Everyone wears a mask. Did you know that? Think of ten people you know and I guarantee you will have seen every one of them wear a mask at some stage.
I’m not talking about masks that you use for dressing up. No, these masks look like their real faces but with a twist: they hide what’s inside. You know the kind I’m talking about. It’s the “I’m fine” in response to the “how are you?” and the general appearance of wellness given off. Everyone does it. It’s a trap that we all fall into.
Think back for a moment at some of the encounters you’ve had today. How many times have you put a front on, no matter how small? Perhaps you brushed off the “how are you” with the “I’m fine” or maybe you forced a smile when all you wanted to do was cry. There are hundreds and thousands of other possibilities for other types of masks that you might have put on but I can guarantee you’ll have put at least one on today. Possibly more.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with putting on a mask. As I’ve said, we all do it. Some do it better than others. Many of us are experts. A select few of us are even masters at it.
I like to think I’m in the last category.
Those who know me would describe me as cheerful, bubbly, always ready to tell a joke. Admittedly the jokes are awful – think dad jokes but worse – but I can be funny sometimes. I’m frequently described as a positive person and I’ve been told I’m always smiling.
What if I told you it was a mask?
Inside, I rarely feel any of those things. I don’t often find things funny, I’m almost always thinking negatively and I often find I’m nowhere near bubbly. It’s all part of the front that I put on for other people to see. What they associate with me is what they see when they see me or talk to me.
Over the years I have perfected my mask. Caring for it, crafting it slowly, I’ve done my best to ensure it is flawless. The persona that people know as me, the front they are greeted with, is put up so people don’t know how I’m truly feeling. I have to be honest: it works really really well. In the past I have walked into places with my full mask on, a really black day going through my head, and not a single person has noticed that anything is amiss. One person has told me I am an incredible actor because I can give that appearance of complete wellness and cheerfulness while completely breaking inside. Oddly, I pride myself on it.
Masks and Depression
If you know someone with depression, you may have noticed they put a mask on. They don’t talk about what’s inside, shutting people out with that all-too-simple “I’m fine”. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re their spouse, their family or their friends, they might still give you the mask. But why? Surely it just leads to upset? I’ve heard a few stories that suggest masks do cause upset but let me explain them to you. Hopefully you will understand why we put them on. I shall start with a question…
How do you explain to someone what is going on when you don’t even understand it yourself?
Explaining depression, especially to someone who does not have it, is difficult. If you’re in a particularly dark period of depression it becomes even harder. Putting on that mask, quite simply, makes it easier. You can hide behind the mask and people won’t ask you if you’re ok. You don’t have to worry about not being able to find the words to explain it or the fear that they just won’t get it. Behind your mask, you can seem alright. Your mask is a shield.
Another reason people often use masks is as a coping strategy. At least, that’s how I use it. In my eyes, if I can convince you that I’m ok, that I’m not secretly breaking inside then perhaps I can convince myself. Really it’s all smoke and mirrors, a little trick of the mind but it’s effective. In situations where I think I have no choice but to be ok, I am more often than not ok. Not great, admittedly, but ok. Often it works. Not always.
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