For the next 6 weeks on social media, there is a campaign to encourage autistic people to “take the mask off” and show their true autistic selves. I am very much in favour of this,and am looking forward to reading many of the posts and maybe contributing to discussions. A common view seems to be that we all mask, in order to get by in a neurotypical world. I would like to dispute this. Unlike most autistic folk, I don’t think I mask much at all.
I tried to fit in with my peers for about a year, when I first started secondary school. I went along with most of the things that so-called “normal” girls of my age were expected to do. It didn’t work. I didn’t fool anyone, either: I recall one girl saying about me when she thought I wasn’t listening, “She’s not really like a human being.” It felt so alien and uncomfortable, that by age 13 I decided it was far easier just to be myself. That meant reading or going for walks alone at break times, wearing my unique style of fashion, and flinging myself into my special interests, which were pop music, school work, piano practice and church. It was incredibly lonely, but at least I didn’t have to be someone I was not.
I grew up around non-masking. My Dad is (undiagnosed) autistic: he stims very publicly, avoids eye contact and talks mainly in monologues. It wasn’t until my teens that I realised his behaviour came across as unusual to others; to me it was normal. I realise non-masking is not possible for everyone. I guess our family has pretty low social needs; although we want to be liked and accepted, we can be very happy and productive in our own company. In my early 20s, I would sometimes go a whole week without having a conversation with anybody. Since then, I have become slightly more sociable, but on my own terms. If I find myself in a situation where I can’t be my authentic self, I will walk away, or at least go very quiet. I think this is my survival strategy, and the reason I have managed to be relatively unscathed by mental health difficulties. I feel very lucky.
One area of my life where I guess I do mask, for survival reasons, is at work, to a greater or lesser degree depending on who I’m working with. It is exhausting, and although I generally enjoy my work, it’s good to go back to being the real me at evenings and weekends. I would love to see a day when we can all “take the mask off” in every aspect of our lives, and be fully accepted for who we are.