open to recommendations by the way.  The Cricket World Cup is on at present, and while I’m not losing myself in it as much as I’d like (it’s not quite enabling me to switch my brain off completely) it is providing some downtime for my brain.

I have a similar view of books. I love immersing myself in a good mystery, but often find it hard to find a really good one.  I’ve recently read a load of books by a US writer called Chris Carter. They’re quite good (6-7/10), but not mind-blowing or the sort of thing I’d drop everything to read.   I am open to recommendations by the way.

Time off work is something I find necessary and beneficial. I have previously tried to avoid it even when others have told me I need it.  I feel bad that unlike most other ‘time off work’ illnesses, mental health issues take longer. But there comes a time when presenteeism is just no good to anyone and ends of making me feel a lot worse.  Some people have multiple months off work after burnout, some have to quit their jobs. I don’t want to do any of those things, I want to go back and thrive and contribute positively.

Trying to concentrate on the niche interests that make me happy and I can get passionate about is my best coping strategy.  At the minute, writing this blog is a great positive. Perversely, even though I’m writing about a largely negative situation, it’s making me feel more positive.

Again there are other strategies that autistic adults can deploy such as massages or diets. As with everything in this blog, I’m just talking about me. All autistic people are different.

 

So there you go, hopefully that wasn’t too downbeat. It certainly hasn’t made me feel any more downbeat. It’s good to write about these things and share my experiences. Hopefully, it’s improving your understanding of what it means to be an autistic adult and how that impacts people’s lives. Promise!

You don’t seem Autistic

Why I’ve worn a mask throughout my life. And why I’ve decided to take it off.

The title of this post is one of the most common things I’ve had said to me since I started this blog. The fact that nobody had ever told me, or even suspected as far as I’m aware, that I might be autistic suggests that I really don’t seem autistic. So how come nobody has noticed?  The answer is that I wear a mask…and I’m very accomplished at it….oh, and most of the time I don’t even realise I’m wearing one.

man wearing hoodie and mask

To an extent, we all wear masks in life. Whether it’s pretending to be interested in a dull conversation, pretending you care deeply about a customer’s problem when you’re actually thinking about what to have for dinner or just acting like you’re feeling great when inside you want to cry.  For most people, it’s pretty simple to wear a mask. A fake smile comes easily.

Autistic people find masking particularly tricky due to their neurodiversity. Acting differently to how you’re feeling is confusing, especially when faced with difficult circumstances. Even though in many cases (including mine) it’s not something that’s done knowingly.  This often leads to burnout and mental health issues.

As I’ve mentioned before, I find eye contact difficult, especially with people I don’t know very well. It doesn’t come naturally. It makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable. But I do it for much of the time.  It can be draining.  And it’s not just eye contact; trying to stay still, forcing a smile or another appropriate facial expressions, feigning interest in subjects I find dull etc etc…it’s all seriously tiring.

high angle view of lying down on grass

The reason I do it (as do many autistic people) is to fit in, to be normal, because that’s what everybody else does.  And if you do something all your life you get seriously good at it. So after a while, it just comes naturally and I don’t even think about it. It’s ‘safer’ to mask, rather than being the outcast or the ‘weirdo’.  It means I can be ‘normal’ and move forward in life. For children, it can stop them getting bullied and labelled. For adults like me, it helps them get jobs and have a social life.

That’s not to say I’m always masking. I have some fantastic friends and family members whose company I enjoy greatly. Then I can be myself and that’s when I can feel a bit more relaxed.

Unfortunately, there often comes a time when the pressures of adult life and responsibilities lead to the ‘mask slipping.  On top of the aforementioned mental health issues, that can be when adults begin to realise that they might have autism.  It’s also one of the reasons why there’s such a strong link between autism and depression.

Masking is something that can make getting diagnosed difficult. Doctors are looking for signs of autism, but that’s somewhat harder when the patient is brilliant at hiding them.

The truth is that, like autism as a whole, masking is something that is different to every autistic person. There’s a huge spectrum of masking behaviours, thought processes and consequences, which doesn’t making it easy for non-autistic people to spot.

By writing this blog, I’m taking my mask off to an extent. I’m explaining who I really am. And it is a challenge. I’m essentially saying that I’m not ‘normal’ or neurotypical.  In many ways it’s like a weight off my shoulders. I don’t need to pretend as much anymore. I can be myself more easily without worrying as much about whether that means I fit in.  But I’ll still be donning my mask when it’s needed!