Before I wanted to be a therapist, I wanted to be an actress. From the age of 4, I loved acting. It’s funny now thinking back to that time since so much of what masking is, is acting. In so many ways, I have embraced and fallen in love with the tools that have helped me survive; acting, psychoanalysis, existentialism, mindfulness… these have all been my special interests at one point or another.
At some point, acting became too much for me. I didn’t want to be perceived (and judged) by others so I walked away from an audition and never returned to official “acting” again. I did, however, continue my informal practice of acting ala masking as a way to cope with being (undiagnosed) autistic. I realized at an early age my choice was either to mask or live a life of isolation and disconnection. I didn’t see any other alternative.
To perform neurotypicality day in and day out was exhausting. It was the one role I couldn’t ever really lay to rest, yet no one knew I was playing it. It was lonely. After many decades of performing neurotypicality for everyone, I discovered that I was #actuallyautistic. It felt like being unplugged from the matrix, I realized for the first time that I didn’t have to keep performing if I didn’t want to.
Up until I learned I was autistic; I was masking 24/7 including as a therapist. The therapy field in general is plagued by ableism and I never experienced a workplace that felt safe to be myself in. I always felt it was ironic that the mental health agencies I worked for, which had such lofty mission statements, did not feel like safe spaces to be fully human.
I do my best work as an unmasked therapist, and I can only do this via working for myself in autistic-centered therapy spaces. Unmasking has not been easy. I still find myself overanalyzing what I say or changing the way I present myself to mask my obvious autisticness. It’s silly because most of my clients are autistic and I know deep down that my unmasked autism is part of the reason why they come to see me yet… I was socialized to mask for over 30 years so it’s a hard habit to break.