I’m a chameleon — a fly on the wall. I settle into the background of a new environment, observing, taking things in, working to sort out the “expected behaviors” for any given situation, strategically plotting out the rules for conversational engagement in my mind like a game of chess.
Don’t misunderstand my intentions. This mask wasn’t created to impress anybody. It’s something I’ve constructed for self-preservation. When you naturally stand out, survival can depend on your ability to blend in.
Many autistic people experience their world and emotions intensely.
Often, I’ve found that my experience of an environment, be it sensory or emotional, is never in line with the non-autistic people around me.
I find myself holding my feelings in. In the past, when I have shown outwardly the way I feel inwardly people have comments like “you’re overreacting” or “it’s not that bad” – causing me to feel as if my feelings are better hidden.
Despite being a highly articulate adult, I sometimes struggle to talk about my feelings and emotions. I’m a VERY visual person. Feelings are not visual. My memories are visual, and I think in a very visual way, so concepts that are hard to visualize require more work for me to grasp.
Before I received my autism diagnosis, I had run myself into a bad state.
I hit what many autistic people call “autistic burnout.”
I felt perpetually on edge, mustering just enough energy to get through only the demands of work before coming home and crashing. I quit any hobbies that required me to leave home, and stopped working out, as I fueled my anxiety driven, sleep deprived, mind with unlimited espresso from the office breakroom.
That pattern wasn’t sustainable. A person can only push so far before they break. Our bodies and minds need rest and recovery time like engines need oil changes and tune-ups.
I’m lucky a health scare got my attention because it led me to my autism diagnosis. I’m grateful to have stumbled across something written by an autistic adult as I worked (for months) with doctors, desperate to figure out why all of my un-named childhood ailments had suddenly returned full force. I remember thinking, “What if it gets bad again? I won’t be able to hold a job. I have to stop it!”
Years later, my life looks very different.
I’ve stopped fighting against my autistic nature.
My autism diagnosis empowered me and gave me the vocabulary necessary to better advocate for my needs. I also changed my diet, lifestyle, and career.
I thought “it” was some sickness taking over my body, but what I found was something much different.
My brain had been sending out desperate signals, begging me to stop the abuse I’d been putting it though. There was no sickness or enemy to fight, just an abused body in need of rest and recovery.
With the new supports in place, for the first time in my life, I feel as if I am thriving – not just surviving. Dark days of pre and early diagnosis are still near in my memory.
I can’t help but wonder how many others felt the same pain.
In the typical fashion, I head back to Twitter’s portal and type in the online autistic Bat Signal #ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics #TakeTheMaskOff harnessing the internet’s power.
Screenshot text: Masking is coming home from work and needing the entire weekend to recover. You have no life outside of work because you are too burnt out all the time. #ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics – what is masking to you? #TakeTheMaskOff #AutismAtWork
Masking is something I have done almost all my life without even realising until recently. I’d liken it to a compulsory 24/7 acting gig which I only get to quit once I’m at home.
For me, masking was learning the correct social inputs for desirable outcomes. Talking to most people was boring, stressful, and unfulfilling, because it was just a trial-and-error procedural task, and I didn’t personally connect to any of it.
April Farmer, @MonthOccupation
Masking is feeling that no one truly knows you because you don’t dare be your complete self around anyone. They only know parts of the whole.
Kat Humble, @AutisticUK
Masking is when I use observation, imitation, scripting, and mental energy to process interactions and keep up with people. It means having to decompress and recharge after a long day. If I’m not careful I may need an entire day to recover.
Valerie Burzynski, @vburzynski
Masking even now means that it’s not obvious when I am struggling with something. Even when I say it I think I can still look far too ok because of all the masking practice.
Sal Freudenberg, @SalFreudenberg
Masking is sliding on the ice barefoot and bloody, pretending you’re skating.
Brooke L. Nilsson, @NilssonBrooke
Before I knew about autism, I was as friendly as possible at work, and felt exhausted by the end of every week — looking back, I suppose that was masking.
Most social events involve masking for me.
The mask only came off with my parents and wife, and now my children.
Masking to me is always having to fight for the help I desperately need, because people only hear the smart things I say, but don’t see the hard work that’s behind my facade of words.
Anne van de Beek, @Anne_typist
Read more #AskingAutistics articles by Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
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