Ben Sorenson: How Masking Both Helps and Hinders Belonging
This week I sit down with Ben Sorenson to discuss how masking can both help and hinder a sense of belonging.
Ben shares his personal experiences of feeling like an outsider in social situations and how he learned to mask his true self to fit in. This is a must-listen episode for anyone because everyone deserves to feel accepted and included while being their true self.
Connect with Ben:
Ben's Website: https://www.bensorensen1.com/
Connect with Peta:
Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand odcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. I have to say I did overthink that intro today, and that is because I have been Sorensen on the pod, as you will hear. Ben is a voiceover artist, a comedian and all round lovely guy. But my goodness, do I sound so nasally compared to Ben's beautiful voice? So for once in my life, I am very confident that this podcast is going to be a pleasure for you guys to listen to. Injuries. Without any further ado, let's hand over to Ben.
Ben [00:01:01] Hello wonderful humans it is very real and a little bit tired. Ben Sorenson here. I did voiceovers and comedy and presenting and all that sort of stuff with my neurodiverse brain.
Peta [00:01:16] I know you've been super busy and like to be really honest, I'm fatigued sitting here today talking to you as well. So it can both be fatigue. But I know you've been really busy. You were part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival this year. Can you talk me through what you did there?
Ben [00:01:32] Every year I run and curate a room at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Melbourne, which is the bottom of Eureka Tower. Lovely, lovely venue. We run sort of Wednesday to Sunday all through the festival, which is four weeks for those of you playing at home and 6 p.m. till midnight. We have shows on every hour, so we're getting lots of people in and out. Plus, you know, dealing with different comedians in different shows, it's quite draining. Plus, doing the a lot of the additional media interviews and stuff on top of that for me as a as a brand plus looking out for the venue and making sure that we're okay and tracking. Well, there's a lot of moving parts.
Peta [00:02:21] That's a lot.
Ben [00:02:23] Yeah. And you know, the other really stressing bit is locking in all that all the talent to go. Is this the right program? Have I got reliable talent. Are they shows good. Will they sell tickets. You know there's a there's a lot in that it's not so much a a case of just booking people and going they got good luck.
Peta [00:02:44] I totally relate. I mean, doing a podcast, it's always sort of a gamble of of who's going to come on the podcast and say yes. And making sure that the person is the right fit. But I really rely on my intuition and my gut telling me whether they're a good fit. Is that something that you feel you have as someone with ADHD and autism?
Ben [00:03:09] You sort of get an idea relatively early on if anyone's going to be super bad or, you know, a super not not good fit for the show. Probably like you when you get close to a deadline and you go, Oh, I haven't got that spot filled. You can't make. Worse decisions then, because you just want to fill it and get it done. Tick the box and move on.
Peta [00:03:38] Yeah, I've definitely been there. No doubt about it. I'm really.
Ben [00:03:41] I got here tonight. Oh.
Peta [00:03:43] No, definitely not. Yeah, I. I'm fascinated by different brains, and I always like to start on the positive. So what do you love about your brain, then?
Ben [00:03:58] I love how fast it can think. I love that it's when I'm focussed on something, everything in the entire universe, even stuff that probably shouldn't melt. So why? And that when I'm in that moment, I feel like my brain's doing what it should be doing and everything's okay. I also enjoy being able to. You know, see and experience things differently. So my sensory inputs are a bit different to others. And my favourite thing about autism is how excited I get with trains. And, you know, the other things that at the moment I'm really, really into and bring me a disproportionate amount of. Bryan Tickly joy. So I love those moments. I just wish I could have more of them. I don't know what it is about trains and autistic people. And, you know, it's it's wrong to make those stereotypes, but that's accurate. I just love them. And I don't know why. Because I shouldn't. They loud. They're rattly. They're, you know, hard to keep running. At the moment. I really enjoy cross-stitch as well, although like most things that I love in life, I could go, Oh my God, this is who I am right now and do it all day, every day. And then one day I wake up and go, I never want to touch that again. I had the thing where I had porridge every day and I love porridge. Got a little system set up my porridge. Hi. I can save a lot of money by buying porridge in bulk. You know, I have all these oats and stuff. And I went, Yeah, go may look at me at all thing. And then I wake up and go, This is disgusting. I am not eating this ever again in my life.
