Figuring out when, how and how much to unmask is one of the most daunting questions faced after an autism diagnosis in adulthood.
For me, I’d also add how fast to unmask, because once I saw how much of my energy went toward masking, I wanted to claim it back as fast as possible. But where to start?
The short answer is start anywhere. Start where it feels safest if you want. Start where opportunities line up for you (and they will). But please just start because you’ll be blown away by what you find when you claim back those parts of you that have been buried so long.
How much do you mask?
Everyone masks to various extents — this is normal human behavior. We mask to fit in, to avoid offending people, to keep the peace and even to “try on” future versions of ourselves until we can fully grow into them.
But autistics mask an exceptional amount of the time, and women can be especially talented at it, to our detriment: We often end up masking our greatest strengths without knowing it. We can disguise our autism so well that we’re misdiagnosed with anxiety, depression or all of the above when really, we’re just living completely unmoored from our own needs.
Want to know how much you mask? Take the CAT-Q. You might be surprised by your results. I was. Not only do I mask more than the average neurotypical person, but I mask more than the average autistic woman — who masks more than the average autistic man, who masks more than the average… you get the picture.
As soon as I read my results, I knew I had to change. I wanted to take back my energy and put it toward writing books, making music — all these things I knew I wanted in my life but seldom had energy to do.
Where I started
There aren’t a ton of easy resources about how to unmask, as I discovered. And probably, that’s the point. Unmasking is going to be a unique process for everyone who decides to undergo it. It’s a journey — picture yourself as the inexperienced character whose journey leads them toward heroism. That’s the level of journey unmasking requires, with all of its risks and rewards.
I decided to start easy and look at the areas of autism that fascinated me most:
- Special Interests: I am choosing to let myself embrace any special interest that catches hold of me and follow it as far as it takes me.
- Sensory Overload: I decided it’s important to accept my high sensory nature because it is truly an undeniable part of who I am. I am finally learning to befriend it.
I’m an HSP
I could write a whole book on this next bit (and actually, I am! You should sign up for my email list so you can be the first to know when it comes out!), so I’ll try to keep it short.
I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. A therapist described me this way back in 2020, and I could have strangled her. I was enraged by the label. I didn’t want to be sensitive. Sensitivity is weakness, I believed, and I’d worked my whole life to build callouses to carry me past it.
The callouses didn’t hold, surprise surprise. But it took my autism diagnosis for me to take my sensitivity seriously and decide, since I can’t change it, I might as well figure out how to work with it.
Not every autistic person is an HSP, and certainly not every high sensory person is autistic. But it’s fair to say there’s notable overlap in the populations and that we benefit from each other greatly — we have a lot in common.
As I started to grasp my sensitivity, I found out I actually love it. While it makes some parts of my life pretty tough, it also enriches my life a million times over:
- I enjoy more vibrant colors, richer musical experiences and more vivid flavors than most other people in the world.
- I am capable of having deeper connections with people, things and experiences in my life.
- I pick up on intense details that most others will miss.
- It gives me direct access to insights and inspiration that come from sources seemingly beyond myself.
On this side of the journey, there is no way I would trade my high-sensing nature for all the money, fame or glory in the world. It is an incredible power. And thanks to my decision to start unmasking, I can now leverage it in my life!
Want to know more? Be sure to sign up for my email list so you don’t miss out when my book drops! Plus, I’ll be sharing more of my journey along the way. Best of luck to you in your hero’s journey to your less-masked future.