The Importance of Unmasking- Charlotte's Story
By Charlotte Faulconbridge
I’m Charlotte Faulconbridge, and I am an autistic prize-winning poet, published author, and musician. I also have a debilitating chronic illness called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Why mention my chronic illness in a blog that focuses on autism? Because believe it or not, the two are directly connected. I am passionate about raising awareness on the importance of unmasking and unveiling our true authentic selves to the world, for reasons I shall explain in this article.
I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis when I was 14. A year later, I was diagnosed as autistic. I always get asked why my chronic illness was diagnosed before my autism, (as autism is a lifelong condition you are born with, yet you can become physically disabled at any stage of life) and the reason is actually fairly simple when you think about it. My chronic illness was physical; my autism was invisible. Within less than a year of displaying physical deterioration to my health my chronic illness was diagnosed, but it took 15 years to conclude my autism diagnosis. 15 years of masking, rendering my identity mute, and trying to banish my individuality just for a chance of being able to fit into the world around me,
whilst the truth lay undetectable.
One of the most common autistic traits, typically found more in girls than boys, is our frightfully good ability to mask. Masking also explains why girls often receive their diagnosis later than boys do. I knew extremely early on that there was something different about myself that divided me from my peers in most aspects of life. Differences that I was penalised for by those outside of my family home. By a young age I learnt that being anything other than ordinary attracted lots of unwanted attention, so I found that the best way to become invisible was to suppress my quirks. Compliance is the most effective mask, as no one notices the child who is angelic, who is kind to everyone, who fades into the background of normalcy.
‘People said she was sun soaked,
Warm and kind.
But in the name of people pleasing,
She, was burning inside.’
- Excerpt from the poem ‘Sun Shy’ by Charlotte Faulconbridge
Due to over a decade’s worth of suppression and restriction, my body suffered a
“Unexpressed emotions never die. They are buried alive and will come forth in later years in uglier ways.”
- Sigmund Freud
I woke up one morning, trying to get out of bed and ready for school, and found that I was unable to move. My bed felt like quicksand, and no matter how hard I struggled to move, I couldn’t break free. At the time I weighed 8 stone, but I felt like I weighed 18. It soon became clear that I was unable to support my own bodyweight. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk. It was like my body had completely shut down over night. I went from being a competitive dancer and ice-skater to being wheelchair bound and needing 24-hour care. It was the most terrifying time of my life. The number of young girls who are developing physical health conditions due to autistic masking is currently skyrocketing because of a wide misunderstanding of the connection between physical and mental health. To understand this connection, you first need to know about the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis for short!) The HPA axis is a complex neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many of our internal body processes such as digestion, our energy, and our immune response. These processes are controlled through connections between two glands in our nervous system,
the hypothalamus and pituitary, and our adrenal glands. These glands produce hormones, and when these hormones get unbalanced, many body systems and functions, like the immune response, can be negatively affected. When the immune response is affected negatively it can start attacking itself as it cannot distinguish between mental stress and a physical threat to the body.
Having spent years researching the neuroscience behind this physical response and my autistic traits, I wanted to play my part to enlighten and educate those who are unaware of the damaging consequences of masking by unveiling my own autism self-acceptance journey, so I decided to write a book about it. In my book, Too High to Function, I document the good, the bad, and the socially ugly parts of living on the spectrum.
Although written through autobiographical accounts of my most awkward moments, my most challenging conquests, and my most epic existential crises – really, this book isn’t about me. It’s about autism, the power of the mind, and why we should celebrate all the weird and wonderful things about it so we can encourage others to show their true, authentic, unapologetic selves to the world.
Too High to Function is available at: https://inclusivecreatives.co.uk/
Keep up with Charlotte here; https://www.instagram.com/charlotterobynf/#