A Different Kind of Imposter Syndrome

Caught my “resting me face” while getting ready for a call. Oops.

It’s been about three weeks since I received my autism diagnosis and I’ve been trying to figure out how and why I feel different about myself. Because I do feel very different, and it’s mostly really great. Aside from everything else, it’s a very long project I’ve completed, from entertaining the idea that I might be autistic but knowing next to nothing about what that meant, through research and locating a diagnostic professional, eventually to a place of self-diagnosis and then an official diagnosis, complete with an ICD-10 code. The fact of the matter is that I was autistic throughout all of that. Before that–all the way back from the point at which my brain and the rest of my nervous system took the alternate route to the making of me.

Let me make this super duper clear: While I chose and was able to receive a professional medical diagnosis, self-diagnosed autism is completely valid. When someone has gone through self-assessment process like I have, autism is the only possibility. It’s the only thing that makes sense and it makes all the sense.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s not like someone just has “the autism” and it’s a one-dimensional condition; a whole slew of conditions and traits and just ways of being that all have their own names fall within the autistic person’s orbit–not orbit but self. My person starts with a kernel that is autistic, and then everything that radiates out from that kernel is going to be colored by that. The force that makes my physical body function and move, with the back and forth relay of information, is unique among the general public but so common among autistic people. Same goes for the way I take in and process data through my senses. This of course means the face I present to the world is the result of all these systems then being run through a series of filters I’ve (sometimes consciously) constructed over the years to be good, to be healthy, to not offend, and to be a successful human citizen of the world; this is masking.

I want to know about these filters that lead to masking. The steps behind or between or wherever or whenever they are. I want to know everything between the me as a person and the me as a personality.

Everyone has filters, you say, aside from your racist grandfather? In a way, yes. Until very recently, I didn’t understand that not everyone worked as hard and had as many filters as the neurodivergent do…which is funny if you know me, because unless I am putting all of my energy into making myself as blank and silent and pleasant as can be, I still stick out like the pink-haired, resting-bitch-faced, old vegan punk that I am. And until very recently, I didn’t think I had these filters or about how I could undo some of them and find a truer me, whatever that is. After 48 years of being molded by the world, busting through a bit here or there but then remolded and all the while growing increasingly tired of it all, I’m now trying to stop quadruple-guessing myself in any way that is safe to do so.

How do you do that? I’ve started following lots of autistic people on an Instagram account I set up specifically for neurodivergent content. A whole generation of early-diagnosed people have grown up and are amazing at self-advocacy and celebration, and they see us late-diagnosed folks and are there with lots of advice. I’m so appreciative of it. But that still leaves the nuts-and-bolts bit about reprogramming yourself in a safe, nondisruptive way a mystery. I can’t take a month off of work and life to go sit with myself and sort through my brain and then come back as a reassembled me. And the life I have now, which I like just fine, is one that I built as the me I was–I don’t want to lose that.

Oddly enough, I think I’m in a much better position than I could have been if not for my complete breakdown at age 14 (I wrote about that in this content-warning-heavy suicide post). I made a lot of decisions back then about what was important to me and what I saw as games not worth playing. That breakdown and rebuilding of myself back then, I think, kept me from some of the crises I watched friends go through later in life, and allowed me to curate my social circles and redefine “success.” If I hadn’t gone through that–and had no other breakdown between then and now–I would likely be in a much more precarious position. An experience that others might see as wholly traumatic (a suicide attempt and subsequent stay in an adolescent psych unit) instead prevented more destructive trauma, like a controlled burn clearing away kindling and preventing a larger, more difficult to control forest fire. Don’t get me wrong, this is a “don’t try this at home” deal right here. I hurt a lot of people and could have easily died. Ideally, kids today would have more resources and better understanding so that they don’t reach the dead end I reached.

The point is, even with as much work as I’ve done on myself over the decades, I find myself at a point where I’m questioning the authenticity of my every aspect. And that’s a lot.

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