Unmasked: An Aspie Coming Out Story

Hi! I know this seems awkward, but let me introduce the REAL me. For years, I always wanted you to perceive me as “normal”. I always yearned to be seen, heard and have my blog be a space for you to validate my existence. I invited you to my world, where I openly expressed my interests in all things fashion, beauty, health, travel and pop culture, plus stuff I’ve learned in life. I looked like any other girl, I wrote like your everyday girl, yet I never shared a side of myself where I could have a space to share who I really am behind the keyboard on this blog.

Nine years ago, I started blogging in high school. I tried to be the fashion blogger you craved to see, but I was shy to share about myself. Though I had what it took to dress, my style was in its early formative years and I was trying to find what worked for me. I thought I could be like any other fashion blogger in the day, but I was not as quirky nor was I edgy enough to win fans. Given that I changed my style when I moved to LA for college, I had to put blogging on a rest as I ran out of ideas on how to present myself.

Embarrassed at my lack of expertise, I started blogging again. This time, I was ready to launch myself as *the* blogger my teen self wanted to be in NYC. Fashion, beauty and lifestyle were the things that attracted me and I felt that it was about time that I shared my interests. It was so great to meet other girls who were just as stylish and confident, but there was something that held me back: I was hiding a BIG secret.

That big secret was my Asperger’s, a condition under the autism spectrum I’ve been diagnosed with when I was a baby. From delayed speech to having to build my social skills from ground zero, it was an extremely challenging time for me throughout my childhood and adolescence. I never told anyone that I had it despite being listed in my class roster for my teachers, who saw it written in black and white under my photo every year. I desperately longed to be normal, but it was hard for me to express myself verbally. Since fashion magazines were within a shelf’s reach at the library, I had to hide myself through fashion. Looking at photos of celebrity style and editorials from Teen Vogue and Seventeen saved me. My hardcover copy of Style A to Zoe, plus reading Who What Wear and Rookie helped me feel less alone when searching for style inspiration. Playing virtual dress up on Polyvore helped me to create an alter ego and hide behind the screen. Fashion helped me find a voice so no one could talk badly about me; however, I had been bullied for dressing on-trend until high school, where I was named best dressed for the yearbook. Yet, no one knew that I had Asperger’s.

In college, it was the same story. Being around new people and a new environment was strange and depressing. Being away from the people I knew sucked. Having to make new friends from scratch scared the shit outta me. I had to see a therapist by my side to help me adjust. Although I did have an Aspie roommate in freshman year, I still felt alone in my struggle to make friends on campus as I was shy. I built a wall through a persona to mask my insecurity with who I was. I outed my condition to the student newspaper just to get myself to be more at peace with this condition, but I still was not at peace with accepting it as I thought that I’d merely outgrow it as a child. Going into my early 20s was a complicated time for me as there were a lot of things I had to outgrow, readjust and adapt. I almost considered dropping out of college because I was unhappy with myself. Thankfully, being a radio host on campus brought me to meet a new community of young creatives that inspired me to come out of my shell slowly and push me out of my comfort zone. But, I still never really told anyone face-to-face about my deep dark secret despite landing internships and networking my way through the music scene. Like Princess Fiona, I didn’t want anyone to find out that I carried a secret “curse” (a.k.a. Asperger’s).

