I wonder what it really means to ‘unmask’.
Just taking this picture of myself, exhausted, was exhausting.
I took the shot and it wasn’t enough.
I had to find the right background, not look too posey, not allow my hair to be too messy, not have my face look too serious.
I caught myself masking within the shot that was meant to unmask me.
I became aware of the muscles in my face, pulled into a positive expression.
Not quite a smile, but a pulled back expression of “I’m okay”.
Many times throughout my younger years, people commented on my ‘resting face’.
“Why do you look so angry all the time?”
Maybe I was, angry.
But I learnt after enough comments to never look angry
And never to ask for help.
And now, as an adult, I am always challenging every single thought,
Every single movement of my body.
I tell myself “Don’t do that, it’s weird”
“Don’t get caught doing that, thinking that, saying that, feeling that”.
Others’ insecurities have become mine.
It is written about us autistics in text books that we, at times, feel as though we are on a stage,
For all the world to see.
I want the world to know that when they read that about us,
It’s because for many of us, it’s true.
The world has watched us, corrected us, commented on us.
It still does.
I’ve had to make the painful decision to remove people from my newsfeed and friends list
Who share alarmist messaging about me
About my children
About the people I love.
The autistic people I love.
It hurts to read many of the ‘hope’ messages
Or the messages about people like me ‘pretending’ to be autistic.
I want to give you the permission to do the same.
To let go of whatever it is
That is holding you back
From loving you.
From accepting you.
From enjoying being you.
Today I’m exhausted.
Last night I cried, I shouted, I fell apart.
Every single time an autistic person shares with you
A piece of their world, their heart, their soul, their journey,
It takes courage, resilience, energy.
So much energy.
So much everything.
I am grateful to be supported by a safe, loving, supportive, embracing, positive community.
A community of autistic people, parents, professionals, allies, friends, siblings, family, friends.
My heart is full.
But it isn’t always this way for autistic people.
We get on that stage, write that piece, share that art, speak those words
And are then shut down
Sometimes by disorder language
Sometimes directly by people who are suffering.
And I understand.
Because that used to be me.
A sad, lonely, isolated and desperate Mother of autistic children,
Fighting the autistic community.
Making them wrong.
Because all I was armed with was the language of pathology.
If that is you, today,
My heart is with you.
I send you love and compassion and understanding.
I also encourage you
To make changes.
Pay attention to what you’re reading
Who you’re speaking with
What you’re watching
What words you’re uttering
What thoughts you’re thinking.
Because all of this will be reflected right back to you
In your children.
In their faces
In their experience
In their behaviour.
They want you to be happy.
They want to experience the best of you.
And in your own suffering and fear,
Remember they may not be feeling the same way.
Children are born as they are,
Self accepting and happy to be.
It’s the messaging from us, adults
That changes that.