This weeks Guest Post is written by Katie Forbes, Founder of We Work With Autism in which she explores her experience with comparison and how it lead to masking.
Early on in childhood, when I was blissfully unaware I was autistic and ‘different’, I liked what I liked and I was confident in my actions: I enthusiastically contributed to conversations and offered my opinions with no hesitation; I dressed for comfort and never questioned my appearance; and I did things I enjoyed, ‘should’ wasn’t in my vocabulary.
But somewhere along the line, my bubble burst and I realised the things I liked and talked about were also the things that had made me unpopular. I didn’t have any friends. In fact, the only time people spoke to me was to deliver an insult.
So I started to question my actions and became fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. What’s the problem? Is there something wrong with me?
When the bullying continued into secondary school, the questions became statements: I was the problem; there’s something wrong with me. And before I knew it, I started letting others’ expectations dictate my life.
I adopted the hobbies my peers approved of; I only spoke if I had something to say that guaranteed a laugh; I replaced clothes that I loved with clothes that were ‘fashionable’; I applied makeup to hide what the magazines described as ‘flaws’; and I lost weight to please others.
Slowly but surely, people noticed the changes I was making, and when they started to see themselves reflecting back at them, the bullying fizzled out and compliments flooded in.
Suddenly people were asking me what to do instead of telling me, I was in on the joke instead of being the butt of it, and people bitched to me instead of about me. I was invited to join group chats and then exposed to parties. I was finally one of them.
And yet, I didn’t feel good. Didn’t feel good at all. In fact, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I had strayed so far from my truth, giving up everything that made me, me; I was questioning everything. Should I do this? Should I say that? But what will they think? What will they say? What if I lose everything I’ve worked so hard for? The more I acted like them, the unhappier I became.
I was falling again, this time into a deep depression. It was only at this point, after exhausting all other options, that I finally sought the help I desperately needed: I called my doctor.
It was only after months of counselling that I understood what had happened. Somewhere along the path to acceptance, others expectations had pushed me into the dark hole of comparison. And although I always had the strength to pull myself out, I just needed some direction and positive reassurance.
Now, I give myself permission to be my true self regardless of others’ expectations or opinions. And when I do stray off track, I say to myself: People don’t have to like you and you don’t have to care; live the life you want, love the person you are.
Be sure to check out Katie on her social media @weworkwithautism!