CW: Gaslighting, self-harm, intrusive thoughts
(Long Post, Summary/Conclusion paragraph at the end)
This blog post came about after having a dissociation episode after watching Westworld a few nights ago. This post has helped me realize the reason and cause of my dissociation, likely from being an undiagnosed autistic person for 25 years of my life.
The Undiagnosed Autistic Life
Imagine all your life, you’ve been told that you just seem a “little” off. Just, you know, a little different. When you give your opinions, you’re either ignored, or simply told it’s “not a big deal” when you were not trying to complain, you were trying to collaborate. Whatever you do, whatever you say, is annoying, is rude, is unimportant, is inappropriate. Other people make excuses for you. “Oh you know, that’s just how she is. She’s just a bit different from the rest of us.”
Imagine instilling this idea into the core of who you are. You decide to relish in the idea of being “weird” because there is no other option. You wonder why it is this way. You’ve created your own identity around what other people perceive you to be, in order to “get by.” You see this as the only way to survive the world.
Oftentimes, you genuinely wonder if you are an alien. You wrote about aliens since you were 8 years old. You like reading sci-fi and supernatural books. People joke about you being a vampire, or an alien, and you joke back, masking your anxiety. It sounds so silly, doesn’t it?
Imagine that you have been told your entire life, looked at your entire life, as just being a little bit “different.” Wouldn’t you wonder? Wouldn’t you try to explain it, when people think you don’t have emotions? When people think that because you sit still and don’t move around too much, that you must be fine emotionally? When your ears are constantly hurting from sounds while others deem your need for quiet to be complaining and annoying and nothing to be concerned about? Wouldn’t you wonder just a little bit? Why you’ve always seemed a little bit off? How you can actually be the same species as other women who do “women-things” much better than you. How they are seen as much better than your version of a woman. How they suggest that you get involved in “woman-things,” that you must love them. How you feel when you try them, are coerced into them, and hate the experiences they put you in. You feel like you are failing. You don’t know what you are failing, but it feels very important. They say you’ll enjoy it, just try it. You do not. It is horrible. You wonder why other women enjoy this and laugh and smile. You wonder why you don’t. You are failing. You distance yourself from all things feminine. You are not “one of them.” They laugh at your greasy hair and probably insult you behind your back.
You are even more stuck on this question than before. People do not engage with you. You don’t know how groups form around you, and you hear chatter left and right. Wouldn’t you wonder? Wouldn’t you wonder how other people so seamlessly talk to each other? Where coughing, clearing their throat, seemed to indicate something from others, some sort of message? You try to understand how they seem to send signals that you don’t hear. The only logical possibility you come up with is, that maybe other people could read other people’s minds. You realize that it would explain all of these seamless interactions you have seen and observed for your entire life, that you couldn’t really unravel, and of course could never enter into. It would explain why people laughed at things that didn’t seem to matter. It would explain why people act as if you are invisible, why they do not invite you into their circles. It would explain so much of it. It would explain why you are inaccessible to their style of communicating.
You spend an entire year having intrusive thoughts because you are worried other people can read your mind. You dig your fingernails into your neck to stop them. It seems to help very well. You do this mostly at school and rarely at home so people don’t know. You start doing this when you are angry. No one notices. When she asks, you tell your mother the bump on your arm was a mosquito bite, but it wasn’t.
After about a year, you decide that people probably can’t read minds. You try to “relax.” You haven’t seen enough evidence. You try to forget that you ever thought of it in the first place. Sometimes you forget you used to think this, and store it in the darkest part of your mind and put it away for a decade. You still have intrusive thoughts from time to time for the next year or so, but you gradually somehow get rid of them. You stop fighting them. You still don’t understand why people seem to interact so easily, and why you don’t.
So many years of thinking you’re different, that you have to assimilate, so people don’t notice, so people don’t worry, so people don’t see you as a “little strange”, takes a toll on you. You try to keep your head down (literally), so as not to be noticed. You wonder how people can stare at other people’s faces and eyes all day. Eyes hurt. You decide that not talking is a way to reduce the number of potential failures you have and isolated feelings you have at school. Not talking, and reading books is how you manage. You are highly anxious and write angsty poetry, because you are a teenager. You are angry at the passing bell. It hurts every time, and you brace for the anticipation of it. You are always very aware of the time, to prepare yourself. You are angry at many things but you keep quiet. It’s the easiest way to deal with everything. People don’t seem to want to be friends with you anyway, even though you tried for a few weeks. You feel like a ghost, and the evidence points towards this. You walk out of class, and the teacher looks at you, laughs, and says they didn’t realize I was in class today. I was in my regular seat like always. It wasn’t out of malice by any means. I like that teacher – I didn’t blame her.
