The Masks We Wear

Photo taken by Ted McNeil
Photo taken by Ted McNeil

When you look at this photo what do you see?

Are you sure?

What if I were to tell you that at the moment this photo was taken my daughter had a migraine headache and my son was as happy as a clam. It may seem hard to believe, but it’s true.

We oftentimes make judgements based on what we see. And that can be dangerous. But sometimes that may be all we have to go on. So we do the best we can. Then later we find out that we were wrong. We were way off.

I had no idea.

If I had only known.

I would have never guessed it.

These are some of the phrases we hear ourselves saying after we find out what really is. How someone really feels. When we finally hear about what someone has been battling for months, years, a lifetime. And we lament the fact that we never knew.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

We have become so skilled at putting on and taking off masks that we sometimes forget who we are. Are we the person behind the mask or are we the mask itself? I tend to think that we are a combination of both. And that is okay because that is how we make it day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year.

Is the ultimate goal to get rid of our masks? To reach a point where we never need them again? Always show the world how we are feeling and what we are thinking? I personally don’t think so.

From time to time we all need a place or a way to help us deal with how we are feeling at that moment. Because it can be confusing. And it can be stressful. And it can cause anxiety and even depression.

Over the past two years I have been battling anxiety. It hasn’t been easy and I am sure at times it has made me a more difficult person to live with. Luckily for me, I get to spend my days and nights with the three most amazing people on the planet. My wife, my daughter and my son. They have helped me through this in ways they probably don’t even know.

But it hasn’t been easy.

And yes I have sought out professional help and yes I do take medication that helps me with my anxiety and helps me feel better about myself. Because that is where I think it must begin. We must begin with ourselves. I am convinced that if you are reading this then you are someone who spends much of your time helping others. But in order to best serve others, we must first take care of ourselves.

This is not a selfish attitude. It is anything but. In all honesty, for those of us that suffer from anxiety or depression, we would much rather take care of others than ourselves. Yet, when we do this, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt the ones we love. They want us at our best. They need us at our best. And it’s time we let them in.

Nicholas Provenzano, Joe Mazza, Rafranz Davis and Pernille Ripp have recently published pieces in which they share very personal battles. Countless others have shared their stories and to all of you I say thank you. Last year when Nicholas first went public about his depression I began to feel a little bit better. I now realize that I’m not any less of a person because I suffer from anxiety. Now. Today, with countless stories being shared through social media, I am beginning to feel whole again. And it feels good.

For the past two years I have been blogging. Oftentimes about the things in life that bring me joy. I doubt anyone who reads my blog would have ever thought that I was someone who frequently experiences anxiety. Many of my posts are upbeat and happy. And most of the time I am. But sometimes I am not. So I put on a mask so that no one else has to feel my pain.

At work when someone asks me how I’m doing I always respond with AWESOME! Why wouldn’t I? I have an amazing family, a great job and an amazing life. But there are times when I don’t feel awesome. I’ll wake up and my stomach will hurt before I even walk in the front door. Essentially before my day has even started. Eating can be difficult and coffee doesn’t even smell good.

But you know what? I am getting better. I have sought out help and now through the power of social media I can see that I have an extended support group. I share all of this not for pity or a pat on the back. I share my struggle in the hope that someone reading this, that is going through a similar struggle, will realize that they are not alone.

I believe that we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and feel perfect all of the time. Well that’s not possible and that’s not real life.

I think we should begin treating life as one big dress rehearsal, a rough draft if you will. We must stop telling ourselves that it is the big show or the final draft. Because it’s not. And it should never be.

We will make mistakes.

We will fall.

We will have doubts.

We will experience anxiety.

We will feel depressed at times.

And that is okay. We have each other and we are not alone. Now we must make it our mission to convince those around us, especially children, that they too are not alone. That it’s okay to feel the way they do and that we are here to help them through this game called Life.

“Today I will be the best version of me.”

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