The cost of autistic masking

Many of us, as Autistics, are well versed in masking. For so many of us, it is an involuntary reflex that happens without thought.

What is masking?

Masking, simply put, is the practice of disguising your autistic traits in order to pass as neurotypical. It is a survival mechanism in a world that actively oppresses and abuses us for being different to the majority.

There are a lot of people now working to remove their mask, and live authentically as a proudly autistic person. Sadly the process of unmasking is complicated.

In my experience there is one aspect of masking that I do not see discussed a lot. It is insidious, and can cause a great deal of harm to the wellbeing of the autistic person. It’s not the spoons or psychological energy that masking costs. It’s the doubt.

I have masked my entire life with varying degrees of success. I managed to go 26 years without a diagnosis as a result. The truth is, that I have been so good at masking that at times I have begun to doubt my own autism diagnosis.

I look back on my life, and all I can see is the mask. I hear the words of people who have told me that I’m “not autistic enough”. I start to wonder, am I really autistic?

At times this has cost me a great deal of my mental health. Living with that constant doubt takes a toll, but the truth is it’s not my fault.

Society taught me that the majority were better than me, more worthy of love and acceptance. I pushed down my autistic identity because I wanted to be accepted.

It’s probably at the core of my addictive behaviours. I felt it necessary to replace my identity with a more palatable one. Drug and alcohol using David was so much better adapted to the world, or at least that’s the lie I told myself.

I literally buried my autistic identity in a mausoleum of narcotics and alcohol. It cost me almost everything.

Despite this, I still found my way into the autistic community, and through that community, I have learned that it’s not my responsibility to “fit in” or pass as neurotypical.

I am certain that I could not have found sobriety without starting to remove the mask. The mask is still there today, but everyday, it loosens a little more. I owe the community that. Their love and acceptance gave me the courage to be myself.

We need to change society at its core. The neuromajority can no longer dictate the world by what it feels comfortable with. Autistic people exist, and they deserve to live authentic, happy lives.

It’s time for us to do the inner work that will allow us to remove our masks, and be proud of our identities.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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