The Masks we Wear in Our Mental Illness

The masks we wear in our mental illness hide the real people that we are inside.

One of the most common themes in my life is the masks that I have had to wear throughout my diagnosis and even before my diagnosis. The mask, or even masks, were the result of trying to hiding the demons that I was fighting internally both spiritually and within my own mind. When I put on a mask it was to make it seem, if only for a moment, as if I was as normal as any person standing next to me.

The mask changed over time, but it really just changed because of the situation. I think one of the issues that make men and women within the mental health community wear masks is that there is such a harsh stigma about the people that deal with mental illness on a daily basis. So much judgment goes with having a mental illness. I can remember countless people telling me, “well why can’t you just get better. The rest of there world has to get up and do things, why can’t you?”

One of the worst things is when people say, “why can’t you just be normal?” Since my early teen years, I saw this stigma on mental illness on a daily basis. People around me made fun of “those people” with mental illnesses and it scared me. I did nothing about it of course, but I just didn’t understand. Those people who thought about suicide or self-harm were looked at as outsiders and I was one of them. I can say at the time I didn’t believe that people could get depressed. I was that young, even though I was dealing with depression on the daily basis I just didn’t understand. One of the first masks that I wore was that of a normal teenage kid.

This version of me did what normal kids do, I had friends who were normal and I was as active as an introvert could be in school. I joined a group and was active in the activities only because my parents wanted me to do something productive. I was even good at becoming a part of the group, and I even became part of the leadership of this group. At times it came naturally to be this version and wear this mask, but for the most part, it was a front because there were so many days I felt not normal, so much on the outside. So I pretended to be a part of the group.

As an adult, I continue to wear masks. The hard worker mask was always my favorite mask. This version was always early to work and always worked hard. The praise I got from my bosses and co-workers only helped the mask become more defined. I could hide who I really was for eight hours a day, only to be consumed by darkness every night.

When my life changed with my diagnosis my mask became a reason to lie to people. When I attempted to commit suicide for the first time I had to create a new mask. This version of myself told people “I am okay. It was a mistake.” I told that to my doctors, nurses, therapists, family members, and basically anyone who would listen. The mask helped me reconcile the fact that I was in so much emotional turmoil that I couldn’t let people in, and it became my shield against dealing with the pain.

I have chronicled my experiences here in my blog about the years I lost with my depression cycles. I think the only time I ever took off the mask was those moments where I could be alone. I found that role-playing games became a great place of solace because I could be someone else for a change. The mask would come off in those hours and though my emotional pain was strong I could deal.

I never imagined I would be a place in my life where I would be able to talk about my mental illness or the masks that I had to wear. One of my favorites, only because it was really tragic, was the boyfriend mask I wore in my relationships. The last relationship that I had was in the middle of one of the worst depression cycles in my life. I tried to be the good boyfriend. I bought her things and spent time with her. We had a good relationship, but when I was diagnosed the mask became heavy. Pieces of the real me starting to seep through the mask. My girlfriend saw some of the real me and I panicked. I ended the relationship with my girlfriend and closed myself off.

No one wants the world to see our weakness. I can only speak for myself when I say that my masks were there to protect myself from the world seeing how much pain I was in. At my weakest moments, I hid from the world because it was something I always did in my life.

I have learned to be better and more open with the world about who I am with my family, my therapist, and at times my many psychiatrists. It took me years after my last suicide attempt to be more open. I only started to get better when I removed the mask and let people in. In my mind, I still wear pieces of my mask. In a way, it shattered when I finally opened up about my life. I can say the more that I write here and be open to my readers the more the pieces of the mask disappear. The more I can be effective the better I feel.

What are some of the masks you have had/still do wear in your mental illness journey?

Always keep fighting.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: John Noonan


66 Replies to “The Masks we Wear in Our Mental Illness”

  1. I find that at work, even when I have disclosed my mental illness, I feel pressure to put on a mask of normalcy day to day. I can be exhausting. But I agree with you, writing helps.

    1. Masks weigh so heavily at times. I still put my mask on when I am out in the world to protect me from my social anxiety. This mask is more the loner writer who sits at a table and ignores real life lost in his writing. I try to be more open tot talking to people but sometimes it’s the only way I feel normal. Thank you for sharing your experience with mask you wear.

  2. Most often it feels much easier wearing these masks because we are scared of what people will think of us when they see the real us. It’s feels much safer with the mask. But then, in the end, it is so not helpful, because, we miss the assistance from people who are genuinely concerned about us.

  3. I wear a mask, too, to seem like I’m fine, even though I’m hurting inside. Even on FB I only post upbeat things. But when the depression gets really bad the mask comes off and I isolate myself from social media and going outside. I did take the mask off once on FB and luckily, it was well-received by many friends. I don’t know about the ones who didn’t comment or click Like though.

