Autism and masking
Masking refers to hiding your autistic traits, i.e., appearing to be ‘normal’, or at least, trying to. It is something that is commonly misunderstood and seen as us ‘not being autistic enough’ if we can mask in certain situations. With little regard given to the price we pay for a short period of ‘masking’.
The autistic mind was not built the same as most of the rest of society, that means society was built for the masses, and not the minority of us with a neurodivergent mind. By that token there will be a gap between what our minds are naturally capable of, and what society expects of us. In certain situations, some of this gap can be bridged through ‘masking’.
A lot of us present different versions of ourselves in different situations, that’s normal. But masking is to re-write every fibre of your being to suit the situation you are in and what is perceived to be ‘normal’ behaviour and reactions.
As an example, I had to mask when I was in the office. That means while I am sat in that office, I am always hyper aware of being autistic. I have my guard up high and refuse to let any natural behaviour fall through the gaps. Don’t spin on the chair. Don’t click your fingers. Don’t talk because you may say misunderstand or not register what they have said. Be ready for noise and don’t flinch at it. Don’t pull away from the person training you if they sit too close. And the list goes on.
When I am masking the vast majority of my brain function is going to that masking. It is taking almost all of my mental energy to just stay in absolute control and only let through the behaviours that are acceptable in that situation.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes I mask terribly. It depends how much mental energy I have in that moment to how well I can hide my true autistic self.
I know there is an element of being lucky to be able to mask at all. A lot of autistic people will never be able to give everything to appearing normal. And I confess to sometimes enjoying the feeling of being able to be perceived as normal sometimes. However, masking comes at a cost, a big one.
When I am consciously masking it takes so much of myself to do it. I lose who I really am. I feel disconnected and at a loss. I feel robotic and forced. I see this shiny version of me from the outside. ‘Oh, she’s doing good, she is just standing and looking normal. She’s not crying or fidgeting’. It is a detachment from who I am. It’s exhausting. It reminds me that I am not enough as myself but I must encompass this forcibly fake existence that drains me.
Masking is possible in short doses, a couple of hours tops. But when you try to hold that mask on for prolonged periods of times it will fall, and it will cost greatly to have pushed it that far.
That is why autistic people need safe spaces. We need the majority of our lives to be ones that we can be ourselves. We need to let our guard down and be our true authentic autistic selves.
Masking is a cold feeling. It’s like there is literally a mask between me and the world. There’s the real me behind it, peering out. Wanting to be seen. Wanting someone to tell me it’s okay, to put the mask down, because I’m enough as I am.
Please embrace autistic people for who they are. Pretending to be something we are not is a cold and exhausting existence.
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