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#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 3

Week 3 6-12 Aug – How does Masking affect Mental Health?

Having to mask too much, too often, can lead to so much unnecessary anxiety. Your brain is constantly monitoring, constantly analyzing, constantly trying to translate rules of social communication that you may not completely understand. It can be overwhelming.

Long term, it can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. You never get to relax. You never get to take a break. You’re constantly “on,” actively having to make changes on the fly. Constantly having to stifle what comes naturally, your true self.

We can’t restrict being ourselves to just the few hours of the day when we’re safe at home. We need to be able to be who we really are, no matter where we are. How else can we be expected to be fully functional members of society?

While some allowances can be made for certain situations – I, for one, would try and tone things down a bit at, say, a funeral, or at a meeting with the school board – there are so many other instances in life where we should feel free to be ourselves.

I struggled a lot with mental health growing up. Looking back, a lot of it was due to undiagnosed, severe anxiety. A mental illness affects the way you see the world. It’s like a broken filter. Adding the task of masking my autism, on top of my anxiety, was unbearable at times.

I’m doing much better now. Managing my anxiety and taking better care of my health, both physical and mental. There are still moments where things fall apart, but the difference now is that I have so much more hope about my ability to survive. And I have solidarity with others online.

Kids with autism have it rough, whether they’re aware of their diagnosis or not. Either they know that they’re different from other kids, and wonder why, and struggle to figure out what they should do about it.

Or they don’t know they’re different and they’re bullied or excluded because of it. It may not even be intentional or malicious exclusion. When kids don’t understand why autistic kids are the way they are they keep their distance. Those who understand aren’t afraid to get close.

Kids with autism want to fit in. They want to be social and have friends. Their ideas of play and friendship may look a bit different from those of other kids, but they’re still there. Autistic kids just don’t naturally know how to socialize. They need to be guided, and plainly told.

We all need friends and peers. Extrovert or introvert. Social interaction is how we define ourselves. How we figure out and know who we really are. How we learn what’s important in life, and what’s important to us. How we learn what matters. Other people are mirrors and windows.

Autistic kids suffer without a social network or a feeling of community. Over time, the isolation and loneliness they feel can wreck their self-esteem and sense of identity. Anxiety and depression can exacerbate this, and lead to so many other physical and mental health problems.

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!


Published by Adriana Lebrón White

Autistic school librarian and former special education teacher. MA Ed in Special Education and MLIS with a focus on Youth Services and Storytelling.

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