This is something that a number of people have said to me over the years, and I like it but also it makes me think.
I have never, deep down, changed all that much since I was a small child. I have always had a strong sense of social justice, of right and wrong, I have always been honest (sometimes to a fault). I can be enthusiastic and optimistic even when I am feeling low. I often find myself speaking truth to power. I see the world quite clearly. I think these are the things that have never changed, and I hope will never change.
I have changed, daily, in countless other ways. Every time I leave the house I change to appear less autistic and less like a person with mental health difficulties. If I can’t put on the act that day? I don’t leave the house. Why is that? Because I feel the pressure of the constant expectation that I *will* change for people.
My natural self, who I am when I am alone with the cats, varies wildly but on the whole is probably not who the vast majority of people would recognise as me. I stim almost constantly – swaying, rocking, clicking, bashing my hands together. I am mostly in total silence (I don’t like having music or radio on), but I hum and groan to myself sometimes. I talk to my inner people who are chattering all the time but who I rarely feel able to talk to in public. I sit in the bathroom listening to my audio stim of the white noise of the shower. I pace up and down for hours. I spin. None of this means I am not well and need medical attention. It is just how I process.
When I leave the house, I generally suppress most of that. People might notice the odd rocking from side to side, or the odd hand bashing, but it is the tip of the iceberg of a movement that is happening under the surface that is screaming for release. If I ever seem tense socially, then this is why. I am concentrating on my social mask so hard that I actually make myself ill when I do it for longer than about 2 hours.
My social exhaustion has gotten worse as I have gotten older, and as a couple of traumatic things happened with my physical illness and with splitting from my best friend. Also, having reached greater psychological integration means that I have a far fuller inner world, and I am not dissociated from my body (and what it feels) any more. Due to all this, the amount of feelings I have moment-to-moment has gone up from a few years back, and I need to physically work those feelings out and through my body.
So, when people say “don’t change” sometimes I feel sad because I am changing, all the time. I am stopping myself from being myself with people, either by acting or by just not leaving the house. My core self won’t change. She is the one who sees life very simply, and is my innermost being. But my surface self is constantly changing.
Over the past year, I have slowly started to be myself more with certain people. I have noted that not everybody likes being presented with a ‘raw self’ socially, but the ones who do are people I will cherish for a long time. I now have some autistic friends who I can be much more myself with, and that has been totally relieving. I wish that I could show people more of what it is to be a person who is autistic and has mental health problems, because I am not ashamed of it. I just fear harm and judgement. I want to work towards a world where this isn’t so. I aim to do this one stim and one statement of (my) truth at a time.