We all mask.
Masking is a human thing, not just an autistic thing.
We hide the parts of us that we don’t like or don’t want people to see for fear of rejection or ridicule.
When I mask I play a role and that means not being myself.
Onlookers can’t see beyond our mask. They see something that isn’t real.
Take Robin Williams: Twinkling eyes and a great smile. He was a hilariously funny man. And he killed himself.
The man was in hell, but nobody saw it. We saw what Robin wanted us to see – his mask.
Masking is taking yourself, your fears and your demons and suppressing them so that you can present the world with a version of you that it will accept. You do it to fit in. You do it to survive. This takes a great deal of mental energy and it comes as no surprise to me that most autistic people develop mental illnesses. With me, it’s primarily anxiety.
Anxiety has shadowed me all my life. I’ve mostly functioned with it, but there have been episodes of depression and anxiety which have been severe enough to require medication and time off work. Somehow, I made it to 41. Then my mother unexpectedly died. The problem was that I’d been trying to run my house on a car battery (theoretically speaking) for so long that there was quite simply no energy to deal with such a shock and when it comes to trauma – losing a parent (especially a mother) is at number 5 on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale scoring 65/100% – 100% being the death of a spouse.
That was the start of my ill-health and five years later I burned out completely.
Mental breakdown. Nervous breakdown. Burnout.
Call it what you want, it all amounts to the same thing. Not limit reached, but limit breached.
I’m convinced that a life of masking led me to burnout at the age of 46 and during that time I didn’t have the energy to function, let alone mask.
The mask was very much off.
How best to describe my mental breakdown?
- My own personal hell.
- I lived by the minute, not the day and every one of those agonising minutes felt like an hour.
- I couldn’t hold onto my thoughts.
- I couldn’t complete the simplest of tasks.
- I couldn’t sleep.
- I was in constant pain.
- I was having numerous panic attacks a day.
- I couldn’t eat.
- I lost weight and muscle mass.
- I couldn’t watch TV, read a book or listen to my beloved music.
- I was constantly retching.
- I wanted to be put into a mental institution – just so they could make all of it stop.
- I thought I was dying, going crazy or both.
In-between bouts of anxiety, there were lulls where depression would take over and I’d cry. It was the kind of crying where the tears just happen without any effort at all. The depth of sadness was such that I willed the anxiety to kick back in.
Anxiety was the lesser evil because it made me feel alive. When the depression took over, everything slowed down. It was like my body and mind was giving up on me. Was I dying?
With every second of every day – I lost another piece of myself.
There was no dignity in my fight. It was ugly and it was messy and I thought I would never find my way back.
Make no mistake – mental illness is a battle.
You have to remember that the chemicals in the brain are imbalanced. It’s an illness.
Nobody chooses to be mentally ill.
Masking brought me to the brink of my sanity. That’s how it affected my mental health.
Since that time, there is a fragility about me that wasn’t there before. I developed a chronic condition (Fibromyalgia) which affects my entire body. Now, as well as being in mental pain, I am always in physical pain. This is what masking can do!
I wouldn’t be in this state if I’d been able to be myself – if society had accepted me as I am. But it didn’t accept me. It bullied and ostracised me and exploited my vulnerability which forced me to constantly wear the mask that’s damaged me beyond repair.
It’s a lesson I’ve learned – albeit too late to save my health.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~ Jim Morrison
Be part of the revolution.