Hello and Welcome to Fun Neurodivergent Things. I called my grandma yesterday. We hadn’t talked in a while and I haven’t seen her in a year. When I’m talking to my grandma, I’m not the same person I am when I’m just by myself or with close friends. Obviously. But more than that, I have to put in an effort to be the person she recognises as Fina. It took me a long time to realise that I am masking almost all of the time. I’m faking being neurotypical.

There are a lot of things my grandma does not know about me. She doesn’t know I’m gay (although at this point, I’m not sure she’d make a big thing out of it). She doesn’t know I have PTSD. She doesn’t know that what she remembers as me being too driven and too perfectionist are coping mechanisms I used even as a young child to try and stay in control. She doesn’t have to know these things. She’s in her late 70s and when I’m on the phone with her, I want her to be happy. It is enough that she knows I’m doing okay and applying for MA programs.

However, Masking extends to so much more than not telling grandma about certain things. Last weekend, when I was skyping with my family, I noticed I was masking heavily. I was having a good day and a good time on the call and my face reflected this. I was smiling, pulling faces for my nephews, putting on a listening face. After we hung up, I was exhausted. It had only been 20 minutes, but a part of me had had to make sure I was doing facial expressions and modulating my voice the entire time. I pondered word choices and made sure I was paying equal attention to both my nephews. When I tell people about this, they sometimes say „Well just stop!“. It’s not that easy.

An example of unmasking: Smiling in photos is hard work and I had to learn how to do it „correctly“.
Well, fuck smiling. I’m beautiful.

There are very few people I am able to unmask around. I can count them on one hand. When I’m with them, I fidget and don’t maintain eye contact. I get lost in tangents and start singing randomly. My voice is more monotone and I allow my face to relax. Above all, I don’t have to worry about them commenting on my differences. Comments can be snide or well-meaning, but they always underline that something is different about me. As a child, I often got strange looks or comments for talking too much or jumping from subject to subject. People got annoyed with me for talking about my hyperfixations (not that I knew what they were back then). So I learned to hide my differences. I learned to appear more „normal“. In many contexts, this didn’t work and I was still singled out by my peers as a know-it-all, a teacher’s pet, or a weirdow.

I even learned to mask around my own family and that was and is painful. My learning to mask was an unconscious thing, a way to avoid anything that might hurt me. I am not too sensitive. I’m just wired differently. It is unsurprising that around the time my mask fit almost perfectly, I started experiencing spells of mild depression.

I don’t want to mask when I’m with my closest friends or core family. Masking around them hurts. But unmasking is a long process, and one I have little guidance with. It’s like playing „the floor is lava“ for ten years and suddenly, the game is over and everything is supposedly safe again.

Will my nephews understand why my face and voice sometimes become less expressive? How do I overcome the internalised shame of having video games as one of my special interests when only one other person in my core family plays video games?

Here’s a scenario I have in my head: I’m at my parents‘ house and it’s time for breakfast. I’m not ready to socialise so I go downstairs, say hi, and then sit and read while we eat. Maybe I wear headphones. Nobody thinks I’m rude.

The thing is, I know my parents wouldn’t mind. But I have to talk to them openly about my needs and that is very difficult. I know I’ll get there, but it’s a long process.

Fun Fact of the Day: In Frozen the Broadway musical, there is a quick-change in Let it Go. Just like in the movie, Elsa’s dress changes from her coronation robe to her ice queen dress. It gives me shivers every time I see it.

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