Autism, Friendship, Identity

When I was 11, I had a crush on a boy who was a year younger, a boy from my church, and we also went to school together. Liking a boy in a lower grade than oneself was a thing that was simply not done, and so I concealed our puppy love, until it came out, as such things always do. My friends at the time both teased me for going out with a fifth grader, and embarked on a mission to flirt and lure him away from me. They had me coming and going, mortified, jealous, and exposed.

But that’s only kid stuff. Not like the time in college when I broke out of my usual mode of strict privacy in an attempt to bond with some girlfriends, trying to copy the way they forged their social bonds, by participating in a frank sexual conversation. And then one of them later repeated something highly personal that I’d said. Loudly. To a large group of acquaintances. In front of me.

I don’t mean to be oversensitive, of course. Maybe I was being overly sensitive too when I started my first blog, pouring out my innermost thoughts, kind of like I do here, but anonymously. It was something only my fellow anonymous internet bloggers ever saw until I worked up the courage to send the link to a close friend, the closest friend I’d had in years (maybe ever), to see what she thought, and she flatly replied, “it’s not you at your best.”

I should say former friend, because later that person sent me a letter informing me that she no longer wanted to be my friend, because she wanted to move on from me. That was not the first time that happened to me, by the way. It also happened to me the summer before seventh grade, a similar letter in the mail telling me that my friends had decided to be my friends no longer.

But, hey, I misjudge people sometimes. Like that time in my early 20s when I quit my job, and attempted to retain a friendship with one of my coworkers, sending her an email after I’d left, and including (again, oops! I never learn) a link to my blog. In hindsight, of course, I can plainly see how profoundly NOT my friend that person was, but at the time it didn’t cross my mind that she might cross me. She never replied, but another former coworker did email me, to tell me my “friend” had forwarded my blog to every single person in the company and they’d all laughed at me together and joked that I was crazy and in need of psychiatric help.

That’s the first time I’ve ever told that story to anyone but my husband, by the way, because for several years I couldn’t even think of that episode without feeling humiliation and shame nearly as fresh as the day it happened. I had nightmares about having to return to the company to work there again, for years.

Still, you would think that by age 30 I would have developed a better radar for trustworthy people. Instead, at that stage of life I found myself being dumped by a close colleague I’d worked with intimately for a few years. We were partners in business and, I thought, friends outside of work, until the day – which seemed to me completely out of nowhere – she told me coldly that I was nothing without her and she didn’t need me anymore. Nothing. It might sound like a House of Cards parody now, but it didn’t feel funny as I stood in a parking lot and wept uncontrollably, feeling like the unprofessional child she’d told me I was, but unable to stop myself crying.

Hide everything you care about, hide the things that matter, hide all of your feelings, hide your true self, because letting people see you is dangerous.

Humiliation and shame. Those are recurring themes in my social life over the years. The life lesson learned is to hide. Hide everything you care about, hide the things that matter, hide all of your feelings, hide your true self, because letting people see you is dangerous.

Hiding is an early instinct for autistic people, I think. Because it only takes a few rejections and betrayals for us to note the pattern: expose yourself and you may be hurt. Because we have an intense drive to protect ourselves from pain. Because we often can’t tell which people, places, and situations are safe, so it’s best to just avoid risking it, and to hide our most valued things, our most intimate selves, out of sight.

The trouble is, this is unsustainable. Because like any other human being we long for connection, and so eventually we’ll do it again and take a risk. Like Charlie Brown agreeing to kick the football (a thing I think Charles Schulz well understood – I suspect he was autistic too), we always will end up trying again, one more time yet again, to let ourselves be seen and hope that this time people won’t pull the football away, and let us fall flat on our backs, and laugh.

Sometimes it becomes a weird feedback loop where, because we are hiding, we find ourselves surrounded by people who only actually love the false fronts we put on. Like my former friend who told me my innermost feelings were not “me at my best,” to these people our “best” side is the side we show to please them. This is not a deception, however; we have fully internalized the belief that we must try to be this “best side” of ourselves, the one that earns the approval of our family, friends, teachers, colleagues. We want to be at our best, don’t we? And so we push those embarrassing other parts of us down, out of sight, and we hide.

I still hide, all the time. I hide the things I love, the things I’m passionate about, the things that delight me, the things that I enjoy just for fun’s sake. I hide the books I’m reading when they’re about social justice. I hide the video games I play on my phone because they are probably silly. I hide the guilty pleasure TV shows I watch late at night on Netflix.

I hide my blog in plain sight. That might sound baffling, because it’s a public blog that I write under my real name and I actively promote it on social media, but I also pretend to myself that my loved ones don’t read it. I just try not to think about them ever seeing my words. I never send them links to posts I write, I don’t talk about blogging, I cringe to mention the word “blog” in front of my own husband. It’s not that I don’t want them to know the real me, it’s that I’m embarrassed. I’m afraid. I can’t even let myself think about how exposed it makes me feel because if I think about it for too long I feel tempted to just delete the whole thing. Retreat. Hide.

I don’t have a solution for this; I expect that I never will. I’m just trying, now, to at least stop feeling ashamed for the times that I let myself come out of my hiding places.

When I was a kid I used to read Peanuts in the Sunday paper, and when I was very young I believed there was a chance that someday Charlie Brown was actually going to kick the football. Why not this time? It could happen, right? And then when I got a little older I just felt angry at Charlie Brown – why did he keep letting Lucy trick him, he knew she would pull it away, why did he even try?

But now as an adult I know that Charlie Brown would always try to kick the football one more time because that trying again was part of who he was, and that was one thing no one could never take away from him.

