So, the delightful ladies and gent on this poster are doing a thing under the tag TakeTheMaskOff. I recommend following them on social media, they’re very interesting people.
Anyway, I thought I’d contribute in my own small way, with a blog post. I don’t know whether I’ll be doing one every week, it depends on what else I’ve got on.
Week 1: What is Masking? What is’t like to wear a Mask.
Masking is suppressing all the tics and behaviours that come with being autistic. It’s pretending you get the jokes and nodding along when people talk about reality TV, soaps and sports. It’s the forced pretending to be neurotypical, because not pretending gets you bullied, abused and sacked from your job.
I learnt fairly early on that I have to at least occasionally pretend to be ‘normal’, although I was never very good at it, and learning from books didn’t help much either. I was the weird kid at school, surrounded by people but lonely at university, and didn’t mix well with colleagues when I had jobs. The mask slipped too often.
I did manage to convince doctors though, who never looked past the consequences of masking – depression – to see the cause. Masking is tiring, and mentally draining. You always have to keep it up, keep pretending, and if it slips someone will tell you. I had a manager who thought telling me to smile was useful. Instead I just felt like crap because I wasn’t thinking about how I looked, I was preoccupied, but apparently I looked miserable and smiling would somehow fix that.
The only time it’s safe to take the mask off is when you’re alone at home, and it gets so ingrained that you can’t because what starts as a conscious effort to ‘be normal’ becomes a habit, something you do reflexively. You can never stop the act, because you don’t know how to ‘be’ without it. The Mask takes over your personality. Mimicry is a ‘talent’ some autists have, a tendency to copy whomever we spend a lot of time with, either to fit in or out of reflex, just a thing we do. Your personality becomes that of another person, it’s all part of masking. It stops diagnosis, because you’ve trained yourself to look people in the eyes and make small talk, and everyone knows we can’t possibly do that.
But at the end of the day you’re exhausted, and you can’t work out why you need absolute silence and twelve hours sleep, and why you keep having to take days off work or school because you’re exhausted. And if you tell anyone that’s why, rather than making up a convenient malady, you’re lazy and workshy, or weird. And it keeps going, on and on, day after day. Until it all comes crashing down in mental illness and burnout.