Masking and Unmasking


What a bitch.

Am I right?

So recently I listened to the newest episode of The Built Sideways Podcast (You can get episodes early if you support their Patreon, like me!) and I was pleasantly surprised at the topic of masking.

I was grateful that the guys mentioned masking, both socially and on a neurodivergent level (ND). This was a topic that deeply resonated with me when listening and I think they made rather great comments on it. People often talk about masking negative traits but fail to differentiate them from ND masking.

Masking on a neurodivergent level covers up ND traits to present as neurotypical. Someone who is ND may be autistic, have ADHD, and so on. This could be changing vocal tones, mimicking facial expressions, mirroring body cues, speech patterns, and more. It’s a way of matching social formalities (I tend to mirror how my mom reacted or how other trusted adults reacted).

This is something that is often extremely stressful to do. I have struggled with unmasking over the last few years.

When listening I was pleasantly surprised when Kyle brought up Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. I haven’t heard that one in a long while.

Self-presentation often refers to how people attempt to present themselves to modify how others (the audience) view their portrayal of them.

The display we put on for others is typically our “frontstage” personality. The “backstage” personality is the one we display when we let our front-stage personality slip. This could be when we feel intimate with someone and let our guard down (in a platonic manner, intimacy isn’t always sexual or romantic).

I’ve always found it interesting how this ties into ND masking

ND people may always present a false front-stage personality (or facade) due to the social ramifications of not doing so. Unfortunately saying “be yourself” sucks when it comes to the inherent social bias of neurodiversity when it comes to the risk of not being hired for jobs (or worse) when you display ND traits and a whole load of other shit to deal with.

Social exclusion, for example, is a harrowing aspect for many ND individuals when they don’t mask.

Which was a harsh lesson that I learned very fast in life.

(I don’t know why doctors struggle to identify people as autistic or ND because kids are great at figuring it out.)

I was, if we go by social norms, a very odd child. I had a severe speech delay as a toddler due to hearing issues that left me with a rather extreme speech disability. After years of speech therapy sessions (three times a week), it’s not as noticeable but as a kid it was extremely difficult to deal with. Many individuals thought that meant I was cognitively delayed, which I was not, but often treated me as such. My elementary school stuck me in lower-level classes “just in case” (granted my scoring levels said otherwise).

I was an odd kid who was obsessed with things like sci-fi and fiction things that adults found weird. To quote my second-grade teacher:

“Something isn’t right with that kid.”

Granted, we really didn’t have any “special needs” kids at my school as the adults put it (which was really distasteful to remember as an ND adult) so they wouldn’t put that label on me. The stigma was there.

Now, I wasn’t a troublemaker. I didn’t do anything that was deemed “deviant” behavior. I did my work and I listened because my ND traits thrive in a routine and set schedule. It was just “deviant” in a way that was outside of the social normalities for young girls and kids. I chased after bugs and liked big scary monsters. I was an avid AVP and Kaiju fan as a kid.

Reality sunk in pretty fast when the bullying started by the adults as well as the kids. I can’t blame the kids for noticing behaviors that they’re exposed to. I do blame the adults.

Our music teacher once thought I wasn’t a good fit for the chorus and was the only kid left out of our chorus class (of twenty-five kids, mind you). So, I would spend one hour a day with my fifth-grade teacher, who, bless her heart, tried her darndest to make me feel good about myself.

Both my sixth-grade English teacher (A short angry Greek woman with a habit of throwing rulers) and herself really went out of their way to get me to be authentic with myself.

I wrote a whole notebook full of a story about befriending a yautja as a kid in fifth and she actually sat down, read it, and complimented my imagination. That’s the kind of encouragement that kids need, both neurodivergent and neurotypical. I’m very angry at myself for throwing it away due to feeling embarrassed.

But for the sake of social survival, I had to find a way to adjust so I can scrape by without being tormented too much because I didn’t have any support from most of the adults in my education life. Yes, that support does make a difference. Kids can and will pick up on those vibes.

That form of social survival came in the form of a mask.

It was a mode of self-preservation. I started hiding my likes from the world. Hiding my quirks and all the things that made me, well, me. I stopped talking about Godzilla and all my interests.

I hated it.

Hated the burden of constantly having that mask on. It was a heavy burden of social expectations. The constant monitoring of social cues.

Did I say the right thing? Did I react the right way? Am I using the right faces?

It made me sick. I became an anxious and withdrawn teen. I started to become a people pleaser. I let people walk over me and developed issues with social relations.

