When she runs errands or goes to work, people see a relatively put-together woman– a functional adult who smiles, observes most of the rules of society, and is often ready with a joke. Do you want to know a secret? Her happy-go-lucky air and easy smile? That’s a mask.
I’m not talking about the swanky cloth masks that we’ve been wearing since the ‘year-that-shall-not-be-named’; although she doesn’t mind those masks so much. They’re a fun accessory, like her collection of earrings. Those masks make it easier to maintain the illusion of a happy, relaxed woman when her other mask gets too heavy.
That mask, the one everyone sees but no one knows about, is one the woman has spent years carefully crafting. She learned long ago that being her authentic self made some people uncomfortable and could turn the energy in the room unpleasant. At first, that mask, the one she hides behind, was hard to wear day after day. It felt strange and didn’t fit right.
Here we are now, a score and some years later. That mask is perfect. It exudes patience and serenity when she wants to weep, and radiates warmth and life when she feels hollow. There are days when her secret game of make-believe leaves her exhausted. When, emotionally, her steps are slow and plodding, her knees threaten to buckle with each step, and the muscles in her back scream.
Is she tired because that mask is heavy? Or does it feel heavier as she slowly crumbles under her emotional weight? Those days, maybe the mask weighs her down more by absorbing the tears she can’t cry and those she allows to fall in the middle of the night.
There came a point when she struggled to find the strength to carry that mask any longer; when the anxiety and depression were too heavy. A point when she’d trudged as far as she could and couldn’t imagine going any further.
She had known for some time that she needed help. When a close friend lovingly suggested that she needed to find a therapist, she responded, “I don’t have time.” That was partially true — the rest was that she didn’t feel she was worth the time or effort when there were other things that needed attention.
Finally, she relented. The woman realized that she could no longer be the person she needed to be for her family, her friends, or her employer. She realized that she had long since stopped being the person she needed to be for herself.
Her new mental health team is working to help her see she doesn’t need her mask at all; there’s nothing wrong with who she is. The problem is it’s been so long she’s worn it that she’s not sure if she can get by without that mask; she worries it would be like going into battle without her armor. There must have been a time she felt authentic both inside and out, but she can’t remember when.
Yes, her mask is heavy, but her team has guided her to a weapon and shield she never knew she had. They are teaching her to believe that she is brave and strong. (She had occasionally thought of herself as strong, but never brave.)
They’re helping her see that bravery isn’t always standing up alone in front of a crowd or battling monsters with great gleaming swords. Sometimes courage is quiet. Sometimes it’s taking inventory and trudging on. Sometimes it’s getting up each day to acknowledge the heavy feelings in front of her and still somehow managing to take care of business– maybe alone, but getting it done nonetheless.
And sometimes, just sometimes, it’s being brave enough to tell her story.
Now, she realizes that she’s come full circle —kind of. She’s not used to that brave part of herself. It feels strange and doesn’t fit right. The woman doesn’t feel ready to shed that mask– the one she’s been wearing all these years. She’s afraid of what it would feel like to be so exposed.
Although she wears the mask that fits just right, the one she knows perhaps better than the woman behind it, she’s slowly learning to accept the fact that she is brave. And do you want to know something? Having her newfound bravery as part of her arsenal makes it a little easier to wear the mask she’s spent all these years perfecting– the one she hopes makes the world think everything is fine.
Maybe someday she won’t need it. For now, she wears it as she did before — mostly. The hurt and emotional chaos that created that mask continues to be overwhelming emotionally and physically, but now someone is sharing the load. Someone who is brave and strong. Someone who lives in a part of her that’s been hidden away until now.
Need more positive messages for yourself? Here are some thoughts that might uplift the soul!
Jamie Gogocha is a library assistant by day and rock music loving writer by night. Previous work has been published by such publications as Creative Colloquy, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and Avalon Literary Review. She currently writes for House of Stitched Magazine and the publication’s blog. Jamie is also working on her first novel and a collection of essays. She lives in Washington state with her beloved and their cat.