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:

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