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Uncovering the True Mask

Recognizing an uncomfortable truth.

Vibe Song:

Ever since I got my Autism diagnosis, I’ve been relearning what it means to be me. What are my little signals that I’m overwhelmed/starting to shutdown? How do I stop people pleasing? Who is my authentic self under the mask? That last question has been the hardest part of my journey. And that’s mostly been because I didn’t fully understand what it means to mask. Since then, I’ve had realizations that are helping me understand more, so I thought I’d share.

Since the beginning of my journey, I believed a mask was a fake persona you put on for others. Although, this is a pretty good descriptor, it doesn’t get at the heart of what it means to un-mask. It implies that un-masking means being less fake. So I started to do an “audit” of all the traits and mannerisms that I had to see what was “authentically me” and what wasn’t. Of course, this ended up being really fucking hard and so I focused on “Marie Kondo”-ing them and only doing things that bring me joy or just feel natural.

This seemed to be work for awhile but it felt like my progressed stalled. I didn’t feel any more authentic. So I started to focus on my presentation, what I wore, getting more tattoos, etc. And this felt good from gender affirming standpoint but I still struggled to feel authentic because I felt like I was adopting an aesthetic and was in fact a “poser.”

I felt like I was getting nowhere. So I went back to examining my traits and mannerisms and at the same time I remembered a quote I heard years and years ago and it struck me. The quote is, and I’m paraphrasing here:

“The reason breakups are hard, whether it be a friendship or a relationship, is that you’ve lost a language. When we connect deeply with people, we create a language of two. The little inside jokes. Words and phrases that have very specific meaning between you and the other person. You can’t speak it anymore. The joy it brings you to speak that language is lost after a breakup. And you need to grieve that loss.”

This particular quote hit me differently because I realized that I had been taking the wrong approach to un-masking. All of these traits and mannerisms that I picked up from others aren’t the problem. In fact they are beautiful things to cherish because it is a sign of the impact that others had left on me. Like stamps on a passport, each with their own story to tell and context to share. Sharing those stories can bring back the joy they once held. Getting rid of them wasn’t the answer.

I then realized that I had been too focused on the mask itself as a thing that needs to be removed and not what was under the mask. Un-masking isn’t about what you present to the world. It’s about what you’re not presenting to the world. What are you hiding to be likable? What are you hiding to feel comfortable around others? Then I realized that I’ve been hiding a lot.

My entire life I’ve been playing a strategy game of what I can and can’t let others know because I believed I could anticipate their reactions. Yeah I reach out to people when I’m sad, but I don’t bring out the deepest, darkest shit because I know it’s scary. Yeah I try to have open and honest conversations with people about wants and needs but I don’t lay everything out, it’s too much, I can only “purchase” a small gain in the connection. I only give people small pieces of me because I struggle to deal with the whole me, how can I expect others to take on even a quarter of my shit?

I yearn for connections where I don’t have to moderate every word I say. Where I can be just free and open to talk about whatever the fuck I need to say. But if I had it, would I let myself do it? Hell I have to have a few drinks to feel open enough to tell the people I care about what they mean to me. AND EVEN THEN, I still moderate my words. Even after a few drinks where I feel loosey goosey, I still can’t allow myself to say what I need to say. I always need to make sure what I say is acceptable and doesn’t cross any boundaries, real or imagined.

This pattern is particularly painful because the more I feel for a person, the harder it is to be open with them. Eventually it gets to a point where I feel like I need to climb a mountain just to work up the courage to say what I need to say. So most of the time, I just walk away. I ghost people I start to build connection with because I can’t trust myself to say what I need to say to them. And we’re not talking about me needing to say harmful things. We’re talking about, “Hey I don’t really have the energy to hang out. Do you mind if I get back to you in a week or so?”

This is a pattern that I’ve deeply resented about myself, and it’s a repeated theme throughout my therapy. It’s so bad, I’ve stopped “dating” because of it. And I put dating in quotes because realistically I’m still dating but I’m not looking for anything serious. I know the work here is to push through, climb that mountain, say the things that need to be said. But I just can’t do it. It feels easier to accept this toxic pattern and bury my head in the sand.

So I’m starting to see that my true mask is the need to be perceived as a good person, when in actuality I’m a messy person. I hide all of my wants, my needs, my pain, and my love away from others because it isn’t neat. It isn’t perfect. I know this all stems from childhood trauma around emotional neglect that I experience from my family. Where emotions were met with conflict and cutting people out, and then you would be forced to pretend nothing happened.

I wish I could end this by saying, “and here is what I plan on doing about it!” But I can’t. Like I said, I know the work includes climbing that impossible mountain and not walking away from people. It can literally be that simple. But how do I help myself climb that mountain? How do I give myself the boost I need to express my wants, my needs, my pain and my love? That is what I do not know. I used to be believe it was about finding the right people, and maybe there is something to that. But that means I’ll leave a trail of people that I’ve hurt needlessly.

All I know is that something needs to change… This is where I un-mask…


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