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The Person With a Mental Illness Behind the Mask


People say, “But you look so normal!”

What, pray tell, does “normal” look like? It must look like me, at least the outside of me. The part I show to the world. However, there is a very different me behind that smile. Broken bits of memories are strewn out behind me, and the path ahead is dark, dingy and dreary. This is far from normal, but I don’t walk around with a placard around my neck announcing today’s specials: Agoraphobia, with a side of anxiety and for dessert a slice of deep depression. People see what they want to see and not what makes them uncomfortable. Smile, nod and look away.

People only want to hear, “I’m fine! I’m OK! Hanging in there!” They don’t want to hear, “I’m low! I need help! I can’t go on like this!” They don’t want to be reminded they are only a heartbeat away from their own weaknesses.

Everyone wears some kind of mask. Happy, sad, serious, furious. There is a mask for every emotion. Just don’t reach for that box on the top shelf in the corner. Those are my masks. I had to take them off. My face swelled with the lies I told until none of them fit. Cracked plaster with a painted on face that used to be my normal.

This is who I am. Struggling and broken, still trying every single day to break loose of what haunts me. My scars are real enough. Some are visible on my arms and legs, where I tried to cut away the pain. The rest are internal, made up of cruel words spoken by loved ones who seek to deny there is a problem and so strike out at me. Their masks in place, they hurt the most.

I can no longer explain because they stopped listening years ago when I became inconvenient. I am inconvenient. A quick pause in a conversation at holiday time. A clearing of the throat, then moving right along, as if I never truly existed.

Now, I walk without my masks, my emotions on display for everyone to see. As they see them, they become uncomfortable and turn away. They don’t have words to express what they see, but I do. Pain, humiliation and shame.

Thanks to society’s norms, I don’t fit in. I may hide inside my house, but I am getting stronger. Not every day is a bad day. I am moving forward slowly.

Yet, here am I, alive and twisted. Never enough and always too much. I can never satisfy my accusers or my abusers, for that matter. Because, according to them, nothing ever happened. A mother who has washed her hands of a troublesome child. Ten years of therapy and still my inner child weeps. There is no solace. At least, I look “normal.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.