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Mid 40's, good at masking -- any suggestions?

marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I wanted to briefly introduce myself. I'm in my mid-forties, although I feel about 30 y/o. Apologies if I use older terms.

I was diagnosed with ADHD and for a time bipolar II, although the bipolar diagnosis was wrong --hyperfocus and obsessions with some topics was confused with hypomania. I can work nonstop when I care about something. It seems that the best diagnosis is ADHD (inattentive) with Asperger's, the older term. I didn't have the best childhood, always feeling very different and always being more interested in intellectual things. I got along better with adults that people my age. And seroius mental illness runs in my family.

I have done a lot of reading to understand how to interact with people and to understand what was "wrong" with me. I grew up in a developing country so it was only when I moved to the US that I learned more about mental illness and developmental disorders.

I'm a tenured professor (teachnical field) now at an excellent research institution. I put so much effort into trying to understand how to fit that I'm very good at acting and pretending to be "normal," but it's difficult for me to sustain closer relationships. At some point, people figure out that I'm a ... different.

Because I work in academia, it's easy to blend in that environment. Students and others put me in the "odd smart" category. Eccentric professor who sometimes talks too much, sometimes goes silent, and sometimes says odd stuff. I can be very charming and I can be very aloof. Depends on the day. Mostly, it depents on how much energy I have to act.

But pretending is exhausting and sometimes I don't know who I am or how to better connect with people.

I would like to meet people who has or had similar experiences -- age doesn't matter. Any suggestions on resources? How do you deal with masking?

Thanks!

M.
 

Outdated

I'm from the other end of the spectrum.
V.I.P Member
"Any suggestions?" you ask. To me it seems like you've got life pretty well worked out already. Welcome to the forums.
 

Judge

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Have to agree. It sounds like you have masking itself under control. And yes, it is quite exhausting as a defense mechanism, mostly to just "keep the peace" and avoid misunderstandings.

However as a tenured professor, I'm puzzled why you would feel a need to mask on the job with persons well below you on the "pecking order" of academia in general. You're in such a position of authority with students, whether they understand it or not. You really don't need to mask for them. In fact it is they who must conform to your thought process. Otherwise there can be consequences for a student with little or no resolve. At least when I went to a university. Sometimes fun to interact with them, and sometimes not.

Several decades ago in a political science class our professor once asked us for examples of hegemony. I looked straight at him and said, "the relationship between a tenured professor and their students". He laughed and said, "Touche". Though I wasn't kidding. Neither was he. ;)

Or is your post really focused on those "closer relationships" outside the realm of your workplace? That strikes me as a very different consideration, when it may be best to wind down masking altogether, particularly if this involves courtship. Dating may involve any number of stupid game-playing, but in the end for most any relationship to blossom both parties must strive to be themselves. With an understanding that honesty does not necessarily mean success in social chemistry. That there are no guarantees. Yet it's also worth mentioning that some people find some of out traits and behavior endearing. When dropping that mask may turn out to be a real "plus".
 

db05

New Member
To add to Judge's words - It's all "in the eye of the beholder"? marc_101 - you seem to be doing well, but we all have different "nuture" and "nature" variables leading us to our personal "here and now".

Above all, keep your personal dignity. Stand tall and do not let academic authorities trounce over you; that's just the adult version of NTs manipulating autistics just as in youth.

It seems that the resources to help us are overburdened. There are more Aspies than can be helped. Having said that, maybe try:

"Association for Autism and Neurodivesity"
Based in Massachusetts, as most US autistic/HFA non-profits seem to be - they have many support groups for Asperger's, both local to there and national. But they are swamped with users' needs. They have services ranging from free, up to $30k/year personal services for those living nearby their office.

"GRASP" - Global and Regional Autism Spectrum Partnership (the 'ASP' in the URL, refers to Asperger's)
I've read of this group in several autistic books, and mailed them in 3/2023 and again in 5/2023, with no response. Hopefully, you'd have better luck.

Your local autism society.
I've called and mailed mine several times, again with no response. Its as if the support groups are the same as the neurotypicals and their non-response :( But, keep trying. It's all we have.
 

VictorR

Random Member
V.I.P Member
Welcome!

I guess my question would be do you want to connect, and what types of connections are you seeking?

As others have noted, being a tenured prof give you a lot of leeway in terms of being yourself and keeps you safe job/career wise, though there can still be politics available especially if you're looking for a chair position that someone else wants, or more awkwardly, there's a department head / dean position available that no one wants but there are one or more persons who want you to take it.
 

Nitro

Admin/Immoral Turpitude
Staff member
Admin
V.I.P Member
welcome to af.png
 

Neonatal RRT

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
However as a tenured professor, I'm puzzled why you would feel a need to mask on the job with persons well below you on the "pecking order" of academia in general. You're in such a position of authority with students, whether they understand it or not. You really don't need to mask for them. In fact it is they who must conform to your thought process. Otherwise there can be consequences for a student with little or no resolve. At least when I went to a university. Sometimes fun to interact with them, and sometimes not.
Agree. Good point. I am in this situation, as well, being an educator and mentor. However, this being said, I will let them know about my autism condition on day 1, so as to not have them speculating or misinterpreting me.

