I haven't been myself lately. I'm at this time of my life when I'm living what a good friend would have called "functional autism". The autistic, antisocial self is taking over. Life, however, demands some form of social interaction all the time. There's a need to work, a need to wake up during the day, to move around with other people. So even if the inner self calls for some alone-time, that is just not possible.
To survive, we allot a special place in our brains that would serve as our sanctuary - pristine, untouched, unseen. It's a place where we can hide, where we can retreat when the world's troubles engulf us. It's a place where we can be alone even if we're in the middle of a crowd. I find myself retreating into this place more often than usual the past several days. I have this crazy but familiar compulsion to withdraw from the world, to just curl up in a corner, to put a gag over my mouth and just stay in the shadows unmoving.
During these times, when the inner self is safe in that sanctuary, the external self wears masks. The mask of a smiling, completely functional, sane, reasonable individual. Just like a white coat or a stethoscope, or perhaps they're part of the same gear, made for the same purpose. With that mask in place, the self is able to respond to situations requiring attention, much like a plane's autopilot. A patient arrests - intubate. Cardiac monitor shows ventricular tachycardia - cardiovert. An attending asks questions - give the best answers. All done without feeling. All done without memory.
While the self is in that sanctuary, sound asleep.
The past few days, I've been having this trusty mask on. Sometimes though, the weary self becomes manifest. Symptoms include terse answers to simple questions, empty looks, episodes of absence seizures, inability to do non-routine tasks, anhedonia, claustrophobia and agoraphobia. It takes considerable energy to talk to people and extraordinary effort to act normal. But as it goes, the world has no room for dysfunctional people. The mask of normalcy, aahhh, perhaps that how it should be named, should be called on for the sake of survival. And mine, though a bit defective, still somehow serves its purpose.
And the inner self, well, it's still in that secret corner fast asleep. In an ICU recuperating or a looney bin undergoing rehab, steadily recovering. For now, functional autism will suffice. But this mask of normalcy I'm wearing will certainly be on indefinitely.