Reading Time: < 1 minute
A black & white Image of a variety of wooden masks atop vertical sticks with a sketch of the mona lisa amongst them depicting the mask of mona lisa.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Mask of Mona Lisa

I’m sorry I didn’t want to go trick or treating with you after dark.

I just… I just didn’t have the courage. I couldn’t muster up the desire.

I didn’t have the spoons to play third fiddle… nor to put on yet another mask and play my second fictional character of the evening. I didn’t have the energy to express artificial feelings tonight, from the over exaggerated “boo”, to that high pitched, “trick-or-treat”, when one so graciously open their doors to strangers.

I also didn’t want to get lost in the woods, or, on the long, bustling, winding roads, streets, and cul de sacs… as I so often do… I don’t want to find myself lost, again, on the Highway of Hell, unable to find my way home, as I begin to lose myself in my thoughts, anxieties, and fears…

But… Halloween, in itself, isn’t scary. The masks don’t spook me. They overwhelm me. Getting lost doesn’t scare me. Rather, it gives me anxiety.


What scares me the most on Halloween… is YOU. I dread your luminous presence as all I had ever felt was the eternal dark. I am afraid of your kindness, as all I had known was cruelty. I am skeptical of your guidance on these unknown trails, as I had only ever been abandoned in times of need. I am afraid of your security, as detachment is all I’d ever felt.

But, the worst part is, that I feel as if I, MYSELF, am the ghost that YOU are afraid of. Just… a ghost. Or… maybe a madman… or… a maniac who could snap at any second. A shadow of what you wanted in a friend. A tarnished hope, a dying ember. A lost love. I am that wilting rose you wish would grow…

I am the person you wish would “just sit still” and “be normal”. The person you wish “wouldn’t have been so honest”. My honesty does indeed scare, or, at the very least, humiliate you whilst with friends… I’m the person you wish would have “grown-up interests and hobbies”. The person you wish would “stop acting like a child”. I am the person you really, really wish “wouldn’t have asked that question in front of EVERYONE”. That person you want to “talk about this later” with. Whilst I am Medusa’s greatest fear, I am your greatest shame. Then… you ghost me… once you realise how “high maintenance” I might truly be.

What scares you the most IS NOT my mask, but, rather, my actual face. My true nature. My unmasked self.

I am sorry, but I cannot go trick or treating with you tonight, nor ever. Some items in my chamber of secrets are very much worth protecting. Sometimes I keep my mask on because of the ghastly consequences that may arise should I fail to do so. Sometimes I keep my mask on to protect others. Sometimes I keep my mask on because every angel is a devil in disguise waiting to strike in my most vulnerable moment… when I am lost in the woods, alone.

Ben VanHook is an expert on the autistic student experience who has spoken at Stanford and has been featured in programs from PBS to the New York Times. He has authored articles for the American Psychological Association and advised groups from the open mainframe project to Partners in Promise.

Ben is currently a Masters student studying public policy at George Mason University, with the hopes of reforming employment and education policy to make both domains more inclusive for neurodivergent individuals.

Ben VanHook website/Linktree:

Image of Ben VanHook - the harmful effects of masking
Ben VanHook - AuDHD self-advocate - Community Support Coordinator

Do you want to get involved?

Join Umbrella Alliance and improve outcomes for NDs everywhere! With your support, we can create a world where everyone is accepted, valued, and given the opportunities they deserve.

Do you have an article, graphic, listicle or infographic that you would like to share? Submit your content here.

Visit us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on our latest campaigns and initiatives.

Take the next step and join #ND23 today! Your support will help us continue our important work and bring us closer to creating a more inclusive world.

Donate now to make a difference: #ND23 – Open Collective. Every contribution, no matter how small, will help us in our mission to change the world for NDs. Together, we can create a brighter future for all.

Tags Categories ADHD Autism
Reading Time: < 1 minute

Copyright © 2022 Umbrella Alliance Social Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.
ACN: 662 159 346 ABN: 74662159346 | Website Made by Manage My Marketing

Copyright © 2022 Umbrella Alliance Social Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.
ACN: 662 159 346 ABN: 74662159346 | Website Made with ☂️ by Manage My Marketing