Peta [00:05:42] You're just joining the people that were worried during the start of the pandemic that still have all those toilet rolls. You just keep worried.
Ben [00:05:50] Yep, absolutely. If you ate enough oats, you'll use enough toilet paper.
Peta [00:05:55] You've said that you've always known that you were different. What first made you realise that you were different and you had that unique perspective on the world?
Ben [00:06:04] So, you know, when you're a kid growing up in a country town and you're sort of on your own, you just assume everyone is the same as you because you don't know any different. And adults are different. They're different beasts to kids. But then when you start going to school, you realise, hang on. I'm struggling to connect with everybody else because they have a different brain to me and they process things differently to me. And I thought, okay, well everybody's a bit different, so it's not a big deal. And then the more you get into that, the more you realise that hang on, there are. Some pretty big differences in issues. I developed masking very early as a survival technique, and it was much easier to do when I was younger because when you're younger, you get more energy. But as you get older, you start to go, I need a few more naps. It's a bit harder to keep up that that wall or that masks to fit in to the rest of the world. So they knew about ADHD in school, but I wasn't typical ADHD. Autism was like if you're a low functioning. Yes, big problems. We'll give you some some support because it suits us better that if you're high functioning, then you get less than nothing. And that's been that's been a common theme throughout my life. If you mask and your high functioning, which is a terrible term, you get less than nothing because they go, Oh, look, you're fine. What's the problem? No problem.
Peta [00:07:49] So I even told him that masking a lot. And I found it like obviously it's a technique that you had to employ, particularly when you were younger. You said you still do it now. When do you feel like you need to do it? And is there a time that you think, Well, I'm just going to be myself? If people don't understand that, then that's okay.
Ben [00:08:12] So I mask any time I go outside the house. 100% masking. Put your battle gear on. Off you go. Because there's neurologic neurologically typical people. And I say ignorant, not in the sense of there's malice, ignorance in the sense of I just really I what do I do with an adult that ticks? You know, what do I do with someone who's a bit different? So you put your battle gear on and you go out. When I left school and I was sort of in my maybe early twenties, I'd have friends that would say, Oh, but you don't have to mask around me. We love you exactly how you are. And stupidly, I went, Oh, autistic. Brian went, Oh, they have five articulated. They do not want me to mask. Therefore I can be comfortable. And then I've got gone wall. No, no, no. That's what what's. What's happening here? Why are you sick? Is there a problem? That's. That's. No. So the hard part for me was learning. When most people say you don't need to mask around me. They actually don't understand what they're asking for or don't know what they're asking for. And it's more polite lip service than actually being anything like like that.
Peta [00:09:36] Well, that must have been really hard to think that you had that acceptance that you were going to be yourself and then to be rejected like that.
Ben [00:09:45] Yeah, that was really, really hard. Not. Actually participated in a very interesting study recently about the lived experience of autistic people. I'm probably going to get it wrong, but the gist of it was autistic people feeling like they belong and the concept of belonging. And that's what all that stuff sort of came up for me is because he was asking really wonderful questions that really prompted thought. And I think the result of people going, Oh, you can be yourself and then not liking yourself or going on, that's a bit hard or a bit different or a bit weird and it's not normal leads to the feeling of as an autistic person, never trusting or knowing or feeling that I belong anywhere. And from conversations that I've had, and I'm sure Patty would be the same. That's a commonality between anyone who's different or, you know, disabled is not truly feeling like they belong and in some way, shape or form feeling like I unworthy burden on the rest of the people around you.
