“There are risks associated with being authentic.
I choose to be authentic anyway.”
Inspired by these words, I ponder on my Autistic authenticity because my learning zone hasn’t fully uncovered all that hides behind my mask.
Many Autistics unknowingly mask before diagnosis, some mask knowingly for self-protection.
Years ago, I trained as a life coach. One of the techniques was to find a Wheel of Fear and Wheel of Freedom. Two little words on each wheel access our fundamental perceptions that run our thoughts. Repetitive negative patterns can keep the mind spinning in fear whilst searching for change.
The accuracy of my wheels in relation to my recent Autism diagnosis is stunning. They capture the essence of life struggles but sadly, it has taken years to understand why I wasn’t equipped to attain ‘freedom’. As a pretend Neurotypical, I was forcing my mind down the wrong track.
Here are examples of wheels, designed with leaves.
Wheel of Fear = Rejected/Unlovable
Wheel of Freedom = Authentic/Self-Acceptance
Wearing a Neurotypical mask was keeping me prisoner, disguising my Autistic ‘authenticity’ whilst completely blocking ‘self-acceptance’. How can you accept what you don’t know? I had not an inkling of what lay beneath the surface.
Once the Wheel of Freedom is known, awareness allows us to work at making the shift from fear. Whilst I successfully coached others towards this shift, I, myself, remained stuck. I could not overcome my invisible challenges. I felt like an eternally treadling hamster. Yes, having the physical disability of EDS is a huge barrier in itself, but I could not work out why anxiety and depression continually haunted my world. Now I know I am Autistic, it is as plain as day.
Choosing to be ‘authentic’ is now my Autistic mission. The invisible mask, worn all my life, is gradually being lifted along with the behaviours that kept it in place as a prisoner of misery.
However, there are times when it is necessary to keep the mask on for self-protection, but looking under the surface, I am seeing my truth and finding a life time of buried elements. For instance, stimming habits. People in my past scared me into hiding that crucial part of me. Constant punishment at school for fidgeting and fiddling for what they saw as my lack of concentration. If only they’d known; I was actually listening very well and all that ‘disruptive behaviour’ was helping me process their words. It’s all about brain wiring.
Fear was instilled – I felt rejected and unlovable, so began masking my authenticity and could not accept myself because I could not be myself. The little autistic girl was repressed and crushed.
Sadly, even pretending to be an NT doesn’t attract acceptance nor make others love you.
My clumsy attempts to fit in were against my nature. I didn’t do it like Neurotypicals, who quickly pick up on slight differences in body language and eye contact. They hear subtly missed speech cues and conversation slips up. Although undetected by me, this was detected by them! And many made me suffer for it.
Life has been a vicious cycling wheel of rejection and feeling unlovable because I wasn’t being accepted for who I truly am by others – or myself. That lack of acceptance buried deep into my soul and self-hatred set in.
Sometimes when fear is triggered, it is possible that ‘meltdown’ or ‘shutdown’ may occur. Here lies a big difference between Neurotypical and Neurodivergent (Autistic) minds.
What I’ve learned in recent months is that Autistic people have difficulty self-regulating their response to sensory or emotional overwhelm. Once triggered, the brakes fail and like a runaway train there’s no stopping the reaction. Control and filters dissipate.
There is no choice nor is it a manufactured display i.e. drama queen/tantrum. For an Autistic, meltdown or shutdown is genuine and exhausting, often leaving the person totally bewildered and embarrassed. Telling us to stop, calm down or ‘control yourself’, only makes it worse. Best to step back, give space and allow them to settle on their own.
So, the Wheel of Fear is spinning and I’m in overwhelm struggling to self-regulate! That is my Authentic, my truth. I am Autistic and having a meltdown or shutdown. I am both on my Wheel of Fear and Freedom. Fear because I am triggered, Freedom because I am responding authentically.
The question is, how do I use my Wheel of Freedom effectively as an Autistic person?
It has been suggested that self-kindness is key. Instead of beating myself up after the event, realise that I am acting Authentically Autistic which means I gain Self-Acceptance. Definitely a work in progress.
Also, it is about learning ones personal Autistic triggers and developing strategies to reduce or avoid them. Say a café is noisy, wear ear defenders or go somewhere quieter. If lights are bright, wear sunglasses. Learn to express your needs which are different for every Autistic person.
The words of Resilient Chameleon remind me, that with this knowledge, it is my job to get myself onto my Wheel of Freedom, albeit differently to the Neurotypical way. I am fortunate that I have excellent tools of training* to help me facilitate this. Lost to myself for decades I am now seeing ‘me’ through a spectrum lens, one magnifying a world of new colours.
PS: I’ve realised that Fearless Living was by far, the best coaching programme I could have chosen. I wish I’d known I am autistic at the time, however I can see the great value of this training being very relevant to Autistic people as it is so down to earth and honest.