How NeuroDivergent Masking and Burnout Can Become a Perpetual Cycle


Hey humans Lyric here, and this week, we are going to be talking about the relationship between Autistic masking or NeuroDivergent masking and Autistic and NeuroDivergent burnout. So if you’d like to hear about how this can become an endless cycle for some NeuroDivergent People, please do stay tuned.

ALl right, let’s do some definitions.

So NeuroDivergent masking, if you’ve never heard out of it, hurt out of it, hurt over it, words.

NeuroDivergent masking is described as when someone who is NeuroDivergent – Autistic, ADHD, OCD, whatver… is pressured to hide the parts of them that would out them as having a different brain type, uh, because the ways our brains process and interpret information, sensory information, emotional information, information from other people, communication, all of that is an invisible difference.

 So some NeuroDivergent people learn to hide those struggles and those differences, in order to appear more NeuroTypical.

 I want to make sure, before we go any further with this, that everyone here understands very clearly, that this masking, this blending in, this camouflaging, this hiding your NeuroDivergent traits, is not something that NeuroDivergent people do, because we’re trying to be manipulative, or we’re trying to be deceptive, and trick you into thinking we are someone we’re not.

This is something, that a lot of us do, because we want to be invisible. We just want to blend in. We don’t want to stand out. We don’t want to be picked on, we don’t want to be bullied.

A lot of us have been bullied and picked on in our lives for standing out, uh, some of us, just by being ourselves, stand out, and we don’t always want to stand out.

It is often unsafe to stand out and for some Autistic People, it can be more unsafe than for others to stand out.

 Masking is something that we do because of a lack of safety. We- we mask and we make ourselves small, and we blend it in to stay safe, because it isn’t always safe for us to be ourselves. Much like, with being a queer person, it is not always safe to be out with that part of yourself.

I want to give you some examples of Autistic masking, for me, as an Autistic Person, my personal experience.

Masking, for me, sometimes can look like: in one workplace, where having weaknesses was very taboo, any weakness you couldn’t overcome was thought of as shameful. So any weaknesses I had, I hid and felt very ashamed that they existed, because those things were thought of as shameful in that environment.

Uh, with conversations, and in communications with other people, it often looks like me sitting in the background, not engaging, because I am overly worried about trying to figure out if it is my time to come into a conversation.

I struggled to figure out if- if I’ve got my timing, right, if this person really is interested in what I have to say or not, I have no idea a lot of the times.

I’m constantly wondering if I’m talking too much, or if I am being annoying, or trying to hide the fact that, I started talking about one topic, and halfway through, completely forgot about what the point I was trying to make was, trying to act like, “yeah, I didn’t just lose track of where I was going with this thought.”

This is just a few examples of me personally. Uh, some other examples would potentially be, also for me personally, holding my body still, and especially hiding my emotions, and my excitement about things.

I’m someone who tends to express a lot of joy, in jumping up and down, clapping my hands, bouncing, shrieking, making noises, when I’m really happy. And that’s the kind of thing that, when you get overexcited, overexcited air quotes, overexcited, when compared to what? People around you will scold you and tell you “calm down” or “why are you making a big deal out of this thing? It’s a little thing.”

Uh, because to me it is a big thing, but to someone else, it’s a little thing, and so my reactions to things constantly were downplayed. So I was told that my reactions were air quotes, inappropriate.

I changed my reactions, to change myself, to be an- a version of myself, that was less inconvenience on other people. This is what I did for a long time, before I found out I was Autistic.

It’s a fairly human experience and need, to be accepted as you are, your strengths and your weaknesses.

If I were to ask you right now if needing to pretend to be someone, or something, you’re not makes you miserable, I’m fairly sure, because I asked this question sometimes, when I work with people in workshops, you would all raise your hand and say, “yes, it does make me miserable, to need to- be expected to – pretend to – act like someone else.”

But with NeuroDivergent People, this is often just the norm for us.

We’re expected to be a version of ourselves that is more palatable, to people around us, and that’s soul crushing.

It’s a message that, who you are naturally isn’t good enough. That’s hard on our self-esteem.

 Autistic people are more likely to have co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, suicide is a killer of Autistic People, and one of the reasons we have lower life expectancies.

 All of this is really scary, when you look back, and start to see that the Autistic masking has been tied to Autistic People, having poor mental health from masking, and this pressure to be someone or something that you’re not, which is exhausting.

Keeping up this false front, going over and replaying conversations in your head, trying to figure out social scripts, uh-uh-, when you’re engaging with other people.

Uh, I get to the point where I just don’t even want to deal with people, I don’t know, or other people. I just want to be alone, because other people can be so exhausting sometimes.

Life can be exhausting, when you are a NeuroDivergent Person. So many NeuroDivergent People live on this constant edge of burning themselves out.

Uh, with Autistic People, we talk about Autistic burnout a lot, and I think other NeuroDivergent People experienced similar burnouts, as well, uh, from just having to navigate this NeurTypical NeuroNormative society, that has been designed by NeuroTypical people, with little to no input from NeuroDivergent People.

We are fighting an uphill battle, in systems that aren’t designed for us, and this starts early.

This starts with school in the education system. My first burnouts were in elementary school. Sometimes in children we’ll call them regression. If you’ve ever heard of Autistic regression.

Uh, with Autistic burnout, we see it’s, it’s defined as Autistic People who have a, a loss of skills, uh, that some of us will experience when we are just taking on too much, and very little can like push you over that line to too much.

Masking is a big part of that. It-it- becomes this endless cycle of masking, because that takes up energy, that is precious. It is a finite resource and a lot of, a lot of NeuroDivergent People have a limited amount of energy, because we’re already fighting against these systems, that aren’t set up with us.