Peta [00:11:03] And when I listen to you and I think, how can we fix it? How can we make people better understand what it's like to live with autism and ADHD, to make sure that you can feel comfortable and like you belong? Because everybody deserves to feel like they belong.
Ben [00:11:20] And everyone who does not feel like they belong anywhere has that beautiful thought of. I want everyone to belong. Everyone who's a bit different has this messed up sort of kinship with everybody else instantly. Because we know that feeling and we know what it's like. For a lot of people who have seen my shows would go on, Oh, you belong and I'll go now. I've designed it so my mask belongs and so that my mask belongs enough to superficially belong to whatever group I'm working with. Autism doesn't cause trauma, but every autistic person has trauma. I mean, I'll talk a little bit about kindness when I go and do talks and stuff and keynotes. And I think one of the key things for kindness is capacity for kindness. So if you're running on empty and you're tired and you're stressed and you're upset and your own world isn't working out well, you don't have a particularly large capacity for kindness. However, it's really easy to be kind if you've got a big capacity for it. If you know your world's going right and you know you're not under a massive time pressure and somebody needs a hand, you're able to give it to them. So. Kindness is, you know, something that is taught that is in built in some people and is much easier to give if you engineer your life to have capacity for kindness, which is also healthy for the individual as well.
Peta [00:13:12] I love when I'm driving my car. Stay with me, Ben. I love when I'm driving my car because nobody can say that I have a disability. So they're just treating me like everybody else on the road because I sometimes feel like going into what you were saying about kindness. Sometimes people people's kindness to me is performative, and I'm really interested to hear what you feel about having a hidden disability and whether you would choose for your autism to be more visible or wait. Whether you prefer to be able to mask on a regular basis.
Ben [00:13:51] That's a really great question. Look, I think that if I wasn't able to mask and I had a more visual disability, that my brain would just go, right, this is what you got. We're just going to roll with that. You know, do the best we can with what we have. Yeah, but what would I change it? I don't think I would change it. And as horrible as it sounds, I'd actually rather change the rest of the world around me to be more accepting. Not as much for me, but for everyone else. Like doing all the writing that I do. I look at, you know, just the concept that some people don't have it. Internal monologue. That some people don't spend nights ruminating about social interactions they had during the day. You know that some people don't have any of those things. And I'm like, What do you do with your spare time? Why have you not taken over the world with all that additional time and energy?
Peta [00:14:57] VOICEOVER work is clearly well, from my perspective, it's clearly quite structured. And yet you're hosting work is, I would say, very unstructured and unpredictable. How do you manage that as somebody who has autism and ADHD, and why do you gravitate to both sorts of work?
Ben [00:15:19] Early on, I did one thing and one thing only. I tried during the 9 to 5 employment thing. Spoiler alert. It's terrible. So I find because I have ADHD brain is multifaceted. It's like I'm playing, you know, seven different records all at the same time in my brain and. I think by doing just one thing and one thing alone, I feel like I'll get a bit style. So by doing two or three different things, I'm exercising. You know, I'm a brain in some different areas. I like voice overs because it is very structured. They want the a particular sound and within a particular time frame with the words that they provide you. And that's enough of a challenge for me to go or act. And I cram this into into 30 seconds or 28 seconds or whatever it is. And then when it's done and I click send, I have to think about it any more. Doesn't exist. Love it. Same with hosting work, although a little bit of prep beforehand. And then Day Bryan kicks in, do the show, and then once it's done, done, I have to think about it any more. It disappears into the aether. So, you know, one is insanely creative and the other one is, you know, dance, monkey dance to that voice that we like and say these things. And I think those to work kind of nicely together to provide that balance. I kind of just sort of fell into this. I mean, early days I did kid survey with Channel nine and, uh, and that was great fun when I had the energy to burn. Because you can be eccentric. And it's socially accepted to be eccentric. I think that being a personality gives me it's almost like a a hack for the neurologically typical brains out there to accept someone quicker and better. Like all your personality, I can put that in my that's okay. It's expected for you to do all of these things. And most of those things are just autistic.
