Dropping the mask

11th January 2023 - by Catherine Nicholls

There have been lots of posts and articles written about autistic people masking or camouflaging, and the need to appear more neurotypical until they return to their home or safe space where they feel they can really be themselves. I applaud the effort to help people who mask feel accepted and confident enough to stop masking when out and about. But, how easy is that?

I mask. It is only once at home, away from the outside world, that can I drop this and be who I really am. The thing is – I don’t realise I am masking. It is a coping mechanism for survival that is now so inbuilt I don’t even realise I am doing it. If you are not aware you are doing something and it protects you, on a very primitive level, how can you even begin to change it? I don’t have the answers – if anyone has any ideas do let me know!

Masking is exhausting, but I guess that’s not surprising as you are effectively acting for hours at a time. Thinking about every response in a conversation, did you understand the subtext of the conversation? Was your response appropriate and received in the way in which you intended it? That is why I need a lot of time to myself to recover my energy. I love seeing my friends but it does come at a cost. However, I am lucky that I can come home to a quiet space to recover surrounded by people who really do understand (because we are a neurodiverse household and I’m not the only one who needs recovery time!). So, if someone needs a lot of time to themselves, don’t take it personally but consider it their self-care and give it the support and space needed to make the recovery time valuable and effective.