At 40 years old, I found out that I might have been having a neurological condition, though I cannot (yet) afford an official assessment and diagnosis. In the meantime I shall call this condition “AS”. I spent time reading about “AS” and it made me realise that the signs and symptoms were prevalent throughout my life. It is like these writers know exactly how I have been living my life though we have never met before. I start this “Weirdly Wired” series to document about my life experiences with the symptoms which all these while I thought were “normal”.
Hello. Late to post this but it is important and I put a lot of thoughts in it hoping not to forget anything. It is important because this is one of the most (unknowingly) significant thing in my life.
I am always tired.
People say I look tired
I can sleep more than 12 hours a day and still be tired.
I may wake up after a 12 hours sleep and yet people say i look tired.
I thought I was unfit or lazy. But when I was fresh, people still say I look tired. Maybe the face and the eyes has gone weary over the years.
I always thought that it was called “adapting to situations”. Like how parents tell you to behave properly in various situations. And in more serious occasions you have to conform to the decorum. It is something that everyone has to do. Like when, “Being in Rome, do as the Romans do.” or “Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung”.
I have also attended many courses where I was taught and trained to act in different situations. You know those confidence speech courses, frontline staff courses, grooming and gentlemen courses, table manners courses, speaking, behaving, etc. There were many others who attended the courses so I thought that it is normal to “behave properly”.
Even though I felt extremely uncomfortable at times.
I thought i was just shy or an introvert or an ambivert or just lazy.
Those who know me well enough would know that I cannot make phone calls. I have to force myself to make phone calls. Given a choice, I would never answer a phone call. I would never call the food delivery hotline to order food many years back. Thank god for food ordering applications.
I cannot order food at counter. Fast food counter or hawker centre or restaurants. Someone else would order for me. For the longest time in my life when I started becoming independent, it was always the same meal every time I eat out. Chicken rice and coke. Nasi padang was always appetising but I don't know how to order them. Yong tau foo is a nightmare. Now we have self ordering kiosks at the fast food outlets. It is god's gift from heaven. Finally I can drink soft drinks for breakfast and not getting stuck with coffee or tea.
Being in front of the counter is already terrible, imagine being behind one. I hated it. I hated answering queries from people. I hated not being to answer them and had to trouble my colleagues who would later chided me and say something like, “so simple also cannot answer.” I hated the stammering and mumbling as I try to answer while forming sentences that keep getting distracted and jumbled with other information in my head.
SO WHAT DOES MASKING MEAN?
It basically means, applying a character. Act out a character to hide the real you. To suppress discomfort and awkwardness. Or simply to prevent yourself from behaving inappropriately. Even in simple situations like having a smoke break.
So in my 40 years of life, I developed a repertoire of characters and scripts for various situations. These scripts and characters are extremely well rehearsed in my head and I am always ready to use them once the situation happens.
Currently it has been a long time since i met people that i didn't plan much scripts for certain situations. There was once a foodpanda deliveryman sent food to me after I gave specific instructions to pass the food directly to me and not to be hung at the door. I didn't expect him to ask me “why?” and I didn't prepare a script to answer that. My quick reaction was to answer “if you hang it at the door, people along this corridor will take it.” Yup. That is how someone with “AS” will answer in a conversation and it will be socially incorrect but that was really the first thing in my mind. Even though no one in the corridor would take it. I just said it because my head was imagining a ghetto neighbourhood corridor at that time. In some way, I ended up lying and I hated it and it lingers in my head till today even though this happened many weeks ago.
WHY DO I HAVE TO MASK OR CREATE THESE SCRIPTS?
I guess a proper script to the food deliveryman would be, “So that I am sure that you didn't send the food to the wrong place and the food wont drop when I turn the door handle to open the door.” But I couldn't think of a socially correct answer on the spot.
I have to create these scripts and characters to not just survive and be socially not awkward but also because people make fun of me when I answer things truthfully. One example would be about the MRT track in 1988 which I mentioned in a previous post.
