Masking - Willow's Experience
Willow is one of our wonderful Portfield School students, who shares a personal and open insight into her experience with masking her emotions.
Masking as a social survival strategy is frequently used by some neurodivergent people to help them get by in a neurotypical world.
Everyone has their own reasons for masking, but in Willow’s case, she explained: “I mask because I don’t always want people to know my emotions and I don’t want to upset them and I don’t want people to worry about me.”
In an effort to make others feel at ease, Willow presents a happy and cheerful demeanour, despite battling with a suite of difficult thoughts and feelings inside.
Hiding your emotions from time to time can be tiring, and for many autistic people, this is a daily reality – which is exhausting and can wear you down even further when you are already feeling low.
Research has shown autistic people face an increased risk of mental health challenges, which can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including negative attitudes from others, barriers to support, and navigating a world which doesn’t meet their needs.
Although masking may appear useful in the short-term, it can exacerbate negative feelings, impact self-esteem, and lead to depression and anxiety.
There are few people she feels comfortable unmasking around, including her boyfriend and sometimes a friend. However, she does recognise and emphasise the importance of channelling your true emotions in one way or another.
She continued: “I would say that you shouldn’t mask because that’s not going to help. You need to get it out in some way but I generally put all my emotions in a drawing or a song and I feel like anyone who masks emotions should find a hobby that they can get it all out.”
“I generally pick a topic that is bugging me in that particular moment in time…and once it’s in a song it doesn’t matter anymore.”
By using different creative mediums like writing, drawing, and dancing, Willow expresses these feelings – and encourages others to do the same.
Bottling up your emotions can have damaging consequences, and taking up different hobbies and interests can be great outlets to work through these negative emotions in a healthy way. Masking requires prolonged effort and energy, and when re-directed into something useful, individuals gain the opportunity to succeed at new talents and skills.
Ultimately, society must change to become more understanding and accepting of autistic individuals. Increased education and training can help reduce the stigma attached to different ways of behaving and ensure appropriate support is available to improve well-being and mental health.
If your or someone you know is struggling and in crisis, help is available at the Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/