Four decades of masking

“Masks” by exfordy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I only received my diagnosis of Autism and its subtype PDA back in November 2021. And since then I have not really had time to sit and think about it, maybe that is for the best, as I am now trying to embrace the “real” me, but as I have been living with my old self for so long – 45 years, and been masking how I really feel all of my life, I am not even sure who I am any more …

Seen as I have mentioned masking I thought I would share for those reading a brief explanation as to what masking is.

What is masking?

Masking is known as a social survival strategy that autistic people use in order to try and fit in with the world around them. As each person who is autistic is individual they may each mask in their own way ( If they use masking), however some behaviours may be similar in that they may use pretend eye contact or force themselves to use it, in an attempt to appear “normal” during a conversation, even if it is uncomfortable. They may copy other peoples expressions for instance smiling, or laugh at the same time as another person even though they may not have understood what the joke was – ( I have done this many times).

Like I discussed in my previous blog, mimicking and mirroring a person is something I became an expert in, even at a young age, and I would use this as a way of building a relationship with other people.

Some autistic people will rehearse a script of responses so if they are asked certain questions they will have a memorised response. I have meet many autistic people who do this.

There have been many times throughout my life I have been totally uncomfortable in a situation, but have just masked how I felt so not to feel like I am being awkward or a pain. One thing many of us autistic people do not want is attention drawn to us, but this is often at our own expense as we will just carry on even if we are in severe pain and discomfort and not ask for help.

In social situations, many autistic people hide their stimming behaviours – stimming is a repetitive or unusual movement or noise such as humming loudly or rocking back and forth, which actually has a soothing effect and can occur in situations when we can not cope or feel over whelmed.

Many autistic people try to hide this so not to look strange – I for one have done this so many times and when discussing this with my Psychiatrist when he gave me my diagnosis , I said that I hope now I will be able to shake my hands about when I am in Tesco as this is where I feel I am over whelmed. Shaking my hands gives me a sense of relief as I am highly anxious when shopping – I avoid it where ever possible. Having said that I will be able to do it, when I last went to the shop – which was some time ago, I did still feel conscious of it and wanted to do it but once again masked.

Do women mask more then men?

It is thought that autistic girls/women do mask their autistic traits and social difficulties more then boys/men which then makes it harder for them to receive a diagnosis. I guess my case could be considered here. As I said I have been wearing a mask so to speak for over 40 years and maybe when I was very young expressed how I felt more but certainly not to the degree that I should have been able to. Therefore when I have visited the Dr’s in the past I have not been able to show how I really feel, or explain the behaviours I do so this is most likely why I have been misdiagnosed all these years.

Consequences of keeping up the act

Masking and pretending is undoubtable tiring. We all just want to be “ourselves” and although in certain situations in our lives we all have to play a different role, there are, and for the majority of times situations when you are just you. But when you are living your whole life as someone else this is bound to have an impact on your mental and physical health. This behaviour long term can lead to exhaustion, an increased stress response and over time have a negative effect on your identity – hence I said I do not know who I am anymore, I feel the long term effect of masking taking its toll.

“Exhausted” by hernanpba is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Autistic women are more likely to experience internalised challenges like anxiety and depression. Late diagnosed people are said to suffer mental health challenges related to long term stress due to adapting to a life which is so neurotypically focused.

In conclusion, masking poses a serious threat to mental health, overall well being and the development of a persons identity.

I hope for myself, and others who are not only late diagnosed but who are masking in their life now, that they can be their true self and be accepted.

I also hope that me writing these blogs and sharing the hardest parts of my life will help in raising awareness of many things, and bring about change for those of us who are so quietly suffering in silence …

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