I have over the last month or so been reading Unmasking Autism by Devon Price. Devon is a trans autistic social psychologist, writer, activist, and professor at Loyola University of Chicago’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Price’s work has appeared in numerous publications such as Slate, The Rumpus, NPR, and HuffPost and has been featured on the front page of Medium numerous times. Price lives in Chicago, Illinois, and is the author of Laziness Does Not Exist: A Defense of the Exhausted, Exploited, and Overworked. I have a lot of respect for the author and his book has got me thinking a lot. Especially as someone who is still coming into the shoes of being Autistic and ADHD.
I have always suspected I was on the spectrum of neurodivergence but I grew up with parents who didn’t believe in “any of that mental stuff”. Because of this, I procrastinated ever getting it checked out until 2020. After a lot of searching and a lot of extra hoops (state insurance doesn’t make it easy) I found a therapist and began therapy.
It is extremely surreal and disillusioning to be an adult learning you have ADHD, autism, bipolar (I/II), or another mental “illness”. It can make you reevaluate all the happenings in your life that made you who you are. That could be bullying you experienced, the way you responded to certain situations, the relationship dynamics you had, and the identity you created to survive. All things that you thought you had a grasp on and created a language to understand. It’s not something I think someone can truly understand without having experienced it.
In chapter 3 The Anatomy of the Mask Devon breaks down what it is to “mask”. Masking is essentially what someone who is neurodivergent but in particular autistic does to present themselves in a palatable/non-offensive way to allistics (people who don’t have autism). These masks can take the form of being an endless people pleaser, coming off as more standoffish, or trying to imitate those around them. And, to quote the chapter, “in order to maintain their mask and compensate for the challenges they’re facing, many autistic people fall back on an array of self-destructive and compulsive coping mechanisms. Including substance abuse, calorie restriction, excessive exercise, emotional codependency, and even joining cults”…
With that in mind, I want you to think of some communities that socially accept a handful of those things. Go ahead I’ll wait.
What about the fitness or strength community? Most of what I listed above is present and even encouraged! And furthermore, people outside of the fitness or strength community will also applaud you for it.
One of my athletes who also has autism at one point made a wild claim on their socials that every weightlifter must be autistic. And while that was obviously overexaggerated. I am thinking more and more there is something to that “wild claim”.