Pretending to Forget (and other autism masking tricks you don’t know)

“And you said you just got a new dog — I forget which breed. How’s she doing?”

No, I remembered.

It was a Blue Heeler. I remembered laughing inside, thinking it was ‘Blue Healer.’ And I also remembered, because I’ve seen them before. Their color isn’t actually blue. It’s like a blue French Bulldog. Or the color ‘merle.’ It’s a pattern. And I remember them (Blue Heelers) as Australian Cattle Dogs. I often think of them as Australian Blue Heelers. On this one, I wasn’t sure whether the full name was used. But people seem to just go with the shorter version.

Point being: I remember.

But see, that could scare people. It often does. People mention these throwaway details, the appurtenances of the story, like they’re the barely noticeable accessories of the narrative. The “big thing” I’m supposed to remember.

And that’s the expectation: when we go through the small-talk dance, I am expected to go through the motions. To remember “new puppy.” No – she was adopted. So, “new to them.” It was important enough to mention, but not critical that I remember.

But I do.

Pretending that I don’t is just autistic masking.

It’s almost like an anti-mask. Either which way, there’s very little room to wear it right.

If you remember too many details, you’re a creep. Too few, you’re a dummy. Too precise, you’re a robot. Too imprecise, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The Life Autistic is an exercise in finding when to pull back or pull over this mask. And that is a tiring endeavor.

I’m working my way out of that.

The other day, I asked a stakeholder how their newer cat (a Hemingway, which I knew, but didn’t mention) was getting on with Louie (whose name I did mention). Those are specific details. It’s specific enough to be off-putting to most, especially since those two cats don’t come up in every conversation.

But I remembered. And I’m going without that mask more often.

Here’s some of the masks you’ll likely never notice — except now you will.

Feigned imprecision. People ask me about numbers. I’ve learned to be more “round.” It’s 25%, even if in my mind I know it’s actually 24.73% and am thinking that in my head. It comes out as 25%.

Limited depth of interest. You ask about my current favorite artists: I’ll stop at three. If I’m feeling my more autistic self, then I’ll check my list and give a dozen. That’s too many. Then it sounds like I’m just showing off. I’m not. I just listen to a lot of music.

Simplifying. I’ll try to use simpler words. I don’t always say strident or vituperative. Bitter is fine. And, y’know what, no — strident is a good one. I’mma use that.

Unmasking is an ongoing thing for me, for other autistic people. It’s been such a long exercise that it almost feels part of me — too much so. I’ve used the phrase “drill in” and almost forgot that I’d reflexively say “inculcate” instead. My ambient music lists would often once run deeper when compelled; now I’ll usually just say “Steve Roach, and, well, stuff like that.”

This is a process.

The dog’s name was Velvet.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — and follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram as well.

If you want to know more about masking, you’ll enjoy this:

What You Tell Yourself at Day’s End

Memory is a scheming demon. A strange and warped aperture, altogether tinted more in dolorous hues, monochromes, quicker to drain itself of color and hollow itself down to dampened bark and snuff out the obvious verdure.

There are many hard days in autism.

And coupled with hypercriticality, hyperintrospection, and a whopping dose of imbalance toward scathing self-talk and distorted reflection — we often misremember every single day as a hard one.

I know I do.

It doesn’t take much for my mental oxen, resolute and routine creatures, to be veered into a ditch—cart, goods, wheels, and all—at the slightest daily shakeup, misconstrued feedback, tonal ambiguity, cloudy days, sleeping in 4 minutes late.

And there we are, up from the shallow crevasse I peek, hearing those horned beasts low confused, grimacing at skidded furrows as far as the eye can see. Never mind the many days in which the path was narrow, trod firm and straight.

Don’t mistake me for an optimist: there’s a lot of ‘not good.’

But I’ve become better at mental optometry: there’s a lot of ‘not bad’ either. I’m getting better at this in my old age.

Seeing others succeed where I do not: these are not the slights they used to be. Furiosity and frustrations within my orbit: these are not always intended for me. A bad morning-afternoon-evening: these are just the days that feel longer. They are not longer.