  4. Reading this, I could really relate. I took a moment to reflect on my mask(s). I wear a lot of different hats, but I think I only have one mask. I don’t know if I can call it a mask of normalcy or not because sometimes my quips seep through. But the mask, in general, provides me with something to hide behind, a deflector of my inner feelings. Of course, it is all for show, to make other people comfortable. It has nothing to do with me. I provide a service by wearing my mask. No one has to figure out how to fix me, or make me smile, or make me feel better. No one has to wonder why I just can’t snap out of it or anything of the like because the visage I emit is purely for others.

    1. I have often felt the way that you have when dealing with people. It’s so much easier to hide. I hated when someone tried to “fix me.” I think the worse thing that I have been told is to “just snap out of it. Everyone gets depressed.” I want to say have you ever been depressed for a whole year (or years in my experience.) I have gotten a better understanding though about these types of comments. It comes from not understanding which is why I write about subject me such as these. Thank you for sharing. It is brave to let someone, even someone who understands, to take a peek behind the mask even for a moment.

  5. I know what you mean. I just call them schemata. I have an autism spectrum disorder so I’m putting on masks or behavioural schemata –
    learned patterns of behaviour that are socially acceptable – all the time to get around in the social world. My depression forces me to put a “mood schema” on top of my “behaviour schema” so I can get around as a socially well adapted, cheerful person. I’m not good at talking about my emotions so, even now that the people closest to me know of my depression, I prefer to be cheerful than having to try and explain my mood and put myself into a stressful situation (although I’m also not good at pretending to be cheerful so at least those who know me usually see through my best efforts. But it gets really exhausting very quickly so I avoid social interactions anyway and even more so when my mood is depressed.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, the way you described your own experiences are great. I avoid social interactions as well for the same reasons when I am depressed. Again thank you for sharing this with me. I know all too well how hard sharing my own experiences.

  6. Us folks with mental illness deserve Oscar nominations. I’d go to work in the middle of a depressive episode and STILL hear comments about how I’m “always so positive”. Those comments were like daggers in those moments. Keep up the fight, man! Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been married for fifteen years and my husband has gone through a lot of trial and error to finally come to understanding this year that he is bipolar. He has worn a lot of masks which made it so difficult for therapists, psychologists, or I to pinpoint what was really going on. A lot of people who have never had a mental illness or have been close to someone just don’t understand the strength it takes for someone to reach out in the first place. I hope you’ll continue to shed light on this because it helps me to hear another point of view to understand what he’s going through.

    1. Thank you for sharing the story about your husband. It can be the most difficult thing in the world for a person to finally come to understand what is wrong with them. It was years and three suicide attempts before I admitted that I was Bipolar and I need to work on getting better. One of my goals when starting this blog was exactly what happened here, you see my diagnosis through my eyes to better understand what is going on in your husbands life. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my blog.

      J.E. Skye

  8. I definitely feel like I wear a lot of masks, although I’m working to become more honest with my friends and family. In the past, my mask has occasionally slipped with people I am close to. I had an awful experience with my ex who, on realising that my depression was much worse than he originally thought said, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be happy like you used to?” Not realising that I had just dropped my mask. It took ages to repair that damage, but my current partner and my friends have helped me to be more honest with them by being open to hearing anything I need to say. I’m very lucky to have them. I hope your family and your therapist support you in the same way.

    1. I am very lucky to have a good support from my family and my therapist. I am getting better and I am working towards being more open and letting the pieces of my mask fade away.

  9. I’ve never been good at pretending to be happy when I’m not. It’s probably one of the main reasons why I struggle to hold down a permanent job. I wish I had the skill of wearing a mask then maybe I would be able to function in the world. My emotions tend to consume me and run my life.

  10. I really liked your perspective on the ongoing issue with mental illness! I totally agree with all that you are saying, in my depression, I honestly felt like I was faking and it was because, as you said, of these masks that we wear in our depression. My favorite mask to wear has definitely been the “everything is fine” mask. I think that’s a common mask that most of us who struggle with mental illness because we don’t only want to let people in, but we don’t want others feeling sorry or worried for us (even tho they have every reason to be). Great read! Keep writing about this, I enjoyed reading😊!

    1. I can’t agree with you more about the “everything is fine” mask. It’s such a common mask, as you say, because it’s so much easier to hide behind it than let people feel sorry for us. Thank you sharing. I do my best to write my real life down.

  11. Thank you for posting this. It is true, masks are often worn.. I find I wear one most when I go to work. The mask of sanity. Sometimes it slips yet I have learned a few coping mechanisms that make it easier. Morning writing pages, blogging, walks, painting and finding groups that fit my personality.