Peta [00:17:33] How do you. Or have you ever had to explain your ADHD or autism to children? And how do you go about that?
Ben [00:17:41] Well, the kids, the kids, they come through a pretty cool. They're like, Oh, yeah, you're different. You just need a bit more sleep than me, or your brain just works a bit funny. Yep. Cool. I'm down with that. I find kids really accepting because they're still sponges and learning what the world's about. You know, we're going to get along with some people. We're not going to get along with others, but we can still accept that. But every person has different challenges and every person is in their own way trying to do the best that they can and will need various amounts of support from the world outside at different times.
Peta [00:18:22] Is there anything you don't like about living with your disabilities then?
Ben [00:18:28] Socially. I'll make a lot of mistakes personally. I'm not particularly good at being on the ball all the time, and I always get. Really, really sad and disproportionately upset when I'm blindsided. Buy something. But I've missed the social cues or misunderstood the conversation. And then people think that I'm. Malicious or being horrible or something I've just missed or been too slow with some of the social nuances and I haven't put it all together yet, and I don't like inadvertently hurting people. And I'm also really scared and sad because I don't always have the skills, the social skills to recover from an era like that. There's still knowledge gaps for me.
Peta [00:19:24] And I'm sure many people listening to this can relate. You know, having friends and things in, you know, interacting socially is really challenging even for people who don't have autism and ADHD.
Ben [00:19:40] Yeah, and I suppose I feel it more because I know that's a weakness and I notice that more. Okay, Well, there's been a misunderstanding. I'm okay to forgive all my chi with, you know, because I understand. Because I do it lots that I make errors, and they're not deliberate. But I don't feel like other people are as forgiving. And even if they are, I don't believe it. And also the energy drain in order to mine. I love being with people and having fun. But the energy drain. So there's so many times I want to go out, but I know that I have to recharge or have time out. So that I don't burn out.
Peta [00:20:24] So how do you make sure you don't find out? What are the sort of things that you do to make sure that you can completely tune out or super focus?
Ben [00:20:34] For everyone listening. The best, the best thing to do selfs is Google the term self-soothing. It's it's a term that helps you everybody neurologically typical or neurologically diverse. It helps them to interrupt negative pathways and sort of reset some stuff. Like for me, it's sensory deprivation. So I'll put on headphones and a face mask and, you know, that's it. I'll listen to a meditation. I really enjoyed the scent of lavender, so I'll put some lavender on and a little oil burner or Mr. Thing. And then sometimes, if it's acute, I'll use a complex blended scent. For me to sniff, which focuses my brain on trying to work out the different sense that make up that one, which helps to interrupt that negative neurone pathway that that's occurring. What worked for me ten years ago doesn't work for me now and probably won't work. What's working now Probably won't work for me in ten years time. So it's a constant evolution.
Peta [00:21:38] What do you wish for the future for people with disabilities?
Ben [00:21:42] I don't know what it's like to belong. I've read about it and I reckon it's a pretty good it's great Wikipedia article now, but I would love to be in a place where or a society where everybody has that opportunity to find their kin for where they can feel safe, comfortable and belong, not only with their circle of friends and people that they gravitate towards, but have that certain sense of belonging. For society and and the community as a whole, and to feel like they contribute and they are valued. That they are and do have a right. To exist, taking the resources they need to live.
Peta [00:22:38] Thank you for listening to this week's episode of The Pod. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, can I encourage you to leave a writing interview on whatever platform you're listening on, or if you want to suggest a guest or maybe ask me a question, you can get in contact with me by my Instagram. My handle is at Peta Hook, spelt 8ahok8. Or you can also send me an email which is email@example.com. Thanks again for listening and until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the pioneering people where this podcast was recorded.