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.
Photo Credit: John Noonan