How Filmmaking Helped Me Process The Pandemic And Autistic Masking

Starting from early childhood, many autisitic people are often pressured into hiding or “masking” their autism in order to survive school, maintain employment, and build relationships because our autistic traits are often deemed as unacceptable by allistic (non-autistic) society.

But this masking is often to the detriment of our own mental and physical health. During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, many of my autistic peers felt a sense of relief as they no longer had to put up their masks and keep up with the demands of fitting in with society.

In March, 2020, I was in the deepest pits of burnout from low wage service industry jobs and college. I was 21 years old at the time and had only just learned I was autistic. I was diagnosed at a young age with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS) before it was classified as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Also, I was often considered “high-functioning” by the outside world who still believes in the ableist idea that autism is a linear spectrum from “least” to “most” autistic rather than a circle where everyone has their own individual strengths, weaknesses, and needs that are constantly changing. Therefore, getting and maintaining accommodations proved difficult for me in the past.

Image from Autism_Sketches that shows how autism is not a linear spectrum. Two circular graphs show social differences, interests, repetitions, sensory sensitivity, emotional regulation, perception, executive functioning, and other. Based on C. L. Lynch’s “Autism is a Spectrum” Doesn’t Mean What You Think.

It was exhausting for me to maintain an identity and level of endurance that was acceptable to allistic people. However, when the world stopped and I lost my job due to the pandemic, it was like a weight that I had been carrying my whole life was finally lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had to worry about masking my autism and fitting into larger society.

Image features a photo of Martrese Wilson, a young Black person with a short fade and neat beard and mustache and wearing a burgundy shirt. It is a film cover that reads “Normalcy” at the top and has an AutFest Texas Film Festival award logo on the bottom left.

But as the pandemic continued to ravage the world, I started to feel a deep sense of shame. I felt guilty for feeling relief while the death toll around the world rose. I felt ashamed for being on unemployment out of fear of being seen as “lazy,” when in reality I was simply afraid of being mentally beaten down again by allistic people upon returning to the workplace.

In order to seem productive and avoid a day job, I decided to chase my dreams of being a filmmaker and create my first official narrative short film. But when the project fell apart due to scheduling conflicts, I fell back into a hole of shame when suddenly I had an epiphany to tell a different kind of story. I wanted to share how I was feeling with the world and to see if I was not alone.

This became my award winning film, Normalcy shot, directed, and starring myself.

I took a documentary approach to tell my story of autistic burnout and my want for society to offer better accommodations for autistic people in a post-pandemic world. The film has slowly been getting more attention on social media and recently won best short film at AutFest Texas, a film festival for films about autism.

It also is currently in contention to be selected for The Marvels of Media Awards, another multimedia festival for autistic artists run by The Museum of The Moving Image in New York City. Through this film, I’ve meet and been embraced by a community of autistics online who did in fact let me know I was not alone.

Being autistic is having to choose between:

a) using your talents and reaching your potential for a limited time, but ultimately burning out because of masking and overstimulation;

&

b) never using your talents or reaching your potential and feeling like you’ve let yourself down.

Society doesn’t support autists well enough for us all to be able to consistently offer high level output, and capitalism doesn’t understand or facilitate reduced, sporadic or inconsistent output.

If one is ever able to work it’s wrongly assumed that this is always the case. This is why a lot of autistic people can’t work. It’s not that they’re incapable of output, rather that they’re not accommodated enough to work at a NT pace, and not allowed to move at a reduced pace.

@AutisticCallum_

Currently, as I draft this article, there’s a new job opportuntity waiting on me. While the job is slighlty closer to my interests, I am still filled with dread because I don’t want to be ignored and misunderstood again by allistics everyday after two whole years of freedom. With that being said, I am grateful for everything I’ve experienced these past two years.

Without these experiences, I would have never been given hope that there are people like me who want to see change. It’s also pushed me to continue to be a filmmaker and tell stories not only by, but for autistic people. Through these stories, I want to teach myself and other autistics that their emotions are valid. That there is a community of people out there who understand and support you.

Hopefully, as I continue to connect with the autistic community, I’ll find jobs, friendships, and romantic relationships that embrace me for who I am, where new opportunities and life changes fill me with optimism instead of fear.

Latest posts by Tré Wilson (see all)

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7 Responses

  1. Good Luck YOUNG FILM Producer…

    When you find yourself in a coincidence of sorts, then Go With It !!!

    Ride your newfound wave and leave the “service jobs” behind.

    Life. It remains for those of us still living. So step off that high dive in the middle of the night. There will be water below in the pool to catch you.

    ••••••••••••••••••••••••

    Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas & splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

    All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents & meetings & material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

    Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
    Boldness has genius, power & magic in it.

    Begin it now…

    ~ GOETHE
    German poet & dramatist
    1749 – 1832

  2. A very good film and very to the point. I hope you willl continue to make more enlightening films such as this.

  3. Hi, this is is my first time posting on here, after finding the site a week ago. First, just wanted to say what an amazing resource this site is and how much I’ve learned so far. I’m very early on in my journey of navigating life as a probable autistic – something I’ve been exploring fixatedly for the last few weeks since having a series of realisation that I might be autistic. (something I’ve wondered a little bit about in the past but I didn’t really know enough and many of my ideas of autism were based on misconceptions and societal stereotypes).

    Really loved this video and the adjoining article and it resonated strongly with me. I have felt some considerable relief during the last two years for similar reasons to the author/filmmaker. The space, the lack of social pressures, no more uncomfortable hugs/handshakes (although it’s still awkward!), time to do more of what I want (e.g. read for several hours a day) and so on. It’s been a tricky time for me as well though as I developed Long Covid after contacting Covid in early March 2020, and I was mostly housebound for 2021. That has brought difficulties and despair at times. And like Tré portrays so well, there is a sense of guilt that comes with the relief I have experienced. Because of my illness I’ve been mostly off work this year – which I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to afford, and it’s allowed me a chance to work out what I want. I know that can’t continue for much longer so I also feel that sense of dread with the need to put myself back into more pressures – particularly now that I have a chronic illness that causes me to feel fatigue and insomnia – on top of what I have already experienced all my life. I’m still feeling like I want to hide away.

    Anyway thanks for making it and good luck with future projects and this new job you’re considering.

  4. Tré—since recognizing my autism a few months back, I’ve heard in several places that we can’t expect ourselves to function and work like neurotypicals do; and that trying to function that way (because it’s considered “normal”) is a big part of what hurts us and makes us seem “dysfunctional”—even though we’re not necessarily dysfunctional at all, just functioning in our own sweet way. But for whatever reason, this really only sunk in for the first time while reading your post and watching your film. I get it now—and it’s so important to know this. Thanks for reinforcing and validating this key truth about autism.

    Also, the chart you included was a great way of representing the “spectrum” idea.

    I hope your filmmaking blossoms and allows you to remain on whatever degree of “covid lockdown” you find works best for you.

    Alex H—as a relative newbie to autism myself, I feel so lucky to have started my exploration and gotten my initial orientation to autism mainly here at this sight (along with at some autistic YouTube channels). It “vaccinated” me against some of the very depressing (but more widely accepted) versions of autism that are also out there—so I hope you’re already discovering what a good thing it can be.

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