Not so fun fact, I fall into the ND boat of constantly thinking people dislike me or are angry over small nonexistent things due to being a people pleaser from these behaviors. If I ever text you “Are you mad at me?” and you get confused, I genuinely think you are mad.

So I didn’t have a sense of who I am outside of what people thought of me. To be in that zone is terrible for anyone’s mental health.

A lack of self-identity leads to identity crises. There’s a whole lot of psychology to that one.

I struggled with writing about myself in school because I stopped knowing who I was and really didn’t start to get a sense of self until after the passing of my older brother.

And you would think unmasking would be easier than masking.

It’s not.

It is petrifying and just as traumatic as masking.

You don’t know how the people around you are going to react to the true you. They might embrace you or there’s that deeply hidden fear of rejection. To become an outcast again. My favorite term for this is “Stranger in a strange land” because you may unmask a group and still be ostracized for being your authentic self that truly never allows you to fit into the society you live in.

And you never fucking know till you unmask.

I don’t wear masks around my family. They don’t find how my behaviors are deemed socially “weird” because they’ve seen it my whole life. My mom’s baffled when people find me weird. She sees me as me. Does she get it at times? No, but she got the spirit.

Around friend groups though? Hell in a handbasket up until the last few years. I’m lucky to have friends who are either ND or very accepting. The guys on the podcast (as well as the cutting mat podcast) have known me for about four or more years and I can talk to them about my ND issues with no problem.

Like I can tell them that certain noises pain me or that most of my clothes are cotton based because other fabrics can get fucked. I use my fidget stuff on stream. I space out at times or hyper-fixate info dump on topics. They don’t judge (most of the time lol).

This week alone is a fun example. Cryptids are a special interest of mine. I’ve been sent the same cryptid video by ten different people and I love it because they know me. They support me. They could give a shit less about cryptids, but they know me and my special interests.

On the other hand, there are social groups that have been less welcoming. I’ve been judged for stimming or my hyper-fixations. There have been people who have treated me differently since I was unmasked. Condescending and cold would be a great way of putting it.

I can completely understand Pabz on separation issues and their difficulties. I’d like to say that I’m this guarded person who can handle a friendship ending over unmasking but I’m not. It hurts in its grief cycle sort of way. It’s the RSD for me (rejection sensitivity dysphoria).

This leads me to another situation. I can be piss poor at telling when others are masking negative toxic behaviors, more specifically people that I’m close to. I can generally talk with strangers, but I can with people who I assume to be friends on an intimate (yet again, platonic) level.

Believe it or not, in a corny way, my college classes and HS senior college prep courses helped me unmask. A majority of my professors were largely supportive of my true interests.

My public speaking professor specifically encouraged me to speak about what I truly enjoy. I rolled up with several different speeches about Godzilla, the destructive nature of Solenopsis Invicta (The red imported fire ant whose name means to “invoke victory”), Neonitrocides and Colony Collapse disorder, and several other hyper-fixation topics.

Pictured above is a fifteen-page analysis of meanings, reoccurring themes, and impact of the Alien franchise on pop culture. My professor loved it! I have encountered very few people who would want to read something like that.

It was a banger I tell you. The paper was one of the hardest essays I’ve had to do but one that brought the most dopamine

My criminology professors fully backed my specialization in a specific aspect of criminology despite the social “ew” reaction (as I call it). These are cults, violent crimes, and criminal serial homicides.

Another thing is surrounding myself with other ND people. I’m in a couple of cool ND discord that have pointed to resources and just to vent. They understand how masking goes.

To quote the podcast, it was the start of the “fuck-it” hormone. The level of this is a day-to-day thing. Much like vitamins, they can be high one day, and low another.

The acceptance, both on a personal and social level, of my true self has been detrimental to my growth as a person. It has helped all aspects of my life. I run a blog talking about my special interests now. You right now are reading about my special interest. If you go on my other socials, you’ll see most of my hyper-fixations. Right now, it’s Clive Barker because I watched the new Hellraiser yesterday.

It’s been a long road to get to this point in my life and some days I don’t recognize who I used to be.

Unfortunately, many NDs will continue to struggle with this as society is still a moderate shit hole about social formalities despite the amount of “against the grain” media right now.

Also, on a final note, fuck masking kits I hate it. I hate it so much.

I’d rather free-ball some shit if I can.

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Go outside and look at some isopods.


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