Who didn’t, or for that matter doesn’t, like to put on a scary mask and try and scare your siblings or friends around halloween time? Remember those masks? The old ones. I’m talking about the ones that you would put on and, instantly, your skin reacted to the humidity of your breath and the heat started to build. The ones that had little eye slits and a hole in the mouth, about the size of a large straw, making visibility and breathing basically an unattainable task. The ones that your buddy would end up carrying around most the night more than actually wearing it. I’m sure those very ones are still around. I haven’t been in the market for some time now.
This is just one example of the many types of masks out there. They can be a lot of fun. You basically can be someone or something else for a while. Keep people guessing who might be behind the mask.
Even in the superhero world there are masks. Masks to hide their true identity. I have always found it kind of funny at how minimal some of these masks are and people have no idea who they are. That’s just the way it is in those worlds. The idea of the mask is still there though. Keep people guessing and, well, protect the ones that you love. The successful playboy billionaire by day. Crime fighting mask wearing vigilante by night. Bruce Wayne becomes something different, but we know it is still him behind the mask.
In life, we all like to hide behind a mask from time to time. We don’t always want to let our true self be seen or known. It is a natural defense mechanism. It is meant to protect us from harm, maybe embarrassment. Maybe we just aren’t comfortable in our own skin. We all throw on a mask from time to time.
Sometimes our mask wearing gets out of control. That is not meant to be judgmental in any way. It happens. Sometimes we get caught up in protecting ourselves so much that we forget to take our mask off. Or we forget how to take it off.
Do you know how I know it happens? I became really good at wearing my mask. I was, and still am, prone to keeping it on. Prone to keeping it on so long I forget how to remove it. I struggle with this. At one point, I had almost forgotten my true identity. Wearing my mask, or learning how to take it off, has been one of the most difficult aspects of my journey to improved mental health.
When my mask is on, the biggest thing I have noticed now that I have done some reflection, I wear my mask so I don’t let people in to see the real me. I find that I have a hard time having a serious conversation sometimes. Not that I can’t have one, but I choose to not a lot of the time. I tend to try and joke and entertain more than have a meaningful conversation. I would rather do that than talk about life and what it means to me. I don’t know exactly what leads me to be this way, but I’m sure that a major insecurity about myself exists.
I find that it really comes out when hanging out with friends and family. I try to lighten everything up. Almost like it is a mission. Don’t get me wrong, real unmasked me will make an appearance from time too time, but it isn’t often. Or should I say it used to not happen often. I am working on it.
Do you want to have the feeling of being exposed and vulnerable more than you’ve ever felt before in your life? Take away a substance that you used frequently, alcohol for me, and try and figure yourself out. Alcohol was a huge crutch for me. It was my medicine. I took this medicine to “feel better”. It really seemed to work…until it didn’t. It provided the material for my mask. I hid behind my mask of alcohol for many many years. I wore that particular mask so well that I forgot I was even putting it on. It was just there. Always there. It was even there when I wasn’t drinking, creeping into all aspects of my life.
Loud music was always on. Conversation was fun. I was throwing my masked self out there as the real me and trying to be entertaining. I will even venture in as far to say that I was trying to be funny. Get a laugh out of people. Anytime something serious was brought up, I’d basically zone out. Maybe throw a few things out into the conversation, but not really engaged. I was lying in wait to change the subject. I wanted to avoid the serious. I was not comfortable throwing my whole self out to people. My mask was fitting really well.
Why do I struggle at exposing my real self to people? Honestly, as I think back on all the years that I masked up with alcohol, I completely forgot who I was. I didn’t know how to engage with others as my true self because I had forgotten that part of me. Drowned it out. So it became easier to avoid it than face it. Easier to avoid it until you are forced one day to face it.
The alcohol was out of control. I wasn’t even really aware that I now was dealing with severe depression and anxiety. Everything was a blur by this point. I became very aware one particular night when the dark thoughts I had been having for some time came to a breaking point. Either I keep wearing this mask and possibly not be here much longer, or make the leap to take it off and face myself.
Either choice really scared me!
I decided to get help. The help that I was seeking was for the severe depression and anxiety that I was experiencing. I sought help to take away the dark thoughts that I was beginning to have about maybe ending my life if things kept going the way they were. While in the hospital, I decided that I had to quit drinking. I don’t feel the drinking was the cause of my depression, but it stoked the fire to an out of control inferno. I decided to take the mask off and face my true identity. My true self. A self that I had forgotten even existed sometimes.
I am locked in a no holds barred wrestling match with myself on the mask issue. Hiding behind it is so easy, but hiding behind it just doesn’t get it done. I am working on not hiding behind it anymore. Trying to remember how to take it off. I feel completely exposed without my mask. It isn’t comfortable at all, but I have to do it. Removing the mask is part of my growth. Part of my journey. The uncomfortable feeling has begun to lessen some the more I walk.
My mask absolutely finds its way back onto my face. How could it not, I wore that thing for years and years. It was a habit. I’m not going to sit here and say that it doesn’t happen and that all is well because I made this decision. This, as are a lot of other things, is a work in progress, but again I have to do this. I have to be…gulp…patient (refer to previous blog on patience) let the process work. By learning to take my mask off and remembering my true self, I can now grow.
This process will only work if I continue to do things differently than I used to. Talk to people, I mean really talk to people. See my psychiatrist. See my therapist. Be engaged in improving my own mental health. I no longer can sit back and wait for it to go away. Mental illness and mental health doesn’t work that way. You have to be actively engaged.
I do still wear my mask from time to time. Probably more than I would like to sometimes. After all, this is still a very new process for me. I’m changing years and years of wiring and mask wearing. It doesn’t happen overnight. What is cool is the fact that I don’t wear my mask as much. These blogs are one way that I try and take it off for a while. The longer I get used to taking it off, the more likely the habit of wearing it will go away.
So let’s leave the mask wearing to halloween time and to the superheroes that we have grown up with. We will still find ourselves wearing them at times. That is inevitable. We really just need to be more conscious of taking them off more. People do want to see the real us. I have seen it in action as I put this into practice!
Man, it is a long journey. It’s a difficult journey at times, but we can do it. I use the word “I” a lot as I tell the story of me, but the story or the journey that we are on is really about the “we”. You are not alone in this. We can do this. It is OK to not be OK, but we can get back to OK together. We do that by walking together.
Have a great day!
Feel free to jump over to Facebook and join the group I’ve started:
Jason Kehl’s Basement Of Jams: Rocking Mental Health
This group is meant to focus on an “everybody in” type of focus. I share my music and also this blog there. The music I share is instrumental (I am not a singer). I try and attach a positive message to each tune. I also encourage others to share their hobbies or anything that they like to do that makes them happy. Or share anything that is working for them. A place where we can get away from things for a while. A group approach to improving each others mental health!