Yesterday I had the privilege to attend and run some workshops at a student psychiatry conference. As a public speaker attending conferences is a normal part of my life. On my return home something really struck me. No one had really met me at the conference. let me explain;
I turned up I socialised, I chatted to people, introduced myself, got up ran some workshops, and socialised a bit more before leaving. I was confident, chatty, engaging, bubbly, articulate. At these events the only way I can do them is to crank up my camouflaging and masking up to full level. I am essentially playing a character, and although it can sometimes feel quite genuine whilst in character, it isn't fully me.
In real life I am very quiet and introverted, most of the time I'm not very articulate in day to day life. In fact I try and avoid speaking at all. When I got home yesterday I locked myself in my room, cuddled my teddy bear and cried. I was so exhausted from aday of acting this character that all I could do was to revert to a small child. I still need my comfort toy, the same one I've had since I was a baby. I struggle to sleep without him, I need him for safety. I highly doubt, based on what they witnessed, any of the attendees of yesterdays conference could have imagined that this is what I really am. None of my colleagues whom I work with on a regular basis have ever really met me.
The contrast between the character I can play and who I really am is quite extreme. I don't even know who I really am because for so long I put all my thought into the character I can play. The more extreme each personality gets the more difference evolves between the two. Take yesterday, I would say I was at the top end of confident (not quite egotistical), I was super chatty, bubbly and engaging. But on my return home and once my bedroom door was shut behind me. I almost became the polar opposite, I was almost completely unable to speak or engage in any communication. I couldn't even cope with being near other human beings.
Since getting my autism diagnosis I have been learning a lot about myself and how I experience the world, and learning about camouflaging and masking has been part of that. But I'd never really thought about it under the notion that it meant not many people have actually met me. I started to think, people seem to really like the character I can play but it takes so much for me to perform this character. I don't know if I can ever not play this character around people. Am I always going to be in a world that doesn't really know me?