The early 1990s movie The Mask, which starred Jim Carrey as lovable loser Stanley Upkiss had a premise that saw Stanley become a crazy superhero all by putting on an ordinary mask. For those who haven’t seen it, I’ll spare the spoilers, but the reason I mention this is because I sometimes wonder how it must feel having to wear a mask to conceal whom you are inside..
All this was before I discovered something about myself recently: the fact that I wear a mask daily. People see me as a high-functioning Spectrumite as someone who doesn’t seem like a Spectrumite. That’s when I discovered the answer to my question about masks: wearing a mask is exhausting.
Like, really exhausting..
The question that arose from my end was simply, “Why?” I found my answer that sounds much like the writer of Planet Autism Blog makes in the article “The Root of Autistic Masking”(found at this link, (https://planetautismblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/the-root-of-autistic-masking/). The writer poses:
Why do autistics mask? Anxiety and/or inhibition. Inhibition because they realised or sensed from early on, that they were different and struggled in interactions. They are likely to have been excluded, ridiculed or bullied for being different. They pressure themselves to fit in, because all anyone wants is acceptance. They may also have developed a phobia about being told-off by teachers, or being unpopular with peers.
Anxiety and/or inhibition. Seems like that describes my current situation quite nicely. I’ve been taught, through no fault of mine or anyone else, that being myself (swimming and all my quirks) can be disruptive or could be seen as a bad thing, not the calming and natural things I’ve discovered later in life.
Another thing I’ve discovered is my difficulty of reading certain social cues, following and not leading, socially speaking. What people see in me as “normal” really has been a long fought battle with myself, really. The problem with that is I see that what nuerotypicals may not realize is that the social games and/or interactions that may seem natural for them isn’t how we see it, we learn mostly through trial and error. It’s been the same for me, as the writer stresses:
Obviously it’s not as simple as these professionals not understanding or realising. It’s also highly convenient to blame parents, if blaming parents saves money. Many professionals bask in the glory of their position and the power it gives them. Some relish misusing that power to become playground bullies all over again, but this time it’s sanctioned by policies and procedures that are conveniently designed to be misused.
Professional bias goes a long way, it’s like a Mexican wave, one starts with a particular viewpoint and the others all willingly join in, oblivious to other possibilities because agreeing is an easy ride and also lets them off the hook if they have been responsible in any way for exacerbating the child’s difficulties (whether by accident or design).
Like I said before, it’s no one’s fault but my own and the time which I was living in, the 1980s, where the information about Autism wasn’t as widespread as it’s become now. That said, the writer explains the unknown consequences of these actions:
You know what’s sad about this situation (aside from children not being given either the diagnosis or help that they need that is)? Is that autistics cannot be themselves. That autistics have to put on an act, adopt a persona, to be considered acceptable to society. That they have to live in fear of being judged for their differences. Misjudged. That to not be negatively targeted, they have to mimic others and suppress their natural traits. And it is exhausting to mask.
That’s what I’m dealing with at present, but it doesn’t have to remain that way, just know that you’re not alone, that there is a community ready and willing to help you break free of your mask and help you, the real you, try to find your way to…