Wearing the Mask, Acting "Normal"
Last week, in a sharepost here, I wrote:
We excel at wearing the mask. We fool our friends, our loved ones, our colleagues, our doctors, even. Deep down inside, however, we are the crying clown, our souls in torment, our psyches in a thousand pieces.
It appears I struck a chord. Says MerelyMe:
I read this and I started to just about cry because you have absolutely nailed it with precision. It is so much about wearing a mask…it takes such an incredible amount of energy to fit in and act “normal” whatever that means. But all the while feeling so different on the inside.
Adds Chris, who decided not to put on his mask this particular morning: "[I] just didn’t have the energy or desire to ACT the opposite of how I was feeling."
It’s as if we’re strangers in our own land. Says Alxv:
We have to live in two worlds at the same time without losing it and that makes me feel like I’m a tightrope walker on a thin wire with strong winds always crossing my path every day and sometimes I have no strength to keep my balance and I fall but somehow I keep on finding the strength to go up there and try to stay still and never fall again.
But sometimes it takes us too long to get up. Then people start noticing. Tabby recounts:
I’ve been walking that thin tight rope for oh so long now and many times, I’ve fallen and smacked onto the concrete at full force. Others around have all appeared incredulous as to what the heck is wrong with me while I lay there crumpled on the concrete wanting to just die so the pain would stop.
She goes on to say:
Only to then, have to stumbled and hobble back up the shaky ladder … grab the wobbly balance pole, and very shakily start out across that thin tight rope again and again - with a smile.You’ve always got to put on that damn smile… while you wonder when the next misstep will happen and you fall again… to smack upon the concrete. …
The cruelest twist is no one ever congratulates you on your bravery and determination. You fall down seven times. You are about to get up eight. But you find yourself looking up into faces filled with loathing and contempt. As Tabby concludes:
I’m tired of the damn mask.When I hit the concrete … others just look at me and tell me to scoop myself back up and clean myself off. I’ve got not a soul to help me and no one even lends me a hand to pull up on off the concrete.
Why bother? Maybe we should just go on strike. Hautbois has this to say:
I decided after my session with my therapist that I am no longer going to put on the mask to pretend that everything is "just perfect."Right now with me, what you see is what you get. I have family and friends telling me that this is not me, that they know me. I now tell them that they do NOT know me.
They do not know us. They actually think we are the mask we wear. The true "us" beneath, the one who occasionally surfaces, scares the hell out of them. When we slap the mask back on, then they congratulate us for returning to our "true" selves. Confused? Sometimes even we lose track of who we really are. As Jessi puts it:
I’ve been doing this for so long (especially in the past year), that I have forgotten how to take this mask off. Sometimes I wonder what I’d really be like if I had less reservations and let myself go just a little bit. I sort of miss myself. But I’ve become so uptight and subdued, I don’t remember who I am anymore.
With your help, I am looking forward to a lot more exploration on this topic. But for now, let’s conclude on a note conditional healing. As Nonethewiser writes:
My gift for my husband yesterday on Christmas was me crashing and burning. I couldn’t stop crying all morning.When I went in to take my shower, I ended up slumping to the floor instead.My crying turned into sobs, then into the shakes. The more I sobbed, the louder they became.
He came running in to find out what happened.At this time I was curled up in the fetal position.I have never expressed the thoughts and feelings from bipolar with my husband.I knew he could do nothing about them, and would do no good having him know these things.
Somehow, Nonethewiser managed to get herself together for Christmas with the family, and at the end of the day she had this to reflect upon:
Today I feel like a great burden has been lifted off my heart and mind. Will I stop carrying this torment around with me for the rest of my life? I doubt it, it’s my bipolar and it’s what I do. Just because I was finally able to share it doesn’t mean it’s been erased.It will always follow me no matter where I go, or what I do. But just maybe my load will be a little lighter.
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.