How social media failed to work and later started working. Hopefully…

I was unaware of social media until 2007, when a person I’d been friendly with at University who’d come over from Hong Kong invited me to this thing called Facebook, that I’d never heard before. He was one of a small number of people I had something approaching a friendship with at the time.

I got the concept of what it was, and that I could find people I knew with profiles and pictures and comments about what they were doing.

I started to see people I’d come across at university and started looking up people I’d known from school. Then as it seemed to have spread through work already I added more people. It was a bit strange for someone who was still socially isolated. I had this naive idea I could use text communication to get around my difficulty with conversation, but I soon realised the downside that social media could have for me.

For example, I found all the boys who had been the group I sort of hung around with at secondary/high school and considered friends. At the time I was aware of them having more of a social connection outside of school, but once numerous pictures came out of the woodwork of them still hanging out, pictures from each others’ weddings – you know, evidence that they still wanted each other’s company a sort of realisation dawned that actual friendship had somehow been missed.

There was also the issue that almost no-one actually thought to look me up. It was just me trying to salvage the threads of a connection I obviously never had. The only chap who did message me and say hello wasn’t even one of the people I’d regarded as a friend as such!

To be fair, they were interested in hearing from me, but even so, I could see it was on the level of “someone I used to know but wouldn’t have occurred to me to get back in touch with.

It was the same as my life in general. It makes me feel like I was a sort of ghost floating by while other people had relationships with each other. Did I really exist as an entity in the minds of people I’d thought were companions at one point?

As time went on, I’d accumulated all sorts of people on Facebook I wasn’t interested in. Just junk from people’s lives. A colleague is playing a pointless game and this happened.

I started to drop the people I knew at school. Nobody noticed. I left colleagues at work for a while because it seemed impolite to drop them, but I believe when I was made redundant from that job I was tired enough of Facebook to completely delete my account.

So starting again, a load more people were added and I still thought I could get round normal conversation using text or reacting to things on Facebook.

What the FB feed looked like was pictures of people being normal, having friends, saying hey look at me with my friend eating food! Look how fun we are! We’re enjoying being normal and social and you’re just watching through this portal.

I deleted my Facebook account twice and re-added people, removed them again. I ended up with something like 12 “friends” and never looked at the damn thing.

What’s really annoying is that after I was diagnosed as autistic, I was so triggered and annoyed by Facebook I failed to notice it had moved on to provide groups for interest and even mutual support. I could have typed “autism” or “Asperger’s” into the search field for years and uncovered an enormous community.

In late 2017 it dawned on me that I could look up specific groups for autistic people and found people like me. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a difficult start and ended up dropping it again for a few months. Overwhelmed by the amount of content, got a bit too involved with some individual’s problems and didn’t find the right groups.

However recently I went back in again and it seems to be a lot more positive.

Yet I find it interesting that I was so embedded in using Facebook as a way to bypass social difficulties in reality, I completely missed the idea that there were so many people I could engage with online. I could hop over all the NT bullshit and just engage with autistic people on our real challenges that most NT people can’t be bothered to listen to or understand.

I think what went wrong with me and social media is an indication of how stuck autistic adults can get in the pursuit of being accepted by NTs and miss opportunities to connect with the right people. There must be so many more autistic adults like me out there who haven’t had the same epiphany and are still struggling to try and work their way through NT Facebook.

Another perspective on masking

I have been affected enough by the #takethemaskoff campaign that I decided to actually do something about writing. It has been spearheaded by some remarkable autistic people I wasn’t aware of until a couple of weeks ago, among them Agony Autie, Neurodivergent Rebel, The Autistic Advocate, and Autistic Not Weird. I’ve mixed up the names of their pages with their actual names but you are more likely to pick up their public facing portals on Facebook…

In the interest of getting something written the following might seem a bit fragmented or like a draft…

I have never had a consistent mask or characters that I use to make people like me or be more accepted. My tendency has been to be dragged into being social by some specific people who have taken a liking to me. I have learned the hard way that this isn’t always a good thing. In some cases you might make a genuine friend, but often it’s a case of being targeted for someone else’s purposes.

The masking I end up doing is then an effort to mimic the other person for the sake of company. Attention from someone is enjoyed when you are largely lonely, but it can be a slippery slope into being far too dependent on the one person who happened to want to make an effort with you.

Masking for me is reflecting or summoning another person’s behaviour, maybe just a part of it. Something from my father, or mother. Some posture comes out from someone I observed.

This sort of effect was really made clear to me from the writings of Donna Williams, who explained characters in Nobody Nowhere. It was further expanded upon in Like Colour to the Blind, where she explains how she made an effort to shed all the accumulated mimicry from her life with her then-partner who was also autistic.

I read that book years ago and it’s taken me years to properly identify what to do about achieving the same thing. Why? The pressures of still having to keep a job and look after two children.

The habits of masking just operate when under stress. Only a great presence of mind can allow you to perceive what’s going on.

At the moment I am very anti-social because I have so little enthusiasm to use masking anymore. I don’t even want to start off a conversation with “how are you” with people I don’t know very well as it will start off the masking system.

Masking isn’t just about navigating small talk either, it is also suppressing emotional distress, resisting the intense desire to just get away from situations I’m forced to tolerate, the constant onslaught of noise and visual clutter and people moving about.

That tendency points to a core conclusion. The “compromise” with the world is all in one direction. I have to choose isolation because few people give me a way in. It feels like the way it is requires me to engage dishonestly or be ignored.

It emphasises the difference between me and the rest of the world. The actual me would like to share intense focus on something or talk in detail about psychology. I don’t know how people can be satisfied just talking about the mundane. Constant validation of sameness.

But you see the masking that’s either consciously developed or just forced upon me by trying to survive the world drains the mind so much that the intense interests that sustain me keep atrophying.

Masking is self-destruction. A negative death spiral.