Thus far, at each day’s closing bell, whether it took a minute or a millennium, I realize I can tell myself this one thing.

“I did make it through this day.

It’s one of the harder things in the moment for us autistic people. I’ve had ‘patently normal days’ where minor subterranean quakes to routine foundations send pain up my spine and attack with exclamation pointed PANIC! Honestly, I still get derailed by the dumbest things too.

But thus far, I’ve made it through every day. Maybe not always at 100%, and sometimes perilously close to 0%, but I have made it through 100% of my days on this terrestrial plane.

I’m hoping to start working on my long memory here with this. To etch even the simplest day’s successes in stone. Notch those rocks.

And though my autistic critical self often wills the iron quill, I should more so scribble and write off the bad days in the inky puddle, where I’ll reminisce far less, remembering that there bad days I’ve penned away here.

But they don’t compare to even the milder days, where I survived and did much better.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram.

Oh, psst, hey, if you missed my latest video, come check it out! I promise it’s worth thirteen minutes of your day – or else you can have your money back:

Why I Don’t Make Resolutions (and what I make instead)

I don’t do resolutions for a new year, because it’s more in keeping to break them. To joke about how soon you’ll fail. To join the masses in abandoning the resolutions to dissolutions.

Even last year, I think I made one offhand in a meeting about how I was learning to do more things left-handed — while that may be true, I didn’t really chart my progress, track my goals, or celebrate my resolution once complete.

I can wave much better left-handed, yay.

For each new year, sometimes I’ll set a goal, something SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound), sometimes I’ll establish a habit.

My weight loss goal was one of these: I started that habit early, and I went from whale to walrus within 9 months — that was powerful.

But it was powerful for another reason:

My best resolutions are habits.

Me being autistic me, once I lock in a habit, it’s hard to break. And it’s amazing when it’s a good habit, like eating right, exercising, financial discipline (or delegation!).

And then the other powerful thing:

The best resolutions don’t always coincide with a new year.

Like this channel, my blog, health, journaling, advocacy, and so much more — I didn’t set about the year with those major milestones in mind. They just happened from good habits, and I’m glad they did, irrespective of when I set about them.

So where does this intersect with autism?

Well, I may have set about baking in some goals and habits for 2021. They aren’t things that will be “accomplished” or “celebrated,” but I can look back and be grateful that I’m using my autistic tendencies for and against myself.

One: Don’t quit.

Hunter, you’ve gotta be joking —

Nope. Despite all the moment, self-care breaks, troughs, nadirs, I find I can usually lean on my autistic “powers” of momentum to carry on, keep the routine, press on, etc.

But what if I just couldn’t?

Now at least I have one more arrow in the quiver, an extra bootstrap to where I won’t be letting myself down when I deserve to press on. It’s an easy goal. Keep trying. Keep at the writing. Keep with the channel. Never stop attempting new things. Be kind until it hurts. Don’t quit.

Two: NO MORE NUMBERS

Yep, I’m leaving my data and analysis career to — NO NO NOT THAT — THAT IS A JOKE.

I realize I’m a mild obsessive over things, measures, success criteria. The details stand out. And the patterns, and the numbers.

If a blog, a post, reel, or video doesn’t have numbers, then I feel like I’ve become attached to the wrong thing — it dampens my mood, casts doubt on my worth, and tailspins me far more than it should. That’s a normal, human thing, but then being autistic, it’s hard to headspin out of it.

Later this year, I realized that if the numbers make me sad, then they should be making me happy.

And for me, that just isn’t right. It’s not what I look back and celebrate or enjoy. Seeing a number go wild isn’t what “does it” for me. It’s the conversations, the engagement, the people given hope and help.

I’m going to go beyond the numbers this year and beyond. I apologize for not celebrating those with you, because there’s other things we should be celebrating. I hope you’ll join me in those instead.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram.

I appreciate you reading! I’m including this video for your amusement, because I hope that a “stretch goal” will be to UNMASK more this year. Here’s how this gets started O_O