This Little Mask-Erade Is Over6 min read

It’s not that bad; you’re over­re­acting. Stop being so dra­matic.

How do you never get tired of that?

Can we just have quiet- doesn’t your throat hurt?

Quit doing that- people are starting to stare!

Make sure to not ever make that face again.  It isn’t attrac­tive!

Look at me when I talk to you!  Are you even paying atten­tion?

Don’t say that- you can’t tell people that.

You don’t ask people that type of ques­tion!

Why do you tell every­body that? No one wants to hear about that!

Brandi? Brandi? Brandi? BRANDI? Are you lis­tening to me?

While in the moment I may not have heard my mother saying my name, I heard every­thing my family mem­bers and my few friends have said to me.  I’ve heard it all.  I took it all in.  I learned from each expe­ri­ence.  What I learned is how to blend in, fly under the radar. Appear more normal.

Things are not always what they seem.  I do not enjoy being told I am being socially unac­cept­able.  I also do not enjoy people staring.  I hate the feeling that who I am with is embar­rassed by me being who I nat­u­rally am.  This is the reality of being autistic in a neu­rotyp­ical society.  So we learn to be less, well, us.  It’s a term referred to as masking.

Autistic masking is a phe­nomena that begins very young in an autistic per­son’s life, with studies sug­gesting that it may begin in infancy.  They begin to imi­tate and mem­o­rize the behav­iors of others in speech and man­ner­isms, attempting to be more “normal.”  Most of masking behav­iors are uncon­scious, that is the person is not aware they are masking until they learn they are autistic and what it means to mask.  It is a sur­vival mech­a­nism, and an aware­ness that being dif­ferent is a threat to ones’ safety, autonomy, and right to be heard.

The mask-erade is how I’ve decided to term my life from early child­hood until just recently, in my mid thir­ties.  Once and for all, I am unmasking.  The me that no one wanted the world to see will no longer be sup­pressed.  Because that is me!  I’ve learned there is nothing to be ashamed of and I’ve never been hap­pier.  Old habits die hard.  I’m still working at get­ting that girl back that has been hidden behind a thick mask, but she’s get­ting there.

Masked, I’d stopped telling people about my twin that didn’t develop all the way, because appar­ently that is not polite or rel­e­vant con­ver­sa­tion.  Unmasked, when I feel the desire to bring it up, I bring it up.  I feel that is a big part of me and don’t under­stand why I should refrain from sharing when I so desire.

Masked, if I’m spoken to and do not under­stand, I will smile back, or laugh– basi­cally match what­ever reac­tion the speaker has, and add in a head nod or mutter, “Really?” in an attempt to hide that I did not under­stand what was said.  Unmasked, I admit that I don’t under­stand.  Now that I ask for clarity and truly do come to an under­standing, I’ve become very sur­prised to learn how off my inter­pre­ta­tions often were.  Communicating takes a little longer this way, but now there is a true back-and-forth exchange that is worth the extra time and effort.

Masked, I will fidget until I feel the stares, only look up and see that people are, in fact, staring.  I quickly look away from the stares and imme­di­ately stop tap­ping my fin­gers or feet, or swaying, or fid­geting with my hair or item in my hand, etc. Unmasked, I realize this is stim­ming, and that it is not only normal for those of us on the spec­trum, but even healthy for us to con­tinue in order to stay neu­ro­log­i­cally reg­u­lated.  It is unhealthy to sup­press stims, so the unmasked me stims when­ever, wher­ever, and how­ever the sit­u­a­tion requires.  My body knows how to reg­u­late itself, and there is nothing more calming than the right stim.

Masked, when others tell me I have gone on too long about a sub­ject, I get embar­rassed and stop talking.  I can’t shut my brain off of the sub­ject, but I will stop talking.  Masked, I am ashamed of the obses­sive nature of my hob­bies or spe­cial inter­ests.  Unmasked, I realize that this pas­sion for cer­tain sub­jects and spe­cial inter­ests is just an Aspie trait I’ve learned to embrace. If no one wants to talk about some­thing with me because I’ve talked too long, I will still be con­sid­erate. However, I write about what­ever that sub­ject is, read about it, watch videos about it–  basi­cally I don’t require myself to stop com­mu­ni­cating about or learning about what­ever it is that everyone else has had enough of.  I still have an outlet for my intense interest, without the hassle of frus­trated loved ones.

Masked, I accept social invi­ta­tions and show up despite the awk­ward­ness, anx­iety, and com­plete inability to not cling to a cer­tain one or two people also in atten­dance.  If I’m too exhausted to face it, my reason will be that I’m tired.  I can’t explain how or why I’m tired.  People will tell me about how busy their day/week has been and how they plan to rest after the event.  I feel inad­e­quate, less than, and a sorry excuse for a friend because I can’t make it when they can.  Unmasked, I will admit exactly the brand of tired I am. I am socially tired. Sometimes, I just need to be alone; and, well, that’s just okay.  No matter how much or little else I had to do that day/week, social exchanges at work can be enough to drain me.  I allow myself an out when I des­per­ately need one.

Masked, I pre­tend that noises do not bother me. In crowded places with many con­ver­sa­tions going on and a myriad of back­ground noises, it is nearly impos­sible for me to focus on one face and con­ver­sa­tion.  If any of those noises are high pitched I can lit­er­ally feel– I mean phys­i­cally feel stress enter into my body that only increases until the noise stops.  The people around me do not realize these noises are affecting me in any such way.  All they know is that I am not being atten­tive.  I hope I don’t come off as rude, but I’m afraid I do.  Unmasked, I wear ear plugs.  I get looks, and I get asked ques­tions.  That’s okay.  I would be curious, too. However, those looks and ques­tions are not going to hinder me from wearing them. They have been too much of a game-changer for me, espe­cially at work. I still hear every­thing, but at a much more pleasant decibel that doesn’t affect my capacity to think quite so dra­mat­i­cally. 

Masked, I try to force myself to make eye con­tact during a con­ver­sa­tion; but my brain freezes up, and I can’t think about what I’m going to say next or even what my point is. I’m also rehearsing men­tally not to stim. Unmasked, I look to the side of the person and tap or rub my fin­gers together and unashamedly make my hard-thinking face and con­tinue like this until my thoughts are clear.  I still look the person in the face while they are speaking, just not the entire time I’m speaking.  My gaze lies mostly at the other person’s hands or lips as they move.  If there is any dis­trac­tion, my gaze will auto­mat­i­cally focus on the dis­trac­tion.  Unmasked, I am a much more effec­tive com­mu­ni­cator. I’m not sure what others think of how I look unmasking in this way, but it’s not my respon­si­bility to worry about what they think about it.  If I’m not com­fort­able enough to keep my thoughts col­lected, it is all just a big waste of time, anyway.

This is just the begin­ning of my unmasking journey. It has been so freeing and I encourage every Aspie to join me in the unmasking. Will people stare? Maybe so, but at least what they will be staring at is me and you and not a mask.

Latest posts by aspieaspired (see all)

1 Comment

  1. I’ve only recently found out that I’m on the spec­trum, and it’s been life changing already. Being able to slowly drop the mask and be more authen­ti­cally me. Those who can’t accept or under­stand that… Well, that’s not my problem. It’s still hard though and I find myself still masking a lot, but at least I’m get­ting more com­fort­able just being me.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?