A recent example is during a rehearsal early this year. A co-actor asked me if I was trained in Silat. I answered yes. But I wasn't trained in competitive fighting. I was trained in Silat for stage performance. It was a truthful answer.
There was this lady in the room. Obviously she heard my answer though I didn't know that she did because she was sitting some distance away. Some moment later I heard her saying to a friend while sniggering about my answer. Something like, “People asked him if he is Silat trained, and he answered that he is only trained in silat for performance.” I have no idea why she was sniggering. I don't know if she was mocking me, or my answer was funny or what. This was a good 8 months ago and it is still bothering my mind. So I have to always curate my answers so that I will not be bothered for years or decades to come. I am 41 this year and I can feel that my brain is filled with all these “unnecessary” information and wonder from all the past years.
The lady reminds me of another situation. Sidetracking a bit to how people with “AS” prefer a rigid set of routine.
During the rehearsals at that time, a co actor shared with us some silat movement routine. I analysed and took note of her every step. And because I took note of it, I realise that she changes it every now and then. Maybe some of them are general steps with minor changes but I got annoyed with the changes. One time she was facing this way, the other time when she did the same step again, she was facing another way. I got annoyed because the same lady just now was laughing at me. I was very sure I didn't do anything wrong. The first few times, the co actor was facing, say northwards. I followed and faced north too. Gradually she changed to north east while I maintained north. How would I know that she would change directions at any random moment right? It may seem very very insignificant but these small changes in directions will accumulate to a very obvious difference.
So the first few times we did the routine, she ended up facing south. Those small changes accumulated, she ended up facing north west which was almost north. And she ended up saying that we will end where we started which is north. But initially she ended south. So when I followed her original routine, I end up facing south which means the opposite of where she is facing. I was very annoyed how no one realise that she has changed directions every time she showed us the routine. Maybe because it was very small. But like I said, accumulatively it would be obvious. So I ended up being the “wrong” person and being the one doing things “wrong” and facing the “wrong” direction. And yes, the lady mentioned just now, she continued laughing at me.
This has happened many times along the course of my life. I particularly hate dancing. Not only can I not coordinate my hands and legs (also mentioned in a previous post), but the choreographers somehow never realise that they keep changing their initial movements for us to follow. They somehow do not realise. Worse thing is, many others who were practicing do not realise as well. Maybe they do but they keep it to themselves because whenever I mention these to others, most of the time they will just say, “Ikut aje....” (Just follow...)
BACK TO MASKING
When i was younger, after national service and facing the world, i picked up human behaviours to blend in, without realising that I was masking.
There were things that I realised which were uncomfortable or wrong or weird but at that time I thought I was adapting and behaving properly according to situations.
This also included trying to be part of social circles. Times that I have to like what they like, or behave how they behave or eat what they eat or say how they say. I didn't like some things but I adapted to the way the world works. If you don't behave a certain way or dislike certain things or just simply put, different, they won't acknowledge you to be part of the circle. I had to play catch up to different people just so I am part of the circle. I wasn't trying to be in their good books or sucking up to them. I just thought that is how the world works and I have to behave properly like how you are in Rome.
I remember clearly, I hated the movie “Watchmen” but everyone in the circle loved it. They chided me because I didn't like it. And then they all hated “Merong Mahawangsa” but I loved it and got chided too. It was really very tiring.
As years go by, I realise, people like me when they just met me. Once they got to know me, they start to hate me or avoid me. I slowly realise I wanted to be my own self and stop masking though I still didn't know that I was masking. I thought I was being a hypocrite by behaving differently with different people. Once I became my ownself or accidentally dropped my mask due to fatigue or unplanned scenarios, people started disliking or avoiding me.
This includes circles, friends and relationships. I really felt like a hypocrite but I don't know what is going on. Why can't I suddenly say I dislike “Watchmen”? or I liked “Merong Mahawangsa?”