I was just a ghost.
Masking and Dissociation
After years of thinking this way, of dealing with adolescence and what exclusion, what lack in social skill, comes with that, my mental health took its toll. From pretending so much, in so many different spaces, I’d often see things outside of my body. I’d often feel like I was watching a movie as my body said something that seemed, less “different,” and more “appropriate.” I’d often think in the back of my mind, what would my mother say? What would my brother say? What would my father say? I’d insert a similar inflection and facial expression, just because I had seen my mom interact with others for my entire life. It made it sound believable. I knew what she was doing from a physical standpoint. I just didn’t know why she did it that way.
Imagine finding out a year ago that you are autistic. Imagine realizing that it explains all of these things that you’ve dealt with for most of your life. Imagine finding out that no one else’s ears hurt with loud/moderate noises. You pretended those loud noises didn’t hurt your ears for no reason. You didn’t get any rewards for it. In fact, no one even noticed. You realize that complaining you have to go “be a person” when going to social events, is not common but still is a common thought in your life. You realize that your brain is different compared to 95% of the population. You realize that you were not just “imagining” feeling different, that you were not a hypochondriac. That you had valid feelings and opinions. You are different.
This realization does not make anyone else understand or accommodate you. In fact, it creates confusion. The therapist, who diagnosed you, says you are doing “very well” in life during the diagnosis interview and that you are “very high-functioning,” then back-tracks and realizes what they implied. They were surprised. They must have been expecting someone less communicative (and then would assume them to be “low functioning”). The therapist asks if you have anxiety. Your heart is pounding 100 beats per minute. You say “no.” They say “ok” and leave it at that.
Friends say, “oh but you’re just a little different! Everyone’s a little different!” They say that it couldn’t be, that you are so “very high-functioning.” They project their ideas of the word “autism” onto you. There is even more confusion. But now you know who you are, even while they still gaslight you and tell you that you are rude or inappropriate, and yet, not autistic. You are just, still, a “little different.” To other people, you will always be a “little different.” Other people do not care about your own understanding of your brain. They still want you to be the same. They want you to “function.” They want you to be “appropriate.” They can agree you are autistic and then complain that you “dress like a child” when you were only trying to prevent a meltdown.
Some days I cannot tell whether I am being my mask, “being a person,” or being me. I am still working on that.
After Diagnosis – Westworld.
You still have dissociative episodes when saying something you know that isn’t really from you. You try to say things appropriately, using scripts. You are in the car with your boyfriend talking about youtube videos and suddenly see yourself outside your body. You have just learned about the term dissociation. You say, while dissociating from yourself “Wow I’m have a terrible dissociative episode right now.” It doesn’t help. You can’t do anything about it.
Imagine trying to watch a show that prides itself on figuring out What is human. Imagine seeing “robots” treated as things. Imagine watching as they become less of a “thing” and more of a sentient person. Your brain is breaking around this occurrence. You do not want to think about it. You think about what it feels like to be treated as a “little different,” in the back of your mind, a thought churning.
If consciousness doesn’t have to be human,
then what am I?
then what am I?
then what am I?
then what am I?
Am I human?
Imagine not getting to the root of the cognitive dissonance. You hear jokes about Data from Star Trek. You hear how “Zuckerberg is a robot” from your friends and colleagues.
You wonder whether you are a human. While growing up. While getting gaslighted by your family, by people who are well-intentioned and who love you. You do not understand why every single thing you say is read as a complaint, or ignored. Imagine not feeling that love. Imagine knowing there’s something a bit “off” about the way you work. Imagine that one silly question can envelope your entire life because of the way other human beings have looked at you and interacted with you. You still wonder some days.
Imagine how many interactions it took me to feel this way. Imagine how many people had to look at me differently, ignore me, assume my intentions, and disregard me when I offered genuine emotion.
Imagine what acceptance would have done for people like me.