@marc_101 As a "senior member" of a faculty of educators, you have proven yourself. As opposed to someone seeking a position and is concerned about how others will accept you. At this point, you do hold some level of influence. This was my situation at work in the hospital, as well as, at the university where I also teach. I had been in these positions for decades before my diagnosis. As such, whatever feelings or judgements about me had been made a long time ago. It took me about a year or so after my diagnosis when I understood the level of masking I had been doing for years, and frankly, I was a bit tired of it, the masking, the misinterpretations, the feelings about me. I thought it prudent to simply "come out" and put things into proper perspective and context for them, but also to allow me some bit of "grace" to accept myself as I am and not put so much stress on myself to fit in. Well, it all worked out just fine, and when I say this, no one cared. Like it was actually a relief. Most people you work with don't care about your personal issues, all they really care is whether or not you can do the job. Well, I already proved I could.

That was my experience, for what it's worth. ;)
 

marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Thank yo so much for your kind replies. The professor part caught your attention, but it's other relationships that are difficult; relationships outside work. They have become very narrow. Working mostly from home since the pandemic has not helped one bit. Some days I only talk to my cat and dog. Or perhaps my issue is that I don't want to pretend anymore, but I find it hard to find the real me given the many masks I wear.

I mentioned academia because it's much easier to blend in that environment and it's a major part of my life. Many of us that get into obsessive focus on some topics end up in academia. Or books were an escape -- for sure it was for me. Several or my former professors and co-workers are on the spectrum, although I never asked for confirmation. We just notice the signs in each other.
 

Rodafina

Hopefully Human
Staff member
V.I.P Member
Hello and welcome! My main suggestion would be to stick around here for a while and start reading threads on masking. You can use the search bar to find threads on specific topics. You can always ask for help finding things, as well.
 

Judge

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Thank yo so much for your kind replies. The professor part caught your attention, but it's other relationships that are difficult; relationships outside work.

Quite understandable. Academia, despite all of its "free-thinkers", offers a lot of structure. Something usually attractive to so many of us on the spectrum. I tend to believe that where there is structure, there is a greater sense of simplicity relative to socialization. And in your case as a tenured professor, I view your position in this structure akin to a game's "trump card". Where no matter how well or not you communicate, you control most if not all outcomes short of administrators in a capacity above that of tenured professor.

Yet in as much as most of us likely perceive some degree of masking is necessary in the course of our employment, it's worth noting as well that many of us exist in societies that heavily weigh our identity with the work we do. Which personally I believe is unhelpful to most of society, regardless of neurological differences.

Though I agree with you in that more often than not our relationships outside of work can often be for more complicated. Where is anything, our masking is best done on what I'd call a "sliding scale". Reflecting that the more emotionally tied we may be to someone requires us to reduce our masking- even dropping it entirely to project who we really are, accepting that in the course of this choice that it can be for better- or worse, depending on how someone reacts to who we are.

What does this all boil down to? Whether or not one can accept us in terms of our traits and behaviors, which may or may not appear so "alien" to them. And for a few, they may actually find them endearing in some way.
Two considerations that in my own case, kind of outline the relationships I had with neurotypical women. And at the time, neither they or myself had even a hint that I could be autistic. Yet I was masking my traits and behaviors nevertheless at least in more formal circumstances like work. Weird, but there you have it.

The good news was that a scant few women found me endearing- even intriguing on some level. The bad news? Some of my traits and behaviors cost me those relationships. Such as an endless drive for routine solitude. That alienated most of them. Meanwhile at work my masking kept everything on an even keel. But then in my society all too often I gave much weight to my job, identifying my work as who I am. Leaving insufficient drive and energy for my personal relationships.

Another "tightrope" we have to consider is a simple one, pertinent to all human interactions. That while it may be a cliche, the saying "Familiarity Breeds Contempt" indeed holds up over time, and especially where blood relatives may be concerned. To get to the point, at the present I live in near-isolation in retirement. The only regular contact I have in real life is between my brother and a cousin. I have discovered over the years that I cannot unmask myself with either of them. When I do, it's usually a disaster that strains our relationship for badly that we cease communicating with each other for a prolonged amount of time.

In essence I'm agreeing with you that what you ask is indeed a very, difficult question to answer. Where any real solutions are precarious at best. That successfully interacting with those who count the most is often the most difficult social achievement for so many of us. I just wish I had a more optimal answer than this.

I try not to dwell too much on who I am beyond the discovery process to determine I am autistic, and that I accept it. Beyond that, most of us may amount to "a work in progress". Something I accept as well.

"It's a hard life." :oops:
 
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marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Thank you again. Checked out other posts and resources. It's helpful.