19 thoughts on “Hiding

  1. I think you are wonderful, and incredibly brave.

    I have turned to fiction writing to reveal the personal truths I can’t confess more openly, but I am working on all of these exact (EXACT) same issues. I read your post whispering yes-yes-yes-yes-yes, and finished reading, in tears.

    Thank you for speaking up. It doesn’t matter if you keep your blog private from family. You are reaching, and creating, a different kind of online family, and I think that should be just fine.

    So thank you for reaching out to make the human connection, no matter what. Charlie Brown always showed up, no matter what happened with the football, and that’s why he’s the hero of the comic strip, not that old Lucy 🙂

    All the very best to you Erin.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I only know you through your writing and drawing, and through the fact that you’re attached to a person who I know to be awesome. So I’ve only met you through the ways you’ve chosen to show yourself here. And I think you’re wonderful. I like the you that you share here very, very much.

    Please keep being you. I feel safer being me when I witness you being yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel your feels so hard. This is me. I put myself way out there under pseudonyms for autism stuff. I put myself out there under my real name for trans stuff. I daily invite strangers to criticise me. But I don’t let anyone near my art, my writing, I can numb myself to everything only if nobody ever sees the vulnerable bit of me that feels.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can relate to a lot…Ive moved my blog at least 4 times…especially from family members but they always manage to find me or I get naturally sloppy or comfortable and then BAM…used against me as a weapon…But I wont stop writing because it is also a part of me and I have connected to beautiful people too and people like you who make the world a better place. Luckily I have also found a small tribe that so far has not betrayed me and made much clearer boundaries…unfortunately a member of my tribe just passed away…and she was the only one in a set of people…:( its hard sometimes…but I love the few who are loyal also now I see so much more value in myself…and thank goodness.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That is so me! I don’t talk about autism on my blog but about my passions, which means I have no followers but a bunch of people who read it for the information they need. And my run-ins with so-called “friends” — the story of my life. Kids who pretended to be my friends — and I always fell for it like Charlie Brown with the football, induced me to do things ranging from cutting my hair off in sixth grade (at that age, it was bullying for sport) to unwittingly transporting drugs for the school dealers when I got my driver’s license. I wrote a novel for middle schoolers based on my experience, to try to make something good out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh no! I wish I could go beat up those people for you, except I don’t have the heart to actually beat anyone up, so effectively that would mean standing there glaring at them for a minute for so, which is actually fairly unnerving.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow. You just detailed what I’ve always done without realizing I was doing it. I just discovered I am autistic last year after my 13 year old daughter’s diagnosis. So very many of the traits that earned her her diagnosis were things that I had always dismissed with, “I did that when I was her age. She’s fine.” This is one of those things. Turns out we both have so very much to learn about ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So relate to these points..I hide then want out then hide again. Failure scares everyone one point or another. I found this post thru caffeinated autistic. I’m recent New to blogging myself @ Chocolatecoffeegrinch.WordPress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is so true for many out there. I found your post thru the caffeinated autisic. I’m New to blogging through my business communications class at ‘s CD.I can be found at Chocolatecoffeegrinch.WordPress.com.Have a blessed day.


  10. Gosh, that felt so much like I’d written that myself.
    I’m a senior and I still haven’t worked out who to share with, what to share and when and where to share things and myself.
    I’ve retreated into hiding again due to living alone and finding it too risky for people to know too much about me and my life.
    Seems there are way too many predators on this earth who seem to zone in on us.
    Must be some kind of aura or vibration we emit.
    But I”m liking my “privacy” as I now call it and realise that in this day and age it’s a prized commodity.
    But up till a few years ago I did keep geting back on the horse or kicking the football as you put it, so I so relate.
    It made me quite teary to remember it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I understand this completely. I still hide, but I don’t feel guilty about it anymore (at least, not most of the time). There are only a few people in my life (a lifelong friend and my three children) that I can be completely honest with and not be constantly guarded in my interactions with them. It’s actually exhausting, keeping everything inside, but confiding in people outside this small circle is not worth the anxiety I suffer for it, whether justified or not. Even so, I keep doing it, sometimes after I’ve scripted NOT telling that very thing. It’s a paradox.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yeah, we all wear our masks and are not able to truly show who we are. We always hide in some corner and don’t want to be noticed as what we really are. But are we really weak if we show our true colours, or are we strong, because we can show the world that we are able that we can be weak sometimes?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Beautiful. Painful. I have got so used to hiding what I care about and what I both can and love to do for no particular reason than the love of it, that I mainly convince myself most of the time. Then when overload comes along, as it does every so often, I realize that most of what I do is really not what I love or would put myself on the line for. I am mostly convinced people would not like the large ‘real’ side that I don’t willingly share or allow to be vulnerable, and yes, it mostly runs on the mechanics of the fight or flight sensation, even when that makes no sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Erin, this post sounds EXACTLY like my childhood in Detroit. There, if you showed any sign of being different or having ANY kind of issue, people poked fun at you. Kids were terrible. So I started hiding things about the real me and acting like the people around me. I pretty much faked my way through sixth through 12th grade. Now that I’m an adult, I try not to hide as much but I even do it at work. I pretend I’m like the rest of them. I try to hide that that I am different. Then, I didn’t know I was autistic. But now that I know, I’m still a bit wary of revealing that to other people. My mate knows about it because she was there when the therapist went through the list with me, but I even hide from her because I’m still that child who had to build brick walls around herself and conceal that she wasn’t the same as everyone else.

    Seriously, when I saw Frozen, it was my feelings about life in a Disney movie. Especially Elsa’s end of things. Conceal, don’t feel. That sounded exactly like the mantra I told myself growing up. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let anything different show, make one wrong move and everyone will know! Is the sum of my life. This post really rang true with me. It is amazing to find others who have experienced the same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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