Masking is a complex and costly survival strategy for autistic people. It generally involves intentionally learning neurotypical behaviors and mimicking them in social situations. Sometimes masking focuses on hiding behaviors that people feel won't be accepted
Growing up an undiagnosed autistic person I learnt pretty quickly how not to behave.
When you are autistic, socially nothing comes naturally it has to be learned. It is a constant battle between what you would like to do to be comfortable and what you can't do to make other people comfortable in your presence.
I don't like smiling. It is something I have learned to do over the past 10 years because when I am concentrating I don't smile and this leads to people asking me what is wrong. So now I have a thing about smiling because I get so fed up of people telling me to smile more. I now feel I have to put double the effort into both remembering to smile and concentrate on what I want to do.
This is why masking is so exhausting.
Somedays I just don't have the energy to talk but know if I don't talk people will ask me "whats wrong" or "have I done something to upset you" no you haven't I just don't feel up to talking.
That will seem odd to people reading this because I come across as a chatty, happy person understand that is because for years I was known as the over serious, unfun person that no one wanted to really invite out for drinks.
I am stimulated by intellectual conversation however, I have been told my intellect can be intimidating to others so I now even supress this to a degree and often play "the dumb blonde".
My sister tried to help me navigate offfice politics once. I am not a girly girl (don't see the point in spending 30 minutes putting make up on everyday so don't do it) I am very practical and time is precious. She said "no one likes a smart arse" from then on I now let people think they know more than me. Makes people feel good about themselves you see and will only reveal my true intellect and knowledge to the people it matters but again that depends on the manager because turns out some are threatened by that.
See how complicated it is and how many layers there are to people. I can learn a persons personality pretty quick because my whole life I have had to do it to fit in. Therefore I will make a judgement on someone in 15 minutes of meeting them but also keep a reserved judgement.
I find women way harder than men to read and all my female friends are quite similar minded to me but men just understand me better and I understand them better but again this leads to problems with females. They often don't understand how a woman wearing trainers and a trackie can be having a laugh and hold the attention on an attractive bloke. Thing is I don't see an attractive bloke I just see a person with a common interest.
I can hold eye contact however, when I need to think about an answer to a question I break it. When I am holding I contact I am looking at the colour of that persons eye and thinking about the colour but it means I have to double think about that and the question being asked.
Society has led to me overthinking everything and I can't be my true self in society. Google has been my saviour and i've just researched and learnt and practiced everything from interview questions to small talk. It means I come across very well at social functions and in interviews.
The only people who see the mask slip are my close family, partner and some friends.
When my mask falters usually at work (very rarely) as this is where I do spend the bulk of my day. I will tense up, fidget, not be able to maintain eye contact, don't smile, become mute or give short answers or just agree to anything being asked to leave, cry, just appear frazzled. However, I still am able to achieve the same level of output as a "normal" person.
It is hard because you have to bury yourself and not become overwhelmed to let the mask drop. People don't like different so it causes a ton of stress, anxiety and panic.
Disability is not a dirty word - discrimination is