Theatre is the place where people come to put on a mask and present a character that really isn’t them. But certainly have made others believe this is who they truly are because they are just a part of a show a bigger picture. I never realized how much of my life was spent in this mindset of playing a neurotypical character. Since the outside world was a stage for only “normal’ characters there was no room for an autistic person like myself. I became aware of my reality when I started taking drama in school. Acting came so naturally to me and others noticed my talent and questioned me about where my skills came from. I just simply replied that I do this all the time in life thinking about my actions, my responses, the outcome I want, how to convey my message with what emotion, and so on. They laugh thinking I was joking because certainly, people don’t live their day-to-day life like they are acting. Maybe not necessarily acting but masking yes.
Many people on the autism spectrum including myself go undiagnosed for so long because they mask their autism so well it goes unnoticed. While still unaware of my diagnosis I knew that I was masking my true self from everyone all the time. I love acting and being on stage but living every day as someone else was tiring. I wanted to let go of the script and show others this autistic side of me. Though with years of masking I wasn’t quite ready to let go.
As an actress, I not only knew how to express emotion but also how to suppress it. This method of acting is so extreme that if someone was tickling me I could control myself to not laugh or smile. If something were hurting me I would not cry or cringe when I felt pain. If I found something gross or repulsive I wouldn’t frown but instead keep a straight face. This method of acting really benefited me when it came to all the challenges I would face with my sensory issues. I could just simply put on a mask and suppress it all and go on with my day like everyone else. Acting allowed me to slip through crowds with ease and made interactions with people smooth. Compared to an unmasked version of myself that draws attention like a sore thumb and makes interactions awkward and uneasy. Acting is a tool that I used to survive a neurotypical society so I wasn’t ready to let that comfort go.
Though I was just surviving I wasn’t thriving. At the end of the day, I was completely drained. All of my suppressed emotions and reactions would burst out of me. While on top of that recuperation time was cut short because the next day I would have to do it all over again. The actress I became was appealing to everyone because I could be whatever you wanted me to be. While on the other hand, my autistic self is complicated to understand but genuine and real.
My real friends and closest family members chose the autistic version of me because they love me and want to get to know the real side of me. To this day I still am an actress but I save it for on stage or in front of a camera because I still enjoy acting when it is just for fun and not a 24-hour task. Even sometimes I do shy behind that mask among strangers. Though when I do get some courage I eventually take off that mask to show them the autistic actress I really am.