After some reflection: my biggest challenge is to admit to others that I'm different, even if they probably know it. It was a survival strategy to never show weakness. Ever.
 

Neonatal RRT

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Thank you again. Checked out other posts and resources. It's helpful.

After some reflection: my biggest challenge is to admit to others that I'm different, even if they probably know it. It was a survival strategy to never show weakness. Ever.
Well, that hit home. "Never show weakness. Ever." It is a challenge, no doubt, being the "alpha dog" and having an autism condition. For me, it was a combination of being physically strong, having a physique that within the perspective of our primate brain, was intimidating, yet putting the work into my studies to become an information resource person for physician, nursing, and respiratory care staff. I also have to be a "father figure", someone they can confide in, someone they know they can come to for support. I have to be strong, mentally and physically. I had to be, in a way, more than they were.

Story: A few years ago our department was celebrating "respiratory care week" and one of the fun questions posted was "If you were stuck on a desert island, trying to survive, which one of your co-workers would you most want to be with?" Much to my surprise, by quite a large margin, like over 80% said they wanted me on that island. I know it was all in fun, but I also know that these people, some of whom I've never really interacted with (over 300 therapists, night shift and day shift), knew that I was "the guy", the person who would get them through the day if the "poop hit the fan".

So, autism or not, friend or not, they knew they could count on me and wanted me there. That's more than enough for me.
 

marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Well, that hit home. "Never show weakness. Ever." It is a challenge, no doubt, being the "alpha dog" and having an autism condition. For me, it was a combination of being physically strong, having a physique that within the perspective of our primate brain, was intimidating, yet putting the work into my studies to become an information resource person for physician, nursing, and respiratory care staff. I also have to be a "father figure", someone they can confide in, someone they know they can come to for support. I have to be strong, mentally and physically. I had to be, in a way, more than they were.

Story: A few years ago our department was celebrating "respiratory care week" and one of the fun questions posted was "If you were stuck on a desert island, trying to survive, which one of your co-workers would you most want to be with?" Much to my surprise, by quite a large margin, like over 80% said they wanted me on that island. I know it was all in fun, but I also know that these people, some of whom I've never really interacted with (over 300 therapists, night shift and day shift), knew that I was "the guy", the person who would get them through the day if the "poop hit the fan".

So, autism or not, friend or not, they knew they could count on me and wanted me there. That's more than enough for me.
When I was young, I always looked to the future. I was going to change the world. I was so determined and motivated. Now that I'm older I look more to the past. I see how the person I am is the product of my past. Weakness was a bad thing growing up in my country. Lots of fistfights, teasing. I was not physically strong, the opposite. So I had to compensate. The main reason I started lifting weights and still do. I like to feel strong.

I think that's why I find it so hard to come to terms with telling anybody about my diagnoses. The funny thing is that intellectually, I don't think that I'm weak or less because of them.

But it's still hard, if that makes any sense.

Maybe the key is to internalize the idea that the diagnoses are really my super-powers.
 

Hypnalis

Well-Known Member
Telling people that you have something they don't understand is pointless. (**)
Tell them how to behave towards you if it's ever useful to do so.
It doesn't hurt to say why at some point, but it's nearly impossible to explain ASD to an NT even when they're trying to learn. Leading with "I'm an Aspie" is a hinderance.

(**) I know it's popular these days. But it doesn't work well.
On a large enough scale it polarizes society, and everyone loses. On a smaller scale it makes those who are "oppressing from weakness" even more isolated, because nobody dares to be honest with them about anything.
 

Neonatal RRT

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Telling people that you have something they don't understand is pointless. (**)
Tell them how to behave towards you if it's ever useful to do so.
It's not what you do, but rather how you do it. You've hit the nail on head with your second statement. Most people do not know what autism is, even though they may be familiar with the term. As my brother-in-law said, "I've heard of autism, but I don't know what that means."

In my experience, how I go about it is something like this:
1. Approach this conversation with a sense of humor. This is important. People are far more receptive if you have a sense of humor about it.
2. "If you are sensing something a "bit off" but don't know what it is, it is the "autism" you are sensing." "It's OK, I'm a big boy. No worries."
3. Then, I will quickly and briefly discuss how you and I will likely communicate and interact with each other and why.

Keep in mind, I usually do this when I first meet my students. I get that out of the way and because this discussion is within the timeframe of their first lecture, I would rather focus on the lecture, not me.
 

Judge

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
After some reflection: my biggest challenge is to admit to others that I'm different, even if they probably know it. It was a survival strategy to never show weakness. Ever.
That and to always consider explaining who and what you are exclusively on a "need-to-know" basis at all times in the real world- and beyond the boundaries of your campus.

1) There will always be a very few who will want to understand and succeed in doing so.
2) There will always be a few more who want to understand but will fail.
3) Leaving the vast remainder who will not understand, not want to and expect- or demand that you conform to their way of thinking. Even if in fact it's not neurologically possible.
 

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