Improv #12: Funny You Should Mention That…

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Image text: “Pretending to be normal, doing your best to act like you’re ok, day after day, week after week, month after month, it’s just so exhausting” over a woman crying.

For anyone wondering, the Thanksgiving turkey turned out great. Cooking a turkey is like cooking a whole chicken. If you want to practice before next year’s big day, cook whole chickens. Then, do the same thing on Turkey Day for about 3-4 times as long. (Also, turkey enchilada stew and buffalo turkey sandwiches feel much more like a “change” from a week of all-turkey, all-the-time than the standard turkey pot pie and stews that are usually recommended.)

Unfortunately, my Partner sent our only photos to his parents when he last spoke to them. Now there’s a remote chance they could someday identify me as the author of this blog if I recycled those pictures. I used an herbed-butter rub and baked the bird with roasted vegetables for aromatics. The pictures, through the magic of Google image search, could theoretically be vaguely identifiable. Every picture of the same natural feature looks about the same. (I did some digging to prove that to myself before posting Iceland pics last year.) As long as I pick out different photos for his parents and my blog, I can share travel photos here and still keep my worlds separate. But, I can never share the same photos, or my worlds might collide, right?

Not really. All Thanksgiving turkeys also look about the same, so there’s nothing truly stopping me from posting the same pictures here except my ingrained need to keep my worlds separate. There’s nothing except my ingrained need to control to whom and in what situations I reveal just how not normal I am. I am still masking in most of my life, and, though it sucks, I don’t think I’d know how to fully unmask in daily life if I tried. Unmasking hasn’t been safe in childhood, in my workplace and in advocating for my neurodiverse sibling within a regressive, systemically abusive state.

I am not open with my Partner’s family about my diagnoses. They know what they can’t avoid knowing. I mean, it’s kind of hard to hide that their son testified in an abuse case. It’s a matter of public record, so definitely google-able. But, for the most part, I have hidden the impacts of abuse as far as my own PTSD and dissociation. I have never shared that I have ADHD. Though they aren’t Evangelical assholes like his extended family, they are stuck in a culture and a generation that doesn’t understand – or perhaps should be better stated as doesn’t choose to understand mental health, trauma or neurodiversity. I mask with them as an automatic, unconscious defense mechanism.

I belong to an ADHD peer support group. I found it when I was looking for ways to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the face of all that the 9th Circle of Hell kept throwing at me this year. I tried multiple support groups, and it was the only one where I didn’t feel like I was masking, probably because it was the only one wherein everyone was neurodiverse. (Also, the group leader spoke to the community center where it meets about how keeping their elevator locked and making me go ask for the key every time was discriminatory towards chronic illness, while I had to leave a trauma group around the same because they refused to accommodate dysautonomia/EDS.)

It continues to amaze me how much those with ADHD still think of their neurodiversity as somehow a personal failing even as they acknowledge it isn’t for sister diagnoses like ASD. It continues to amaze me how many neurodiverse ADHD individuals feel like it’s okay for me to call myself a spoonie because I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome alongside ADHD, but don’t feel comfortable claiming ADHD alone as a “spoonie” diagnosis. I’ve had group members act apologetic when they talk about lacking spoons, because it might offend me as someone with a “true” spoonie diagnosis, or stumble over describing their failure to mask – and its very real lifelong consequences – then trail off because they “don’t want to imply it’s as bad as ASD” because “obviously they have it so much worse…”

The most empathetic people I have met about other diagnoses are the hardest on themselves for the same traits. ADHD shares most of the social, emotional, executive functioning and sensory issues of ASD. The literature took awhile to catch up to realizing it, but we absolutely do mask, too. When I first started blogging, I shared the same hangups, but two “traditional” spoonie diagnoses and a whole lot more systemic abuse later and I will argue down anyone who claims that ADHD isn’t a spoonie diagnosis, or that it doesn’t share an equal place under the neurodiversity tent with ASD.

I know it does because I don’t feel safe sharing the same turkey pictures that were shared with in-laws who don’t “get” neurodiversity. I also know that because – during that same conversation – my Partner shared that I am now performing semi-regularly as part of an indie improv troupe at venues around our city. I’ve made it to the big leagues, if the “big leagues” can be defined as “events you have to buy tickets for on Eventbrite.” (I’m definitely not main stage cast, though, so it’s not that big of a league. But, it’s a bigger league than I expected…) This was the first time I’d felt confident enough to even let him mention that I do improv. While their response was enthusiastic, they were a bit befuddled. They admitted they have a hard time thinking of me as “funny” because I’m usually so “serious.”

After the inevitable initial rejection sensitivity spiral about how maybe I wasn’t really any good at improv, I realized something. Of course they don’t see me as funny. “Class clown” is one of the masks folks with ADHD often adopt to protect themselves from hurtful comments about their neurodiversity. But, it isn’t the only one. Mine has always been to double down on the things I am most afraid that my ADHD makes me unable to succeed at: the peer-reviewed scientist, the polite peacemaker around the family table, and the perfectionist. You can’t wear two masks at once, and it takes enough work to maintain the facade I usually adopt around those who don’t truly know me that there’s no space left to be silly. There’s no space left to reveal multiple sides of me, lest I reveal the things I’m most afraid will be used against me, too.

I just wrote a post about making peace with the idea that a cane might be good for me, but if you had to ask me which diagnosis has caused me more grief in my life, I’d still say ADHD. (Well, technically, I’d say C-PTSD, but since the abuse levied at me was often “justified” by the fact that I was a “freak” – aka neurodiverse – and/or was because others are cruel to the neurodiverse as a population, I think there’s a solid case to be made that neurodiversity contributed to that, too. Being ADHD is listed by name in many books I have read about who is most likely to be traumatized and dissociate.)

I love that the campaign to #TakeTheMaskOff has become a cause célèbre for the ASD community. It’s about time. I wish, though, that it would be formally extended to the entire neurodiverse community. We all mask, not just those with ASD diagnoses. Yet, my own type of neurodiversity hasn’t quite claimed our right to the campaign yet. I think we need to, for the sake of our own mental health and self-esteem.

I’d like to imagine a day wherein I have the self-esteem to share the name of my indie troupe, invite folks to buy tickets to our events on Eventbrite and share mouthwatering pictures of juicy turkeys without feeling like it risks ripping off a mask that I still need to survive in this world. I’d like to be able to eventually #TakeTheMaskOff, too, but that means first making it clear that I and others with ADHD have to wear one to function in neurotypical society, too.

Oh, and also:

*Knock knock*

“Who’s there?”

“The Masked Avenger”

“The Masked Avenger”

“The Masked Avenger who?”

“Just that. See, the mask is so you don’t find out anything more. Don’t you get how this hiding my true identity thing works?”

“Oh, right, carry on then. I’ll resume pretending I don’t see any strange similarities to that girl I work with, because four-color comic book worlds are so much socially simpler than real worlds.”

Image Text: Celebrate neurodiversity with rainbow infinity symbol.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

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3 thoughts on “Improv #12: Funny You Should Mention That…

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