Words That Dance: Finding My True Self Through the Masks and the “Mania”

Words That Dance

Written by Linda Tuxford-Adams

I have always loved words – the way they dance in my mind and weave themselves together into a rich tapestry of nuanced, layered meaning.

The way they feel in my mouth, the feeling of finding just the right combination of delicious fancy that truly captures the flavour of the experience, the images dancing in my mind.

I started reading at age three and escaped into the wonder land of books.

I remember my room was my favourite place. Under the covers at night, escaping into the rich world, following an author’s mapping of the complexity of the world they had created. My mind created it, and it was truly more beautiful and fanciful in my imagination than out in real life.

But as I grew, quirks that were once endearing began to be stamped with other words like, ‘off in her own world’, ‘not paying attention’, ‘too sensitive’, ‘too emotional’.

I remember feeling deeply, and all through my being, the emotion of the moment.

I remember crying when they shared a logging video at school. I resonated with the pain those trees were experiencing. I wrote poetry that talked about the tedious helplessness of folding socks that would separate and get lost, in a similar way to how my carefree childhood felt lost.

How I felt lost.

The empathy was crippling at times. I wrote a story about a puppy and a pet store and the pain he was feeling as person after person walked away, abandoning him, but with each new person, he kept trying and thinking, ‘Maybe this time, maybe they will love me enough to stay.’ So telling, such deep and nuanced thoughts in such a young mind.

My eyes sparkle as I recall the bright, gifted little being with joy and compassion – more now, but that has been a long and continuing healing journey. To have been in the presence of such an iridescent being, having them in your care, a mind so responsive and eager and connected would have been a joy to work with – and to some teachers I was. I had learned, by then, how to be a ‘good girl’ in my family.

I had mastered the characteristics I determined were the most pleasing to everyone. It was a series of patterns and reactive camouflaging that I’m still unlearning today. But with words and stories and language, I could access and reveal glimpses of who I truly was.

My authentic being would peek through, my essence, who I really, truly was, a glimpse into the mysterious and enchanting wilds of my mind, another world I could escape into.

But then the outside words grew louder and more insistent that I be a different way. The rules became more complex, more nuanced, the existential dread. I had lived in my head, in the blissful, unrestrained imagination of my mind.

Then my body morphed into “a thing” that drew lasers of attention I didn’t want, and demands for my behaviour to match it. When, in my mind, in my being, I was truly still a child. I didn’t want to leave here. I didn’t want to play the teenage games. They confused and exhausted me. I liked it in here. But then, the constant failure. I began to notice how much I was ‘getting it wrong’. It was like I had been blissfully unaware of the judgement of others, but the messages started getting through. Like the light had been turned on, and I was standing there naked, vulnerable, a target.

All that I was, was wrong, that I needed to get better, do better. My own judgement and instincts – which I followed blissfully for so long – now wrong, immature, not okay. Words as whips, flagellating, demanding compliance became ‘do better’, ‘be better’, ‘stop that’. Crippling perfectionism whipping and gouging me into shape – and it worked. I got the A’s that made me feel like a worthy person for a moment.

I ‘passed’ as normal enough to survive through the gauntlet of adolescence and ‘MacGyver’ together some sort of functioning adult life. But not without cost, not without deep wounds and constant hypervigilance.

Whipped and gouged both internally and externally, to escape abuse of being different, I disconnected with my true self. I masked and became whatever they wanted.

The ability to mimic – adjust tone, voice, look. Then the reading. The constant reading, scanning, studying, to tweak myself, to “get-it-right”– became second nature, like a reflex. I became whatever was needed – and so convincingly it would confuse people. I could fit in anywhere as long as I stayed on the periphery. Just seen enough.

The mental gymnastics it took to maintain this level of adaptability amazes me as I reflect back. And all the while, I grew further and further away from my own body, and my true self.

I had buried myself beneath a millinery of masks. Trauma after trauma hit my being like waves as I stumbled drunkenly from one episode of ‘failed adulting’ to another. It was like the rules for how to be in this world were written in Swahili and I was constantly, constantly exhausted trying so hard to make it all work. My ability to regulate my emotions kept fatiguing in shorter and shorter amounts as the plates kept spinning, ever spinning, always needing me to keep them going. They never stopped. I was traumatised, in constant flight and heading towards an explosion of supernova proportions.

Then I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on mood stabilisers – and it all just stopped dead. I mean everything, everything about who I was, deadened … muted.

The passion to write and draw  was now pathologised as a sign of mania. On these “fixers” the creativity tap that had been my comfort was shut off. I remember that, quite vividly, as a huge grief and loss.

Just as Van Gough had to be labelled “mad”; to create such beauty – I had to sacrifice my creativity to be “sane”. My coping mechanism was now a trigger, whenever it tried to fight its way into my mind to rescue me.

Ten years of more meds and masking and fighting to try to regulate – not understanding that sensory overload and meltdowns and shutdowns were normal responses of my overwhelmed Autistic brain. And then burnout, and finally as a beaten, exhausted worn-out husk of humanity with all my adaptation stripped away … they could see.

It was Autism all along. I was not broken, I was not damaged, I was just different. I had been born different. And now after a long crawl back to life, I am reconnecting with those lost parts of my self, reaching out for their streaming apron strings in a delightful chase.

A race I cannot lose really, because it’s me and she and they and parts of me – they can gleefully run and hide as we play this delicious game of rediscovery.

And I am ok just as I am, with all of my weirdness. I am reunited with that young part of myself who has been exiled for so long. I owe her nothing but my undying devotion to make up for all the years I shut her away.

Linda is a late-diagnosed AuDHD ciswoman with C-PTSD. She is a PACFA-certified Counsellor and Educator who is passionate about nurturing and supporting Autistic wellbeing and empowerment for fellow neurodivergent adults. She is the Founder of Neurokindred counselling support for Autistic adults (also on Facebook and Instagram) and the Facebook pages Quirky Musing from a Neurodivergent Mind and Rainbow Hub. She is also a mother of two and loves World of Warcraft, journalling and multi-media sculpture.

Image credit: ‘Misunderstood gypsy child’ by the blog author and artist, Linda Tuxford-Adams


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The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Amangu, Awabakal, Bindjareb, Birpai, Whadjak, Wiradjuri and Yugambeh peoples.

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