“When you’re acting all the time, you tend to get confused between the character you’re playing and yourself,” explains AB, now 30, who started wearing masks while in college. I may be related.

While I’ve covered my face as far as I can remember, I’ve raised this game so much in my fourth year of law school, overnight I “seemed” to have turned into a complete person. other, according to people who know me at the time. I have autism, and without knowing it myself, I “covered my face” to hide my “nervous disorder” – words I had never heard of at the time.

Face covering is the suppression of one’s true self by neurotic people. It is known by many names – camouflage, offset, adaptive transformation. But the motive behind it is the same: putting a person’s “best normal” to “fit in” so that they can avoid being pitied, patronized, petted, ostracized, hated, harassed or Bullying for being different.

“It’s a survival strategy,” said Nidhi Singhal from Action For Autism (AFA), a New Delhi-based NGO. “Unconsciously or unconsciously, people can simulate their voice, the words they use, their smile, their eye contact, even their general manner of behavior… by observe other popular or ‘like’ children.”

However, people often don’t realize they are wearing a mask because over time they begin to believe that their masked selves are who they really are. “For me, wearing a mask is like driving a car on autopilot to survive unpleasant situations… I just realized I was doing it. [when I became aware of my autism],” says Shayonee, 32 years old.

Camouflage can limit a person’s understanding of their strengths, traits, comforts, and discomforts, and, as Singhal points out, even hinder their “ability to trust their instincts.”

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“The first question that popped into my head when I realized I had neurosis was: ‘Who am I really? ”” said Tanuka Ray, a psychotherapist from Kolkata. It is impossible to know which of her features are masked and which belong to her, which further complicates her relationship with her neurotic disorder.

This distortion of their self-identity – alongside the impact the cover-up has on their mental health – often turns into an identity crisis for many autistic people. “In the long run, my whole perception of myself was distorted,” AB says.

Shayonee also echoed AB’s concerns. “Even in my 30s, I didn’t know much about who I was,” she said. “I can’t bear to look back at photos from a certain period – when my masking was at its peak – because I don’t know if that’s really who I am. ”

While not being able to see past photos may seem strange to many people, I sympathize with Shayonee immensely. When I look back at the photos from the days before my diagnosis, I feel like I’m looking at a stranger wearing it swimsuit. How have I been able to hug so many people when physical contact with people – hugs in particular – is almost painful for me? How do I manage to interact with groups of more than five when the sound of even two people talking at once quickly turns into a sensory nightmare for me? The more I look at digitally preserved moments from my past, the more confused I become.

“[N]not knowing who they are, what their place is in the world… can be very confusing and affect one’s relationships, one’s friendships, even one’s career,” said Gopika. Kapoor told The Swaddle in March of this year. Kapoor is an autism consultant who has worked with Ummeed Child Development Center, a Mumbai-based nonprofit dedicated to helping children with developmental disabilities.

For example, Shayonee has affected her relationships with people. “I find it very difficult to connect with people who know me when I wear a mask. I feel that they won’t understand the new person behind this mask because I won’t fit what they expect to be my ‘normal’ [masked] she speaks.

Unfortunately, though consciously Deciding to accept their neurological condition, many individuals continue to struggle to stop wearing masks. AB calls this unconscious or subconscious tendency the “default setting” that often turns on automatically in social settings, especially when she finds her autistic self rejected by those around her. .

The lessons we learn in our formative years will stay with us into adulthood. Unfortunately, for many people with autism, the lesson learned is not to be yourself. Tanuka says that even if she doesn’t feel the presence of any social distancing leading to the need for masks anymore, years of adjusting to how “supposed” a person is, are often responsible.

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To avoid covering my face, I have started to actively avoid social interactions. Every time I interact with people, I put on a mask. It’s almost uncontrollable – usually because I don’t know how it is in without my mask.

What I do know is that when I’m not wearing a mask, I can stimulate without worrying about the world, I don’t have to worry about my facial expression, I don’t have to worry about not communicating with my face. eye or overworked, I can process stimuli at my own pace without fear I’m called “sluggish” I can just cuddle with my soft toys every now and then I’m overwhelmed because there’s no one around to judge me and I’m able to exist in places where I’ I feel comfortable – due to differences in my perceptual abilities (affecting my perception of my body position and movement in any environment), most “normal” or “acceptable” body positions make me uncomfortable. When I’m with people, I can’t do any of these things that comfort me. I feel like I’m constantly playing a character that’s not me. The longer that goes on, the more I feel followers.

Tanuka believes that moving into the “space of curiosity” about herself helped her begin the process of overcoming an identity crisis caused by years of disguise.

This curiosity-based approach has also worked for me. Instead of seeing my Instagram photos “appear” for suggestions, I try to recall how I felt when they were clicked. Usually, the memories I have of cases captured on camera are feelings of pain, discomfort, and anxiety. Above all, however, I remember an intense struggle to “fit in”.

The journey to discover who I am underneath the mask is not an easy one. It involved taking a long walk down memory lane and questioning almost everything I knew about myself. However, the process can also be a rewarding one.

But while learning about who we are can reduce the long-term effects of camouflage, camouflage isn’t really necessary. For that to happen, society also needs to learn – and fast.

Singhal said, “More and more adults in this field are wanting to share their life experiences. The world without autism has much to learn from it… We must move away from views based on deficiency and impairment and learn to appreciate individuality over identity. ”


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