Until I discovered that I am likely autistic and understood what that means I was constantly wearing masks. I felt absolutely exhausted and miserable after them. I spent huge amount of time trying to be ''normal'' and failing.
In my case those mostly were/are, job interviews, meetings with other people, phone calls, using the public transport, trying to fit in, handshakes, social interactions, small talks, trying to cope with noises and smells and clocks on the walls making noises.
I have went to some social gatherings only to discover that whenever I am in a loud or crowded place with lots of people talking at once I have trouble focusing on one person or source. I could barely make out anything the person standing only a few feet in front of me is saying.
Obviously, the effort to keep the masks on has taken its toll on my mental and physical health. I had no support whatsoever. I was so unhappy and I felt absolutely miserable. For a long time, the only thing that made me happy was eating. So, I was eating too much and very unhealthy food.
I am still wearing some masks at work. For example, try to do handshakes to be polite and not rude, suppress my stimming, something that really comes me down when I am anxious and also makes me happy. Also, not fighting for the adjustments that would really help me to do the work much better and feel much better.
Since I try to do exactly what feels right for me, not what the society expects me to mo, I feel much happier. Like huge weight off my shoulders. However, it is difficult as I sometimes feel the others expectations, pressure to behave like a ''normal'' person.
Do you (still) wear masks?
As I look back on my life, I have done reasonably well when I have found myself in a new situation with new people, at least for a while. This has been the case because I have unconsciously become a person different from myself, a "normal" person. One could indeed liken this to wearing a mask.
As time went by in each of these new situations, everyday stresses, as well as specific sources of stress, such as when someone else behaved in an unusual or unexpected way, when someone started treating me differently that they had treated me before without a known reason, or simply work pressures or lack of sleep, chipped away at the mask, gradually exposing my true "face" or personality.
Even before my diagnosis, I had come to realise that nobody likes the "real" me, and the stress of being "exposed" made the remnants of the mask chip away even faster, until I was completely "maskless" and there was nothing I could do to cover myself up again. At that point, everyone around me had made it very clear that they found me extremely annoying and some were openly hostile, but most simply ignored me and considered any room with just me in it to be empty.
The worst people were the ones that were nice to my face but spoke about me and sabotaged me behind my back. With them I felt that I was accepted without my mask and that they actually liked the true me. With them I shared my intimate secrets and my trust, because, after all, they were my firends and one should feel free to be oneself around one's friends. Obviously I had no idea what a friend really was or how to tell whether someone is a true friend.
At least I did eventually learn how to tell when someone wasn't a friend (or a very nice person at all), but I was in the habit of giving people the "benefit of the doubt", excusing the way they seemed to treat me sometimes, and accepting their word, even when logic screamed at me that what they were saying was unlikely to be true. Eventually, a line would be crossed, and I would finally realise that the person I thought of as a friend was the exact opposite. There was no going back from that. To me that person was no longer even a human being, let alone a friend.
But the damage had already been done. Not only was the real me chipped away a little bit by the whole experience, just as the mask had been, but I had also suffered more tangible losses, such as my job and eventually my career. As if that weren't bad enough, what stings the most is that others who were involved only peripherally (including those who considered me invisible) came to believe that I was no longer around because I wasn't good enough, or smart enough, or that I hadn't worked hard or that I was downright lazy.
I feel so humiliated that even though I am just as smart and capable as most people (usually much more so), and I have done everything that has been asked of me, even if the request has been unreasonable, I am considered to be a dud, deficient, stupid, not to mention very unpleasant to be around. That is not who I am. It is as if everyone is very conscious of all my shortcomings but nobody acknowledges my accomplishments and strong points, or that I am also hardworking, helpful, and supportive. I often literally drop everything I am doing to help someone else when they need it, but I am rarely even thanked, let alone have the favour reciprocated when I am in need.
Even though it is clear to me that certain people are, quite frankly, not very nice, those seem to be the popular ones, and I cannot understand this. It is as if NTs see the world through a filter that rates each person by how socially adept they are, favouring those that excel (not to mention those that are particularly skilled at manipulating others) and ignoring every other aspect of that person.
Perhaps those people (the popular ones) are also wearing a mask, but I get the feeling that what is behind the mask is even more horrible than what I can clearly see on the mask's surface (but others cannot). I genuinely want nothing to do with such people. If manipulation of others is a skill, it seems to me that it is something I can learn, even though I am obviously not naturally adept at it. However, I truly have no desire to learn that particular skill, and that's what makes me most different from those who are popular.
I think that the difference between us and NTs is more about what's behind the masks we wear rather than the masks themselves. Society would have us all wear the same mask, to conform in every way, including looks and personality. For myself, I am glad that people are all different. It gives me joy to know that I can meet and learn about someone who comes from a completely different place or situation from me, because getting to know that person automatically imparts on me another big chunk of knowledge or insight about the world or existence in general. That is, until my mask wears away and that person comes to hate me just like everyone else has done....
You have described what I consider masking to be, perfectly! Better than I could have done as it sounds as if you have more insight into it than I've managed to gain so far.
Your experiences of it, and of interactions and relationships with NT's, I can entirely relate to - unfortunately.
I too have no idea what, if anything, is behind the masks or facades that 'popular' NT's portray and for the life of me cannot understand how / why the most unpleasant people also appear to be the most popular ones in the NT world.