As for relationships, I got comfortable and trusting that I drop my masks. I am not a serial killer or kidnapper or some criminal. But without the mask, they can see my “socially inappropriate” responses. I trusted them so much that I don't have to hide my anxiety and depression and sensory overload and meltdowns. But to them, they just think that I am crazy. That I am always angry and stuff. I have to say again, I didn't know that I was masking. This also means, I didn't know that I was dropping my masks to people I trust.
I think these people just think that I am crazy or a hypocrite or finally showing my “true colours”.
MASKING WORKS AT OTHER TIMES
Because I took it up naturally, I guess it helped me with my acting. Again I have to say, this is without me realising that I am masking.
An actor found out that he has “AS” at the age of 77. He has won numerous acting awards and known to be able to memorise long lines word for word. I only found out that he could memorise many lines while I was typing this post when I got distracted and googled about him.
I told you before, this “AS” makes sense in my life as I realise now that I could always memorise quite easily if I want to. Isn't that what actors are suppose to do? I understand that some may have difficulty memorising but I get very annoyed when actors choose adlibing because they cannot memorise. I always that it's not that they cannot but because they are lazy to do so. 2 years ago I did a stageplay with a musician friend who has worked with me for many years and he still asked, “what computer chip did I install in my brain?”
I also enjoyed mimicking. When I just started acting and had many friends, they enjoyed seeing me do impersonations. I enjoyed doing them too. With years of being an actor, I have a repertoire of characters in my brain that I have observed from people that I can mimic, ready to apply them to the next role that I would act in.
As i typed this very sentence i did another google search
And yes.... it says exactly what I have been typing above while remembering my life though i have NEVER been to this site before. It says
Masking, which is also called camouflaging or compensating, is a social survival strategy. How it looks will vary from person to person, but masking can include behaviors like these:
People may mask “AS” for a variety of reasons, such as:
ANXIETY DEPRESSION AND FATIGUE
Masking causes anxiety and depression. I will explain this even more in the next post.
But generally, it is depression because after many years, some masks don't work and you don't know what to do and wonder why things don't work out.
Anxious to get out of the house or the safe place because I don't know if I have enough scripts and characters pre planned in case I need them along the way in the day. And if I do, have I rehearsed them enough.
Can you imagine how many characters are in my head and still anxious if I don't have the right one in a sudden situation. (Remember the foodpanda guy) Rehearsing them over and over again in my head 24/7. I realise now that it is also the cause of my excessive perspiration which then lead up to dehydration.
And so apparently all these causes fatigue. Include all these with the sensory overload that I shared in the previous post.
Seriously, you may have no idea how much energy i have to put to say an enthusiastic “hi!” in an online class. Imagine how it would be when it is done in physical class. The small talks. The socialising. The quickly running through the files in my head and to choose which script to say whenever someone i don't know says “hi”.
A few months ago, a lady attended my online class. I have never met her before. A few weeks ago I met her in person. By now I have already accepted that I have “AS” so I don't bother to mask or prepare social scripts. So we met and we said “hi”. I didn't plan any script or mask and just be myself. I couldn't look at her in the eye. I couldn't say anything else other than “hi”. I just smiled without looking at her eyes. She said that it was awkward. I said, “I guess I am an awkward person.”
On a personal note, it felt good not to mask anymore. But on a social note, I don't think she would talk to me again unless it is important. Which is the initial reason why people with “AS” mask.
BETTER TO AVOID THAN BEING AVOIDED
I avoid people now and I feel so much fresher. I still enjoy sleeping. I don't have to mask. Unless foodpanda or online meetings and classes and rehearsals. But i've been keeping quiet during rehearsals and only open my mouth to say my lines, so it's not so bad.
Avoiding people than being avoided is less painful too. How many people I have trusted and opened up to. How many people I have put up the wrong masks when interacting or making friends or socialising. Now I am just left with myself and maybe a handful of persons that I can talk different topics about.
At least no one (or less persons) would see my “hypocrisy” now, so it is good for us. So let's just do ourselves a favour and stay away.
NEXT WEEK : Anxiety Depression and Catastrophising
CATEGORIES : Weirdly Wired
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