If there was one thing that I felt improved my condition, it was a blood and allergy test done by a doctor who specialized in autism. By revealing that I had a gluten, egg and dairy allergy, I realized that I wasn’t eating right for my body as it can’t process the proteins from those allergens (this link doesn’t say eggs as an allergen for autistics FYI). By going allergen-free, it’s been greatly beneficial with less brain fog and higher levels of energy in order to concentrate at school as how I ate related to my ability to process learning new info in class. Given that I had my tests done in LA, having access to GF and DF menus at restaurants and on campus was something that helped me to have less food anxiety. When I didn’t get those things, I got terrible anxiety over the fear of passing out as I literally crashed and/or got stomach upsets and bloating after eating high doses of gluten and dairy, then blame myself for eating the “wrong foods”. On top of that, I did IV cleanses and pushed myself to go vegan and GF to improve my health. Luckily, I was able to go vegan and GF on most days. But if I had no choice and there were no substitutes, I had to counteract the allergens with a probiotic to eat beforehand so I could digest my food. Thankfully, having a diversity of alternatives in the States helped me to survive eating out. However, coming back to Asia was a hurdle as some restaurants were inflexible to accommodate my dietary needs and/or didn’t offer alternatives. In Asia, allergens aren’t seen as life or death situation whereas in America, it’s taken more seriously. It was hard for me to unwrap the LA mentality of going GF/DF as I had to disclose my food sensitivities to friends anytime we ate out. I’m thankful that I have friends who understood my dietary needs, but it brought me into a hiccup while traveling abroad as there were a few who mistook my dietary needs/restrictions as complaints. It brought me to realize that I’ve let my Asperger’s fully unfold in action as Aspies like myself like to express their particular needs and demand to have them. I had zero intention to upset anyone, yet it was a rude awakening that not everyone could tolerate me for choosing myself over pleasing them and/or understand my needs as I never shared the motives behind my dietary discomforts. The same issue popped up on dates as I purposely picked restaurants that had GF/DF options as I wanted to eat food that could accommodate my condition. Then, I asked the guys if there were any food allergens as I didn’t want them to feel pressured into eating things that they weren’t comfortable with as it happened to me before (not in date settings though). I could’ve told everyone about my Asperger’s and how that was linked to my diet, but again, I felt embarrassed.

As a result of being raised in a people-pleasing society that emphasizes likability and politeness, I fit into neither categories as I don’t aspire to be liked and I prefer to be honest about myself even if that might unintentionally upset people. Asking to be liked is an exhausting task I’m currently outgrowing. Having to bend myself backwards and sugarcoating my discomforts just to go along with everyone cost me the chance to be honest with myself to others. Being more confident with speaking up about my discomforts is something I’m currently working on as I realized that I don’t have to please people by staying silent or be afraid of being perceived as “difficult” for speaking up. Though the fear of “troubling” people is still in me, I’m currently working on unlearning this mindset as owning my truth and asserting myself isn’t a trouble to others. Having to mask my truth just to appear “normal” is costing me my peace and that’s something I feel guilty of as I have always valued authenticity and it’s something I’ve been preaching to you. It might seem “selfish”, but being honest with who I am is the most selfless thing I’ve ever done. My outlook has cost quantity “friends”, but what I receive in return are quality friends whom God greatly blesses me with. You, my dear reader, have been a blessing as you’ve seen me grow throughout the years and I am grateful for the fact that you’re here to allow me to share my struggles about Asperger’s. 😀

Sharing my story on my first podcast interview with Something Private is an opportunity that I am honored to have and appearing on a podcast is something that’s been on my bucket list! Although I did talk about Asperger’s in Elle Singapore, Galore, and Vice Asia, I have never been able to share more intimate parts of my life with you. It has truly helped me to come to terms with accepting it after years of not being at peace with my own identity as an Aspie. Being open with my truth in such a public way to you is the best thing I’ve ever done as I hope to offer you comfort, love and a reminder that you aren’t alone in your struggles as we are all humans. I hope that my choice to live and own my truth confidently will inspire you to live your life, too. ❤

xoxo

Michy

P.S. I hope you enjoy the podcast as much as I do!

Published by

Michelle Varinata

Lapis - (n.) a layer Shrek once said that "onions have layers" as he was peeling one. Like an onion, I have layers. Born in Jakarta and raised in Singapore, I grew up being surrounded in a multicultural environment. Then, I moved to the States, where I lived in NYC and L.A. The creativity, hustle, bustle and vibe of those cities inspired me to become a blogger, journalist and influencer. Writing by day and living it up by night, I slay in the streets one OOTD at a time. Full-face makeup included, too. ;)

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