I have worn my mask for so long that it fits like a second skin and I often feel naked without it. I like what I look like with my mask on, it hides the parts of me that aren’t very pretty. I don’t go out in public without wearing it like a coat of armor for protection. It is not only physical in nature — it manifests itself in my behavior as well. My mask is one of happiness: smiles, energy and laughter. My mask is also one of strength: confidence, determination and toughness. I wear it to hide my truth.
What is it that I’m hiding? What do I look like underneath? Below the surface, I am a woman battling mental illness. My mask hides anxiety: fear, racing thoughts and panic attacks. My mask hides depression: hopelessness, sadness and tears.
When my mask is on, I am invincible. I can light up a room and be the person I wish I could be.
I don’t wear a mask because I am ashamed of myself and my illness, I wear a mask because I am too proud of myself to allow my mental health to stop me from living.
My mask has been a part of me for years, but it is not all of me. I have donned my mask for so long and it has been repaired many times. Perhaps that is why it slips down sometimes and I let some of what is hidden, show. When I let my mask slip for too long, I start to feel vulnerable and I pull it right back up. If I don’t like what lies underneath, what will others think of what they see?
People like the “fun me,” the woman who has it all together. But if they could see even half of what I feel, I don’t think they would know what to do with me. I don’t often know what to do with me… So I wear my mask not only to protect myself, but to protect others from the real me. I don’t want to lose my friends and loved ones, and I don’t want to put them in the position of having to leave me because I am not who they thought I was.
Lately I have seen my mask start to crack, and that scares me. At the same time, I dream about how liberating it would be for the mask to crumble so I could just be me — all of me. To be able to celebrate my strengths, while embracing the weaknesses I work so hard to overcome, would be so much easier than suffocating behind my mask.
I took my mask completely off recently. It was scary to allow myself to trust completely and to be so vulnerable, but it was also liberating, beautiful and so very special to finally feel safe enough to do so. To be seen for who I am — anxiety and depression included — and to be accepted and embraced, is a powerful and humbling experience. It was like feeling the sun shine on my face for the first time.
But then the fear of getting burned became too strong, and I wear my mask once more.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Victor_Tongdee.