    1. This was an interesting topic that I chose to write but it felt good at its completion here on my blog. I actually turned it into a chapter in my book going more in depth of my masks. Thank you sharing and taking the time to read my blog

  12. Thank you for this…I often write about the “masks” we are forced to wear as well. This really hit home and your writing on this topic is spot on. (I also like hoodies, anything with a hood, to “hide” when I need to – as you mentioned in your most recent post). You are an excellent writer on this topic and very inspiring to those of us who often feel alone as this disease battles with our brains…please keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you for taking a moment from your day to read my blog. I always write so that people like us can relate with one another, share their own experiences, and, as you said, not feel alone in life. I know feeling alone in my mental illness has always been a major issue in my life. I will continue to share my own experiences.

      1. I truly appreciate your candor and being able to let the world know. I am attempting to do the same. We should not live in hiding or shame because of the “wiring” in our brain. I love you blog!

      2. It is the best feeling in the world sharing. I wish all the luck and success in sharing your own story. I am very happy that you love my blog.

      1. You’re welcome. Your writing helps others like myself understand that we’re not alone.

  13. I understand the exhaustion and the isolation of wearing masks. I also suffer from Bipolar Disorder and I have spent much of my time hiding who I really am. I’ve also enjoyed losing myself in RPGs and novels. It is wonderful to be “not me”. There was a game I played in high school, Anywhere But Here. In my head, it was always Anyone But Me.

    I’m glad that you posted this. It is nice to know I’m not alone, even though I isolate myself.

    1. Thank you for reading my blog post. It’s funny writing Themis particular piece for my blog and also my memoir really put into perspective how much time I spent hiding myself from the real world. I am glad that sharing your experience here, and know that you are never alone.

  14. It’s interesting, in my case, because at this point in my life, instead of wearing a mask to hide my depression, I just withdraw from showing people anything at all during my low points. I isolate myself, stay in bed, stay even more glued to my phone, all to deal with as few people as possible. Great post!

  15. The topic of masks has come up for me several times over the last couple days.

    As a metaphor a mask does help me relate and get it.

    But to answer your question, what masks do I put on?

    Well, the metaphor breaks down for me. For me, a mask is a thing, a noun.

    But what helps/hurts me are the verbs and vectors.

    -Am I making progress? Is it enough, far enough, fast enough, deep enough? enough?

    -Am I falling back? how far and how fast?

    -Am I stuck? and how sticky is this stuckiness?

    For right or wrong, I’m relatively open, maybe even too open to the point where opening up becomes a distraction of its own.

    To put it differently, in the movie the Matric, Neo or Morpheus or any of the characters that go into the Matrix, their avatar always looks the same. Its their skill sets that they might load up and apply.

    Need to fly a helicopter, there’s a sub program to run for that.

    So my masks are sub programs to run for situations. If I’m stuck, then I put on the sub program to create momentum. If I’m going too slow, I try to amp up the progress etc.

    The problem is that the sub program doesn’t necessarily heal me. It helps me get to the next screen maybe, but it doesn’t heal me.

    So I keep working to progress trying whichever sub program will help me and hoping that the next screen will be better, easier, … something that is worth getting there.

  16. “I don’t care about anything mask” has been the heaviest because the way I really feel is the exact opposite. I take most things to heart and feel everything.

  17. I wear masks all the time. I have depression and social anxiety. My anxiety has got so bad that I’m anxious all the time, and overwhelmed. I wear masks because some of my family, apart from my mum, don’t understand mental health. I have been told things by people, so called friends negative comments so that’s why I wear a mask. I’m expected to just deal with it and function like everyone else. I’m doing CBT but my therapist is just focusing on treating my social anxiety only. I haven’t seen any changes yet. I’m like in session 6 I think. Im not told to do any journaling etc…so I don’t know. Although I like her and we get on well, I hope it does help. Maybe it’s different with social anxiety and therapy with generalised anxiety, anxiety? How have you found cbt?

    1. CBT has worked for me, maybe not as much lately, as I really struggle with my social anxiety and my depression in the winter time, but it has its uses. I am about six or seven months into practicing CBT but I meet with my therapist about twice a month. So I am still working on it. I am struggling really bad with my anxiety at night.

      1. I’m glad it’s working for you. Sorry to hear you struggle during the winter months and struggling at night. It’s a long process to getting better but we’ll get there in the end. I’m worried that I’m in session 6 because in the UK you can have CBT for free but it goes up to like 9 sessions, something like that. I thought I’d see improvements by now. What has your therapist made you do for social anxiety if you don’t mind me asking? . She wants me now to expose myself in outside situations but what’s bothering me is I haven’t changed thoughts etc just exposure now and after session 9 that’s it. I’ll then have to pay privately which I can’t afford write now. It’s a pain. It’s definitely an ongoing thing.

