Posted in Autistic Identity, leadership, Self-Care

Masking, Anxiety, and Other Everyday Woes of the Autistic Woman

I wrote a piece yesterday that I set back to private regarding a parent-student interaction thing.

I walk a tight line with confidentiality and trying to help inform other leaders about Autism in education.  I think I was alright with that post, but if I get “outed” by identity, my school is so small, each player in that post will be instantly recognizable.  That’s not okay.

While that post gave me some good feelings because it helped me to justify why it will be okay whether the child in question stays or leaves, I have spent all of today in Autistic overload due to anxiety.  I don’t think it’s because of the post per-se, but because of dreading the follow-up conversation with a neurotypical parent which will happen tomorrow morning.  As a Catholic institution, we remember that parents, not schools, are responsible for their own parenting decisions.  It is his mom’s right to do whatever she sees fit, and I do applaud that right because I profit from it as a parent of a homeschooled child.

But as an Autistic who lives with anxiety as a “normal” fact of life, the implication that I know less about her child’s neurology than she, herself, or the neurotypical establishment doctors know, hurts me, too.  (By the way, Autistics, for “fun” look up anxiety symptoms…you’ll probably find you live like this ALL THE TIME.  It’s actually NORMAL for you, so you don’t think these are actual conditions neurotypicals do NOT experience all the flipping time and if they suddenly do, they ask for help.  Who knew?)

Here’s more on anxiety and masking: the endless cycle.

I have so many worries that fuel my anxiety.

The implication that I am a “bad” principal because of my actions in this matter, my attempts to help all my Neurodivergent children, worry me.

The worry that if I fully out myself to this parent (she knows my family is Autistic, but I haven’t mentioned that I am), my neurotype will be used against me, is definitely involved.  My presence as a token Autistic in a leadership role is constantly on display among those who DO know I’m Autistic.

That my Autism has been used against me as a weapon by a group of parents who left the school (which Father keeps telling me, we’re better off with them not here anyway) reminds me how neurotypicals view my Autism as a defect, not a gift.

I worry that I will not be able to do this job for long and wonder about what I will do to help support my family.  I worry that my students will not have another person who really understands their neurology to lead them because such a person will be impossible to find.  True allies to us Neurodivergent folk are rare (and we are questioned anyway by their neurotypical caregivers so much, it’s little question why we give up after so many assaults) and a neurotypical ally will find far, far greater pay and benefits elsewhere because he or she would have the spoons to lead at a bigger, wealthier school.

In the end, I worry most of all that the neurotypical parents will never allow me to help them raise their children.  I worry we will close because I can’t do the things neurotypical principals can do.  I worry because I have to mask with these parents in a way I don’t have to with their children.  If I mask, or pretend to be neurotypical, too much, too often, I will burn out.  I have been feeling burnout coming on the horizon for months.  I (barely) pull myself back from the edge each time because when it’s just the kids and me, we are not under attack by a world not meant for us.  I have times of calm.

But to have so much stress, so often, about something about myself I cannot change and (ordinarily, assuming the world was better set up for Neurodivergent folk like me) would not change about myself anyway is not ideal.

It is also not ideal to not be able to lose weight because I cannot both work outside the house and have the spoons necessary for diet and exercise.  It is not ideal to not be able to clean the house very often because I don’t have the spoons necessary on my days off.  It is definitely not ideal to skip Mass because I cannot leave the house on Sundays, and dread going because when I do go, I am at work and therefore on display and asked work-related questions.

It is certainly not ideal for me to have to take graduate classes to provide structure to my off-school time because I have learned if I am busy, my less-than-clean house is socially acceptable.

It is DEFINITELY not ideal to have one’s own anxiety increase due to guilt over not being able to do all of the things that I am supposed to be able to do.

I am increasingly questioning my desire to go back into education, even temporarily, because of the extraordinary requirements for masking required, even in a Neurodivergent-friendly school like my own.  I want to fight to do anything to save my school and my students, to give them this utopia where they can be themselves, but I don’t know if I can do the masking required everyday to keep this up much longer.

In the end, though, the only other thing I can do really is write, and writers need day jobs to survive, financially.  This is unquestionably the best place for me to be working right now.

But I feel meltdown coming, and it’s too long until Thanksgiving.

I know the anxiety would be helped if I could exercise more, and eat better.  I know this.  I know that my stress reduces when I have a cleaner house.  I know prayer helps me to de-stress as well.

But I can’t do what makes me healthy and work full-time.

This constant stress and anxiety is typical for Autistics in general, but worse for Autistic women because the stakes are so high for being female in this society.  We have to look a certain way, keep our homes a certain way, and cook and all while parenting and holding down full-time careers besides.  We have to do all of these things, and we do not have a fraction of the spoons available to neurotypical women who already are stressed out trying to balance all of these things.

And most of us Autistics do all of these things bringing home a lower salary than neurotypicals in the same professions because we can’t keep up with the social demands of the higher-paying jobs so we can’t afford to buy the things (cleaning service, healthier take-out food, etc.) that could help us function more closely to a neurotypical.

I will be better once this horrible conversation happens with the parent, I know.

Until the next time.

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