Like when I was little, the education system, the teachers didn’t teach me the way I needed to learn. The fluorescent lighting in the building gave me literal neurological symptoms; and so I was fighting being told that I was the problem, for not being able to learn the way the teacher taught.

I was fighting the environmental, sensory environment, as a young person. Uh, I was fighting being misunderstood, and people not knowing I was Autistic. There was a lot of things.

 In the workplace, again, uh, when I burnt out, at 29, it led me to being diagnosed Autistic, because of that regression in skills, that slide.

 That was because there were new demands put on me, in that workplace, and accommodations I need we’re unable to be provided. I was unable to get the support, that I would need in order to continue in that role.

And unfortunately, what I’ve learned is a lot of organizations are not willing to to provide me with the support I need,, in order to be an exceptional employee and to be my very best self, which is unfortunate.

 I think they’re missing out on a lot of Autistic People, because there is this notion that, you know, we can’t give you special treatment. Everybody else wants what you would like to have; only the differences I need this, or I can’t stay in this space.

I need you to change your system and let me in. Instead of just saying, well, “this is the way we’ve always done things. This is the way we do things here,” and treating me like, I’m the problem. That’s what happened to me in elementary school.

Now that I know I’m Autistic, I’m not- I’m not going to sit down and take it anymore. That’s why I worked by myself, on my own, doing what I can, here and there. Because I know I have to pace myself differently.

 Now I know that my pace shouldn’t be the same as the NeuroTypical pace. I have to modify that pace,

 and be more compassionate to myself. I’m not a machine. I’m not, I’m not a product. I am a human, and I have human needs. Uh, I, I need to rest, uh, and take care of myself. That that is a necessary thing.

Taking care of myself, because I’m NeuroDivergent, looks different than taking care of myself, when I thought I was NeuroTypical, or the way NeuroTypicals do. That’s a very different experience of self care.

So learning to be my most authentic self has been a cornerstone to breaking this cycle of masking and burnout, and masking and burnout.

It is not lost on me that the ability to take the mask off, and be yourself is something that is at this point, a privilege to be able to do.

I wish it was something everyone could, and I’m going to admit that there are still circumstances that, even I mask in to some degree, because I don’t feel safe.

I don’t completely drop my mask, even now, five years on, after finding out I was Autistic, around very many people.It takes me a while to know someone is really a safe, accepting person, for me to relax, and be myself around.

Unfortunately, people haven’t been particularly kind to me, throughout my life, and so I’m a bit guarded with that.

All right, humans.

Thank you so much for hanging out this week.

If you have experience with NeuroDivergent masking or NeuroDivergent burn- burn out, I encourage you to drop your comments in the comment section below. I’d love to see the discussion continuing.

Is this similar to your experience is your experience different?

Let, let’s keep these conversations going, and help educate each other, because we all have a little bit of a different perspective on these things. My example is not going to be the universal experience that everyone has.

Also, before I sign off, I do want to say thanks to the Patreon subscribers, YouTube channel menbers, and Facebook supporters, who do that little- little bit of monetary subscription, that helped me with things like web hosting, uh transcriptioning, and close captioning software.

All those things that helped me polish and create these videos, and this educational content, that as of this high quality, with all of the accessibility features, I am so incredibly grateful for each and every one of you.

I really couldn’t do this without you, so thanks as always. I’m a big believer in gratitude and expressing that gratitude frequently. So every week I’m going to keep expressing my gratitude to you. I could not do this without you. Thank you.

Uh, thank you to everyone, though. Everyone, whether you are sharing the videos, commenting, giving your ideas, your feedback, asking your questions. I’m so grateful that you’re all here.

This community, wouldn’t be a community without you, the members of the community. So, thanks.

All right. I will talk to you all next Wednesday. Bye Humans!


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With gratitude,

– Lyric

6 thoughts on “How NeuroDivergent Masking and Burnout Can Become a Perpetual Cycle

  1. Thank you Lyric, for giving me a name for what I’ve been living with for 43 years. I’m a mom, whose always known she was different. It took having my own child 9 years ago, and noticing in his first years, he had similar reactions to me, with sensory issues. I knew in my soul what he needed. He’s been evaluated, and found to be ND. I haven’t been officially diagnosed; but have been told by treatment providers if my parents had paid attention, I would have been diagnosed. I agree, and have found such a validating sense of peace with it. It all makes sense.

    Masking and burnout fit totally for me. I didn’t have the words to describe it before. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this. 💜

  2. Thank you Lyric 🙂 Yes, I’ve masked, I’ve burnt out. I was so damn good at doing data reports, that I was promoted to boss bitch. That role nearly killed me. I like data, it makes sense and makes me happy to get results. I liked my work as well; dream job really; – supporting others living with diagnosis to live their best lives, and I was good at it! Too good. They made me manage three teams of people to support vulnerable people. I did it really really well, and some of the systems I put in place are going strong and working for our community really well even two years on. But I crashed. When I resigned I literally lay in my back yard under the bottle brush tree looking at rainbow lockets for about 3 months. I dissolved. My two beautiful kids were with me. We recovered me gently, lots of rock painting and time in the creek. Lots of laying down. Lots of music. Lots of painting. My beautiful daughters are quite possibly autistic; I want them to learn self care is okay. Stopping a job that people want you to do but you don’t, is healthy. Now, I work again, knowing my boundaries, with one gentleman with autism diagnosis. We bring eachother joy. I do his reports. They tried to make me a manager again; and this time I didn’t comply; I quite blatantly called out my needs. Work life balance. Family. Down time. Time for sensory feedback for me. Not endless phone calls with NT’s. Now I do my 3 days a week, have loads of time in the creek with my kids, and feel much better about being me.

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