I was inspired to write this by Ana’s post Mask, in @bitter sweet diary.
We all wear masks: to hide behind; to pretend we are someone else – for comedic, dramatic or other purposes; to live another life. We paint over damaged walls, to mask the cracks. We say words we do not believe, to mask our true thoughts and emotions. Or we wear masks when robbing banks, so as to not be recognised.
My mask was always a means of hiding the cracks. Not a physical mask, not physical cracks. The cracks in my heart, my mind and my soul. Every smile, every “I’m okay, thanks” when asked how I am, every time I stood tall and tried to show the world I wasn’t scared. That was my mask.
The day I came closest to succumbing to the darkness in me (you can read that here), I held back tears through college. When the tutor asked how I was – I was sat away from everybody else, silent – I replied “I’m okay.” When I bought lunch I smiled at the cashier. But I was not okay, and the smile was forced, fake.
When I got home I cried. Tears streaming, I logged into a chat site and opened up to a friend. An anonymous friend; somebody detached from my life and the shit that littered it. And she opened up to me. We exposed our rawest, most fragile selves to one another. And throughout it all, I continued to cry.
I cried until my eyes were dry and I had no more tears to shed. I cried until my jaw ached. I cried until all my strength had drained away. I cried, and cried, until the mask I wore had been washed away by the tears.
I no longer wear a mask. If I am not okay then that is what I was say when asked (though I may not go into details – only rarely when pressed). I will not force a fake smile. I do stand tall though, and show the world that I am not scared. Because I am not scared, not now that I have no mask distorting my view.
My mask was given to me by this world, telling me that people did not want to see the real me. The world told me to hide and caused me to become reliant upon my mask. It was a means of control, through fear. I thought my mask kept me safe, but in fact it was the cause of my own near destruction.
And so by removing the mask I saw the world for what it is. And people see me for who I am. Fear no longer blinded me. It no longer controlled me. And though at times I still do want to hide, I will never again wear a mask.
It’s so hard not to wear a mask, especially when you’re in the pubic-eye. As an educator, I’m supposed to leave my personal life at the door and focus on the needs of my students. Maybe it’s time I cast it off completely. Maybe one of the real lessons my students need is to see an adult struggle with issues and, more importantly, over come them.
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I certainly think it could be beneficial for students to see that. Mental health, especially depression and anxiety, are still very much unknown to those without first hand experience. Anything that can increase a person’s understanding is good.
But in your position a mask is effectively your work uniform. To remove it would mean exposing yourself to your students; and we all know you shouldn’t do that..
It’s definitely a fine line to walk. I work with teenagers (high school), and they are at times are seeking someone to genuinely connect with who had “made it through” who also aren’t their parents (because teenagers). However, I know I could never remove fully my mask completely no matter how much I wish I could. I know it’s there to preserve my job and serve as the proverbial boundary keeper. I just wish the circumstances surrounding things could be different. Your post has come at such an incredibly relevant time. Thank you!
🙂 And thank you, too.