      2. My therapist and my psychiatrist started having me do immersion therapy. It’s when you put yourself in places where your social anxiety is at its highest and you go there for as long as you can. You me I am really comfortable with writing in specific coffee shop because I have for so many years. To combat my social anxiety I tried other coffee shops in town. I have a fear of theaters so my doctor asked me to go see a movie during the day when there is less people (I am still trying to work on this one.) basically put myself in social situations that make my anxiety bad for as long as possible. At the beginning of the year I could only stay at my favorite coffee shop for an hour. Now I can do it for three hours before my social anxiety takes over. It’s never easy and chicken out most of the time especially in the winter time.

      3. I’m glad that you are taking steps and getting stronger and better. This is were my therapist and your differ. She has just told me to just go somewhere to test out my belief, what my prediction is, and thinking what will happen (evidence to prove my belief) and then outcome and if belief is still relevant. I’m having more lightheadedness..I think that’s what it is. It’s hard to explain because I don’t feel like I’m going to panic, die and I don’t feel my breathing is different but maybe I haven’t noticed. With your social anxiety do you get that feeling sometimes? The thought that was in my head was “people are staring at you” they weren’t but that caused my lightheadedness…even though I’ve been to that coffee shop before and didn’t have that problem. This is were it gets confusing. I need to tell my therapist about this tomorrow. This is were I get confused if I have a panic disorder or it’s just social anxiety. I hope you are doing well today. Keep getting better. Onwards and upwards.

      4. It’s hard to say the difference. I know when my anxiety is really high I can feel my heart racing and I can feel the anxiety coursing through my veins. But when I am in a panic attack I can’t breathe, my heart races faster, I feel a numbness in hands and I can’t keep still and I think I am going to die.

        With my social anxiety in public settings I fear that people will know something is seriously wrong with me or that I won’t be able to control my anxiety and it will go to a full blown panic attack.

      5. It’s true. I’ve had that too. When I’ve had a panic attack I get what you described, but I knew I wasn’t going to die. I knew it was an anxiety attack. It’s really hard to know the difference but what happened today which I wrote about, I didn’t have any of that apart from lightheadedness, so I thought I was just not comfortable. I remember my therapist told me..if you think your going to die then it’s a panic attack but if you’re aware of the fact your not then it’s different. I don’t know. I’ll see what she tells me tomorrow. I guess I’m in denial and don’t want her to turn around and tell me I have depression, social anxiety and that I’m top. It’s hard to accept these things. I’m trying to accept. It’s really hard for me to do at the moment.

        I’ve had that too, what you write about not being able to control it and will give you full blown panic attack. I’ve had that when I went on holiday. Every day was a nightmare and the day I left to go away was when I had a full blown panic attack.

        Hopefully we will both be able to handle it better and better.

      6. Hey there! Excuse me for the late reply. I’ve just been mia for a while. I understand this actually. It’s comforting to know I am not alone and there are other people going through the same things out there. Thank you for your messages. I really appreciate them! We are very strong people for it, even on days we don’t feel like it. It’s really hard but we are so strong!! I hope that your sessions with your therapist are going well. Thanks for the follow!

  18. …it’s interesting because when I take the mask off and people can see I’m hurting and upset, I get told I just want sympathy, it’s my fault etc…so the mask comes on again.

      1. That’s so true!!

  19. This post really struck a chord with me. I’ve been “officially” living with mental illness for 5 years now, although my entire life I can relate to what you’ve written about wearing masks. I still haven’t really let me guard down, and have lost too many friends and partners to count because I feel like I can never truly be myself with anyone besides my family.

    All throughout elementary and high school I consistently tried to be someone I wasn’t, to fit in with people I thought were worth my time. I did all this despite having my confidence continually knocked down by others because I was never secure enough in myself, I’ve always hated who I am.

    So much ignorance exists these days about mental illness. Not only is a stigma present, people don’t even care to educate themselves about what these individuals go through on a day to day basis. They don’t want to understand what goes on in the mind of someone with depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.

    Thank you for a painfully relatable post about your experience, you’re very brave!

    1. Thank you for sharing a piece of your own life with me and my blog. This was a great piece to write because it’s so relatable to so many people. It sucks when people try to take you down and not realize that it really hurts their mental health. I used to hate who I was too, for a very long time. Eventually, I was able to find myself and I hope that you do too.

  20. Thank you for posting. I really connect with that, the idea of “masks” with mental illness. Because society does make it appear shameful, when it’s more normal than it is strange. I have personally dealt with anxiety/depression for many years. I too have hid behind masks to hide it because I was afraid of what people would think of me. How burdening it might be. But now I realize the more I open up and the more proud I become of who I am, the relief I feel. I loved this! 🙂

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.