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The Masks I Wore to Hide From Myself and Others

I wore a mask. Some days, on my bad days, I still do. Like all masks it serves as a barrier between myself and the world. It keeps me safe from judgement and harm. What others don’t know won’t hurt me. I already have enough hurt inside, I don’t need any more.

I covered for my comfort and everyone else’s. These masks, they come in all shapes, sizes, colors and volumes, ready to wear. To force the perfection and approval I so desperately wanted to believe, I put on my masks and played my parts in life’s play. I covered my flaws, worries, imperfections and fears. I buried them deep, so deep, and so safely hidden I forgot they existed. I protected what was mine. That was until earth moved. It was that inevitable moment when the universe played its omnipotent card and said, “No more, it’s time,” and so, the unmasking began.

I wore my mask to hide my pain in order to assimilate. It was the only way I knew how to be present around others. Don’t ask, don’t tell. So when no one asked, I knew it was best not to speak of my pain. I quickly learned that in order to be social, I had to pretend. I didn’t want to be the “Debbie Downer” of everyone’s evening. Friends gathered around with drinks in hand, ready to laugh and leave behind their own troubles. They didn’t come to hear about the scene of my father’s passing. They were not interested in the details, emotions, sights, smells or sounds I experienced through the duration. They didn’t want to listen to how I gave him away, held him and my mother as he passed, crossed him with Holy water, and then was unable to walk in the moments after because grief had physically overtaken me.

The trauma, panic attacks and depression were not preferred topics of conversation to have over cocktails. I was certain they would pass on listening to the undiagnosed mass in my abdomen. I chose not to “burden” them with my many heavy burdens.

Work was another masquerade. Daily, I put on the reliable mask of a professional employee. I didn’t share my personal struggles, just simply lived up to my nickname of “Grin and Barrett.” That was me. Smile and keep going, no matter how much it hurts. No matter the stress of juggling the demands of work, health, grief, mental illness and motherhood, I kept going. I kept keeping on in my big girl pants, just as I had done many times before.

Additional losses, and the surgery to remove the tumor, further complicated my well-being. Through it all, I pretended to be OK as not to worry or trouble anyone. I was surrounded by pain, but couldn’t bring myself to be the one to inflict it. I was trapped underneath it all, silenced. I clung even tighter to my mask, the shelter from my storm. I hid in attempts to recuperate. Recovery is an internal act, with a side effect of isolating loneliness. It hit hard. I accepted my responsibility as I adorned my armor. My smiles hid the truth as my heart cowered and my stomach boiled in the wake of compounded losses and the possibility of cancer. I responded with, “fine,” to cover my fears and darkness.

When I could no longer bear the weight of the disguise, I chose isolation and further sank deeper into loneliness. Under my seclusion, I was crying to be seen and comforted. Yet, I stayed quiet and hidden out of view. I covered my aching with efforts of independence and self-reliance, for the sake of not appearing to be needy. I became addicted to the mask’s security. A tool that once served as shelter, then started closing in on me. It became an exhausting weight to carry, further draining my already limited energy supply. It began lying to me telling me I was alone and I was better for it. It began to suffocate me, suppressing my needs, further dividing me from truth, and separating me from myself. The internal lies began to consume my spirit.

I believe these masks we wear in the name of survival, can end up devouring us. They hold our secrets, but then use them against us. After so long, both my disguise and I were worn out. Our cracks began to show. Truth, love and light slowly seeped through. I saw how tired of hiding I had grown. I was done believing the lie that I needed to be hidden. You can’t hide from yourself. There is no mask that can conceal and no corner to hide from yourself. I realized if I can’t hide from myself, then I don’t need to seek approval from anyone else. Quietly, in my solitude, I decided to invest in myself.

The first step was unmasking. I gently unwrapped the bandages. Layer by layer I lifted the veils of suppression. I began to breathe, airing my wounds. No longer suffocated, I started to share my voice. Healing is proving to be a long, rigorous life-changing task. I am learning about my true self. I’m allowing myself to be open and vulnerable. The mask fell off and new identities emerged. Authenticity has replaced perfection. The dark blanket of depression is no longer worn over my heart. Anxiety’s grip on my mind is now loosening.

I still see and hear more than I let on, but I refuse to quiet my voice. I’m learning to welcome attention and the community created by sharing. I see how short life can be. I am aware life can be unpredictable in its givings and takings, but I know neither are in vain. Now there is a force stirring inside me that demands action. Without honoring the craving, the thieves of unrest and unworthiness take over. To keep them at bay, I choose honesty in electing my passions and gifts. I’m learning what hides the pain simultaneously dims the beauty. My beauty is my own. I own my beauty. It is mine and will never be found within the confines of a mask. For now, I am trying on a few new roles of self-kindness, artist, writer, friend and storyteller.

We all have our masks and our stories, neither of which come with warning labels or instructions. It’s a challenge to seek and honor what rests beneath ourselves and in others. Share the light within and look deeper for the light in others.

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Thinkstock image by Ingram Publishing