Words cannot describe the magnitude of energy and effort it has taken to mask my autistic traits for decades. And yet, I feel like I don’t fully belong to either the allistic or autistic world 100%. I arrived late here, and I still feel a little like an outsider.
After spending decades white-knuckling through the allistic world trying to survive, I fooled myself into believing if I just pushed hard enough, I could. When I realized I was autistic, my brain couldn’t reconcile that I was able to mask for that long. Surely if I could mask so well, I couldn't really be disabled, could I? (cue: internalized ableism)
I never saw myself in the DSM’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Yet, somehow I related deeply to autistic people in the real world. It took me a long time to finally believe that I could in fact be autistic based on what autistics call autism, not the allistic created DSM version.
Realizing that I was autistic has both made everything make sense now, yet I also feel more confused. How did they (the adults) miss that I was autistic? Would it have been better not to have been missed? Or worse? If I can fool people into thinking I am allistic, am I allistic? Do people think I’m lying about being autistic? Does it matter?
I felt like an imposter in the allistic world my entire life. Yet now I have found my people and I still feel a bit like an outsider. I didn’t grow up knowing I was autistic and therefore, my identity of being autistic only makes sense in the context of being late-discovered and PDA profile. I simply don’t fit the stereotypical idea of what an autistic person is.
It is painful to unmask and realize how uncomfortable I have been forcing myself to be this whole time. There was no prize at the end of the rainbow, just more masking and more pain until I couldn’t take it anymore. I used to pride myself on how good I was at masking and how I was able to push through immense amounts of discomfort. I realize now I was comforted by my ability to feel pain and do the thing anyway. As I find my place in the autistic world, the world that was built for people like me, I am learning that I don’t have to hurt myself in order to just be me.