The million little parts of me

I’ve always known, on some level, I’ve had to mask but survive. I never quite knew what it was and I never had the language of autism to describe it—or explain my meltdowns. I’d always just told people, “I’m half human, half Vulcan,” and I left it at that. Needless to say, it’s something I think about a lot.

Today I went out to lunch—something I haven’t done since pre-covid—with an old colleague from about twenty years ago. The last time we saw each other was a couple of years prior to the shutdown. I wasn’t sure I’d be up to it, given my health as of late, but somehow my body was doing okay (likely due to the antibiotics I was on recently, which haven’t completely cleared things up and I can’t get my doctor’s to take my request for an extended prescription seriously—which is another story) so around noon I locked my computer and started to head out the door. My heart, I realized, was rushing, adrelaline pumping through my system. This would be, quite literally, the first time I’ve gone out with anyone besides my wife, mother, or mother’s best friend, in over a year, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was ready for it or if I would just sit there fluttering, grasping for words, masking so bad I’d have to excuse myself early, run back home, and hide under the covers. Fortunately, while I never felt entirely comfortable, nor could I say I enjoyed myself in the neurotypical sense, I was able to push through without missing a beat (ah, the one skill my psychopathic x gave me was the ability to gab even when my heart isn’t in it).

One thing that helped is a recent realization that I’ll probably never find someone I don’t have to mask with. I might even go as far as saying “Realization = Acceptance.” For nearly my entire life I’ve dreamed about meeting people I didn’t have to mask with. People I could be 100% authentic with. And while I’ve found a few (maybe you’re one of them reading this now?) they’ve been few and far between. Instead, I’ve found I’ve had to mask around everyone. But is that the entire picture?

I was thinking about it the other day and put it beside the meltdowns I’ve had in life, particularly those that occur in relationships to other people. And I realized something. When a relationship is new I don’t tend to have meltdowns. For decades I thought that was because of extreme levels of insecurity, after all, in those early stages I was always trying to keep my passions under check. But no, that was only a small part of the picture. Then it came to me, that light bulb moment: I wasn’t having breakdowns because I was meeting an absolutely new person, usually unlike someone I’d known before, who allowed a small part of me that others wouldn’t let shine to suddenly come out into the daylight. I’d get so overwrought with excitement that I’d believe, through and through, that yes, this new person, this wonderful person, will accept me for who I am. Subconsciously: I don’t have to mask anymore!!!

And then boom, the honeymoon period would come to and end, I’d realize this person, like all the rest, had some very tiny boxes they wanted to put me in and mazes they wanted me to figure out and for months or sometimes years I’d try to work my way through those, masking more and more and more as the relationships progressed until, boom, I’d have a series of full on apocalyptic meltdowns.


For example, one person, who was for over a decade, the love of my life, was someone with deeply held and specific views about environmentalism, vegetarianism, and feminism. I held many of those views (and learned a great deal more from her, embracing many of hers as I learned more), that overlap giving us common values to build much of our friendship and relationships on, but I realized, after a couple of years, that there was no safe space for my own views—and to express, articulate, or attempt dialog in that regard was tantamount to making myself no longer attractive. For example, I have very progressive views about pornography. I believe that human beings are sexual beings and pornography is one way we express that and can even be a healthy one. Well, she didn’t hold that view. Women were being forced into it. Men who looked at it were anti-feminist. It was a system that inherently took all power from women. And lets get right down to it, she believed, consciously or otherwise, that me looking at it somehow meant I didn’t want to spend my life with her, that I wasn’t attracted to her, that I’d start looking for a little tail on the side (tangent: in my experience the reason people stray has nothing to do with pornography and everything with their partner showing little to no interest in seeking physical intimacy of any type anymore). So I did what most people do, I didn’t broach the topic and hid any porn as best as I could. And being autistic, highly overly emotionally sensitive to having to mask to maintain a connection with someone, I’d inevitably have meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. Not fun.

I believe the reason I was able to recognize all this is that the span during which I’d have this elated excitement, on meeting someone, that I wouldn’t have to mask, that this person would provide me an unconditionally loving space to express myself, was becoming shorter and shorter and shorter. During the summer of 2022 I was spending a lot of weekends (and sometimes weekdays—don’t tell anyone!) at the nearby dive, drinking whiskey and enjoying cigars, while I shit posted on Facebook. I met a little less than a dozen frequent fliers and started to build “drinking buddy” relationships and while I had that old sense that “I don’t have to mask anymore!” I also knew they were single serving friends who had not interest in me outside of the bar scene so that elation was usually not as intense and certainly didn’t last as long. The more I saw them, the more I recognized the limitations of the social situation I was in, as well as the neurotypical proclivity for empty banter, and over the last six or so months when I do go I haven’t seen that gang very much and when I do see one or two or three of them I find the conversations duplicative shadows of past ones. There’s no space for me to “be myself” though at the same time there’s really no interest coming from the other person for me to. They’re drinking. I’m available to chat. So maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll tell me about that stripper that doesn’t shave her armpits for the third time. One thing I’m sure of, they’ll never buy me a drink (even if I’ve bought them a few rounds in the past).

But I digress. My point is I don’t have that feeling anymore, that sense of excitement and connection I used to. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe something inside me is dead. Or maybe I’ve just accepted reality for what it is. Sure, I miss those few people I didn’t have to mask (much) with, but they’re out there doing their own thing and I’m here with a cat who’s wondering why I’m typing instead of giving him my full attention.

I know how he feels.



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