I have no idea what’s typical. I had a really great job interview today and, while I’m feeling energized by having participated in some invigorating conversations and also hopeful at the prospect of finding myself in a new job that actually values me, I am already dreading the crash I know that’s going to hit tomorrow. Or the next day. Or, most likely, Sunday, when I’m supposed to be spending time with my family. Is foreseeing myself in a low place, resentful of the laughter and general noise around me, resenting my family, is picturing this more likely to make it happen?
I feel like I put on my corporate persona as a costume. There’s definitely some code-switching that happens: I inject the corporate jargon I know their looking for, being careful to repeat the same buzzwords that I heard them mention and also some industry synonyms so they know I understand what they’re talking about when they use the buzzwords and not just parroting the language back to them. But there’s more to it than that, even. I make sure to widen my eyes and make plenty of eye contact so they know I’m not only attentive and engaged but confident. I widen my mouth and make sure to smile a lot. I keep my pitch low while keeping my tone more upbeat and also making sure to avoid up-speak where I can, intentionally ending sentences definitely to convey more confidence and let them know definitely it’s their turn to speak. I lean forward as much as I can but not too much. Careful not to play with my hands but also not remain so still as to be unnatural. I avoid negative-sounding language but still remain honest because I am not conning anyone. These are all conscious choices but it’s not an act as much as it is camouflage. I know that I belong here but I need to do all these ritualistic things to curate my appearance so that you also know I belong here.
Does everyone do this? Is everyone thinking about themselves in this way at all times while still remaining attentive and engaged enough to answer questions intelligently and also remember to ask the questions I need to ask? Is this masking?
It’s not like these behaviors come naturally to me. I’ve been in the corporate world for 16 years now and in that time I’ve had countless conversations with managers about these specific behaviors. I realize now but didn’t know then that I was receiving feedback but I would hear that my tone was too flat. I used to confuse the words effect and affect until I heard so often that I had a “flat affect” that these two words fell into four discrete boxes with axes based on vowel and part of speech, with the vowel “a” intersecting with “noun” to describe my general demeanor of what I was told was disinterested, bored, disengaged, annoyed, serious, and even angry, among a whole host of descriptions that all came as a shock to me, thinking I’d been enthusiastic and cheerful. I was lucky enough to have the privilege of a corporate job and a caring manager who would brainstorm with me on ways I could adjust my presentation so as not to be misinterpreted.
I meant to only reflect for a little while but it feels like I’ve been typing for hours. All I wanted was to record this experience. In a way, I have been thinking about this as recording evidence of my autism so I can later show anyone who says “but you seem so outgoing” or “you seem so social” or “you’re too successful” or I don’t know what they say but I feel invalidated all the time and I sort of want to record these things so I can come back and say See? Is this enough for you? Can you finally see me for who I am? But then that feels disingenuous to me so I feel like I also have to adequately record my doubt. If it turned out that I did not have autism, how would I feel? I’ve only recently come to latch onto this diagnosis because it feels so much like home but it’s not the first time, is it? I was convinced I had Bipolar II at one point because my depression had been so cyclic. Looking back, I think my depression has been heavily influenced by my environment and as my mood has dipped I can simultaneously track where my environment has shifted to be less supportive. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like a fraud. And maybe I am a fraud. And maybe that would be ok but I need to figure it out.
What is abundantly clear is that I need to get out of my head and get out of my house and be around other people, neurodiverse or otherwise. But it would be nice to also be cultivating a sort of tribe or community or chosen family, too. That feels too big for me. I guess we’ll see.