Dropping The Mask

This week I’ve chosen to write about something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently (finally insomnia is good for something!).

I have only just done what I personally refer to as “Dropping the Mask”, the hidden illness equivalent to “Coming out”, this is a major decision for anyone with either mental or physical health that “normal” people (yeah, I’m still trying to work that out too) physical illness such as ME, Fybro, Arthritis or Lupus, mental issues with Depression, Anxiety and many others (Often multiples of both as they are all cause and effect issues).

Most of us have learned to play the part of “normal” (there is that word again) so well we should get an Oscar, we hide behind a mask throwing around that four letter F word constantly, you know the one, FINE.

So even when someone does notice there is something wrong we deflect them, we come up with excuses, any of you recognise any of these??

You are in pain, it’s obvious to others but rather than saying “It’s my condition” we go for the nearest “FINE” mask, “I’ve got a hangover” or “I didn’t sleep last night”.

Anxiety levels are up or we feel panicky, do we tell anyone that? Nope. We get the “FINE” masks out again, “I’m hungry”, “I just need some fresh air”, “Too much coffee this morning

In fact, here’s a poem about it:

Look in the mirror and who do you see? Is that really you? Who you want to be? Or is it a Mask? Just what you want them to see?

We have masks by the score, for every occasion... Changing persona to suit situations.

Who are we really? Do you really know? Or is all that we see, just the masks as we go...

But why do we do it?

Because there is a stigma in our society at the moment that assumes if you have any of the above you must be broken or somehow unfit to work or be part of modern life, we worry more about what people will think of us and the possible negative effect on our lives if people “know”.

Now this is something I can completely relate too, when I first got my diagnosis and referred to the M.E and Pain Clinics, I had a permanent job where I fitted in well, I was well respected by both management and my peers, I loved my job, had commendations from the board and I though the company was great…

Queue illness, I went to them and informed them (why wouldn’t I?) as I would need some time off for hospital appointments etc, long story short, 2 weeks later my employment was terminated for “Reasons” (that I can’t go into as the gagging order from the actions I had to take are still in effect :p) it was additional stress that caused some major mental health issues to go with the physical, in the months that followed I was almost bed ridden, I had a 'transient ischaemic attack', a fancy name for effectively a “Mini Stroke”.

Really not the best period of my life, but that’s the negatives, looking back now there were actually more positives came out of it, I found out I had some real friends and that there is actually really good support out there if you look for and ask for it.

Based on that experience though, as soon as I was starting to come out the other side, I started creating new masks, I had one for business, one for social events, even one for friends and family.

They all thought I “FINE” because that’s what I told them, and from the outside my world looked rosy, but each time I crashed I crashed harder, just reaching for the mask was getting difficult and cracks were starting to appear on them..

After my last one (and I’d like to think that it was my last on many levels) I started to re-assess my life, I spoke to a number of people and organisations such as Rotundus, Mind and other “informal” facebook support groups, I realised I wasn’t alone in the way I feel, everyone has masks, everyone hides even from themselves and throws out the F bomb constantly, so I decided enough was enough, I stopped hiding behind the mask, I was honest, I asked for help (or in some cases just stated that “I have these issues“ and asked for space.

Something fantastic started happening, people were supportive, they listened, they haven’t judged, they have helped. So much so that I am now being the change I want to see.

It’s not easy, I still at times find myself reaching for the mask and it takes a conscious effort to simply be myself and not simply portray who people want me to be beacuse it would be "easier".

The difference is this, I now see "me" when I look in the mirror, and I'm proud to be me.

Have a look in the mirror and even though you know it's not easy being you, acknowledge your positives and don't be ashamed of your negatives as they are all part of what makes you you. And you're awesome.

I’ll leave you by saying that the whilst stigma is most definitely still out there but is getting weaker, more and more people are “dropping the mask” and together we are making a difference and changing the world, one mask at a time.. We “are” the new normal.. #OkNotToBeOk,#DroppingTheMask,#MentalHealthMatters

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