Breaking through the mask

Once I had finally found a therapist with Asperger’s Syndrome experience (so much so that Asperger’s was the topic of her dissertation), I was beyond excited. At last, I thought, someone who will understand.

During the first couple of sessions, Dr. Gia and I worked through my most recent (at the time) relationship that had crashed and burned. I explained to her what I had backward mapped out (over roughly 6 months) as to why everything had ended. We also talked about the struggles my parents were going through and what (from years of backward mapping out their lived experiences) I thought were the main contributing factors to their current situation. And during what was almost our last session, Dr. Gia proceeded to tell me that there was nothing about me that was Autistic and that she thought that the true issue was that I was an empath or a highly sensitive person (HSP) and proceeded to tell me that I was a beautiful soul struggling to survive in a world that did not prioritize or truly appreciate honesty. Though I appreciated the compliment, it was not what I was wanting to hear. I was spending extra time and money trying to figure out how to function better in situations that seemed to come almost naturally to other people in my life.

Dr. Gia explained that empaths were people who cared deeply, who felt the experiences and emotions of others as their own, and they were always wanting to learn about whatever other people were talking about (i.e., if someone mentioned or carried on a conversation about a topic I didn’t know much about, as an HSP, I would then go home or at that moment start looking that topic up because I “needed” to know). And though portions of the description made sense, her example of “needing” to know information only held true if I was interested in the topic at hand (i.e., one of my special interests).

So after that session I went home and started looking into what an HSP was, taking online tests, and comparing an HSP to someone with Asperger’s as they share some characteristics. But the further I looked into HSPs, the further I was convinced that I was not one, and the more convinced my best friend Rose was! After more than a month of researching the characteristics, tendencies, and anecdotal descriptions of both HSPs and women with Asperger’s; the more I was convinced that the persona Dr. Gia had created for me was fundamentally flawed. Yes, I was good at retrospectively mapping out situations, but that didn’t mean that I could understand that situation as it occurred, Rather it was my obsession with human interactions that allowed me to start learning how to act in certain situations. But, if I did not have an existing framework for how to respond or what the next logical next step was, I was pretty much stuck in that moment.

In fact, in the previous relationship that dominated the first few sessions with this therapist, I went to his apartment and literally said “I do not understand what the protocol is here.”

Armed with research and examples of why I did not fit the HSP description and why I fit that of the Asperger’s and Autistic Spectrum Disorder, I was determined to explain to Dr. Gia that the persona she had created of me was based on my ability to mask. And then, by the grace of God, the Universe, chance, or sheer luck, I got sick (with a cold).

My body was exhausted from lack of sleep and fighting off the infection, therefore, during the (virtual) session with Dr. Gia, I showed up in a way that I had not previously. I did not have enough energy to fulfill the mask that I usually inhabited and Dr. Gia said that the Paige she was seeing that day was not the same Paige she had seen previously and apologized for not recognizing my struggles sooner.

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