Taking off the mask
I've been reading quite a few books lately on autism and masking, and trying to figure out ways of relaxing my death-grip on the image I feel like I ought to be projecting. It's really hard, and so tied up in values and identity that it can be difficult sometimes not to feel there's a risk of losing my sense of self, but in reality it's more about finding and releasing the “real me” that's been buried for so long.
I'm trying to indulge my autistic special interests and use those to get to know some new people. We moved to a new town about 3 months before the pandemic arrived which made it even harder than usual to make new friends locally, something I've never been very good at to start with. A new games cafe opened up recently and I took the plunge and went along to see if playing Dungeons & Dragons would be as fun as it looked. I'm now in two campaigns alternating weeks, getting very into learning all about the various abilities & spells with their associated rules and being able to talk to other people about it without having to hold my excitement in!
I'm also trying to let go more at work, and be more honest and more passionate about what's important to me, because suppressing that is part of what makes work feel so hard these days. That's tricky though, because I have a lot of my sense of safety attached to the idea of myself meeting the vague criteria of “professionalism”, which is itself pretty problematic (see e.g. The weaponization of professionalism). But I'm taking baby steps and trying to recognise when I'm about to self-censor and say what I meant to say, which is difficult because it's mostly unconscious at this point.
The books I've read/am reading so far are these:
- Belcher, Hannah Louise. 2022. Taking off the Mask: Practical Exercises to Help Understand and Minimise the Effects of Autistic Camouflaging. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. https://uk.jkp.com/products/taking-off-the-mask
- Price, Devon. 2022. Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity. First edition. New York: Harmony Books. https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/devon-price/unmasking-autism/9781800960541/
- Sedgewick, Felicity, Laura Hull, and Helen Ellis. 2022. Autism and Masking: How and Why People Do It, and the Impact It Can Have. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. https://uk.jkp.com/products/autism-and-masking
Note that they're all published this year, 2022! This is an area that's long been neglected by both autism researchers and professionals, even though masking/camouflaging is a phenomenon that the autistic community has been aware of and discussed for years.
The Sedgewick et al (2022) book is more academic, and aimed at professionals and family members as well as autistic individuals ourselves. It goes into a lot of detail on masking as a phenomenon but doesn't go much into advice on what to do about it. The other two are written by and for autistic people, and are packed with practical exercises as well as validation and I'd recommend either or both if this is something you're dealing with yourself.