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Letting My 'Mask' Slip to Show People the Real Me, Chronic Illness and All

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Yesterday I shared a Facebook memory. It was a picture of myself from a year previous. A picture of “A Bad Day.” Around that time I was quite heavily into my makeup art so I would often share pictures of my makeup, pictures of myself looking very shiny and put together. However, those were the only pictures I would share when in reality they only accounted for a brief snapshot of who I was as a person. In order to get that perfect selfie I would often take in excess of one hundred pictures, looking for that one great shot where I was happy with how I looked. Then I’d put that picture through an editing process until I was totally comfortable with it, comfortable enough to show my face to the world.

Some may ask, “why do that?”

I’ve had my mental health issues called into question before as a result of my podium dancing and my excessive selfies. How could I possibly have anxiety if I put myself out there like that? It’s a simple question but it doesn’t have a simple answer. Before my health got bad I could put myself up on stage and dance in front of hundreds of people. I was up on a pedestal and not actually mingling with the masses. I got to dance and do something I loved without having to really talk to people that much. Once I was up there the individual people who terrified me so much just became a faceless crowd. They weren’t there to see me, I was just there to help create an atmosphere, to get people moving.

And I loved it.

But in between sets when I had to actually deal with the general public I was an anxious mess. The same goes for my makeup looks and selfies. I have always taken pride in my creativity and my makeup is a part of that. The selfies weren’t showing me… they were showing my art. It just happened to be on my face. It was a mask. A mask that allowed me to feel comfortable showing my face in public. But that isn’t reality. It wasn’t “me.”

One day I decided I wanted to show people what was behind that mask. I became aware that I looked at the gloriously beautiful faces of my friends in the makeup world and thought, “they always have it together, look how fantastic they look!” and I judged myself harshly. But some of those people also deal with chronic illness, just like I do, so they must have those “bad days” just like I do. Why do I judge myself so negatively? People probably see my painstakingly created selfies and think, “she always has it together, look how fantastic she looks!” just like I do when I see the profiles of others.

So I decided to let my mask slip for once and show people the real me. This is the face of chronic pain, fatigue and mental health problems. This is the face of depression. This is the face of fibromyalgia. This is the face of a human being who is barely holding on.

side by side photos of a woman. in the left photo she's wrapped in a blanket with her hair up and no makeup. in the right photo she is wearing a lot of makeup

I wanted people to see the reality behind the selfies. I’m not ashamed of who I am. Sometimes I feel like I should be, but then I realize I’m only human. I’m no different from anybody else. Everyone who puts themselves out there on social media only puts out the version of themselves they want everyone to see.

Always remember that.

You can look at someone’s Instagram or Facebook profile and see their perfect pictures, their smiling families and their food and homes that look like they’re straight out of a magazine… but that is not their whole reality. That is reality with a filter or Photoshop. That is reality through rose-tinted glasses. That is the one picture taken from the hundred or so that have been sifted through, scrutinized, edited and then posted when the person is finally happy with it.

So next time you see someone’s awesome selfies and judge yourself unfairly, remember my face behind the mask. More importantly, next time you are one of those people having a bad day, remember that I’ve been there and I understand. A bad day is just that. A bad day. It is not forever, and it is not all that you are. We are made up of our good days, our bad days, those perfect pictures and the 99 that didn’t make it. People are complex and beautiful and ugly and tired… and that’s OK.

You are more than that. You are enough. You are human and you’re allowed a bad day. You’re allowed to not be perfect. You’re allowed to feel like a mess. Be kind to yourself and let yourself be flawed.

And above all else remember this… I’ve got you, and you will be OK.

Originally published: April 5, 2018
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