I Live Behind the Perfect Mask

Today is Halloween. It’s the one day per year that it is considered completely acceptable for everyone to put on a mask and pretend to be someone or something they’re not. Not only is it acceptable, it’s encouraged. People all over dress up and display themselves as something other than they usually display. There is no stigma attached to this. It’s universally accepted.

But what about the other 364 days of the year (or 365 in the case of a leap year)? Some people wear masks on a daily basis. Except, I’m not talking about literal masks and costumes. I’m talking about figurative masks to hide their emotional pain. They do this for many reasons. They do this because they’re ashamed of who they are. They do this because they’re scared to show how they feel. They do this because they’ve been told that nobody will listen nor care. And they do it as a self-defense mechanism. There do it because there is a stigma attached to mental health issues. And that stigma should not only never be accepted, it needs to go away.

This particular blog entry is likely to cover topics that I’ve written about before. I’ve gone into a little bit of detail about the feelings of  fear and shame people deal on a daily basis. I know those feelings well. I was taught to dislike myself from a very early age. I was conditioned to feel that I didn’t matter at a very early age. I was programmed to believe that expressing how I felt didn’t matter and how I was wrong to even try to do so. I had to live behind a Mask of Sanity.

I’ve realized that a lot of people do not truly understand depression. They may think it’s just a matter of being sad for a day or two. But, it’s so much more than that. It’s a perpetual sadness that doesn’t go away quickly, or at all. There’s feelings of helplessness. There’s feelings of hopelessness. There’s feelings of loneliness. Those feelings may all be present at the same time and the way it makes people feel is truly difficult to explain unless you feel it too. Unfortunately, being unable to  explain it is also part of the problem.

There is such a stigma attached to mental illness. That stigma has made many of us feel ashamed. Being ashamed of sadness and being ashamed to express it just makes it worse. It can lead us to feel that our quality of life is on a never-ending downward spiral. It’s not fair, and it’s certainly not right. Holding emotions in is not strength. Making people feel that they can’t express themselves is not strength.

Despite a few setbacks that I’ve had recently, I haven’t had too many bad days in a row for a while. The smile I’ve been showing over the last few months is (for the most part) legitimate. It’s not something I’m used to, but I like the feeling. I haven’t had to put a mask on. But, that doesn’t make me any less interested in raising awareness and erasing the stigma. I want to be a part of a change. I want to be able to help. I don’t want you to feel as bad as I’ve felt. I don’t want anybody to feel that way.

I’ve said before that it’s okay to not be okay. That’s a big thing that I want people to realize. If you are sad, be sad. Don’t fight it. No, that isn’t a contradiction of what I’m saying. When something happens that makes you sad, be sad. Deal with it. Go through the emotions you’re naturally supposed to go through in that process. Don’t let anybody make you believe you can’t.

I know what it’s like to walk around in a daze for days and weeks at a time due to an emotionally traumatic event. I know what it’s like to go through the motions during a depression episode. I know what it’s like to fake a smile on a day to day basis. I know how insignificant I can feel when it seems that nobody cares. I know how insignificant I can feel when I attempt try to talk to someone and that person doesn’t offer any understanding or support. I know how getting no support from people will make me want to retreat into myself and not talk to anybody. I also know how much of a difference it makes when just ONE person does offer support of some kind. It’s an amazing feeling.

I ended my last entry, which was more of a political topic, with this:

“I’m just one person. But, I’m one person that knows how the system is played. I’m one person that knows the game needs to change. I’m one person that has a voice, even if it’s only really heard here, and only by a handful of people.

Change is needed. And change often starts with just one person.”

I think that works here too. I have a voice. In this case, my voice is the keyboards I use to write this blog. It’s my outlet. I helps me. I’ve already undergone a lot of changes in my own emotional outlook. But, the stigma is still there. I still deal with people that don’t understand and make snide remarks about depression. But, I know that hope isn’t lost. The need to erase the stigma is big. The stigma needs to go away. The need to hide behind emotional masks needs to change. I’m not a celebrity. I don’t have the vast audience that others have. I’m just one person that has a few followers online. I’m just one person that’s has often hid behind masks. I’ve one person that has often felt worse due to perceptions others have. I’m one person that knows that change is needed. And change often starts with one person.

 

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