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May4
2015

Removing The Masks We Wear

By Carissa Magras

The healthiest people are those who admit to their illnesses.

The first time I was admitted into a mental hospital, I felt such a sense of freedom. I was no longer expected to be OK. In fact, I was expected to not be OK. Everyone there had a diagnosis, and I was no longer different because we were all struggling with similar issues. The burden to appear “normal” or to have everything together was gone. When the intake coordinators give you the long list of “no-no” items that you cannot have in the hospital, they don’t tell you about the other things you will be leaving behind: facades, masks, and costumes. These were the things I wore every single day, pretending everything was OK, when inside I was broken, afraid, and in so much pain. I left it all at the door and, for once, was free to be me. I didn’t have to put on a show there. In the hospital, we were all actors backstage.

Fast-forward several years into adulthood where I found myself reluctantly attending a 12-step meeting. I didn’t think my struggles required such intervention. I wasn’t that bad, I told myself. These groups were for serious addicts, people whose lives were controlled by their addictions. I didn’t think my problems were that bad, but I went anyway – just to check it out. In that hour, I listened to the members of the group share some of the outrageous things they had done and the horrible things they struggled with. During this time, I realized the most ironic truth. This group of people had such intense issues; yet they were some of the healthiest people I had ever been surrounded by because they were aware of their struggles. They knew they had issues, but they didn’t hide behind a pretty mask. They didn’t try to make their problems look better than they really were. They didn’t pretend to have it all together. In fact, they honestly embraced their current states, and they were aware that their struggles were unhealthy and destructive.

People learn their roles and have their scripts. They wear their masks and play their parts. And the show goes on. Until one day, someone decides to stop acting. They remove their mask, they go off-script, and they change what has always been done. The problem is the people still on the stage, those who are still content living in their denial; they don’t like it much when one of their costars decides to stop acting. It changes things. It brings to light what we are all trying to hide from: reality. But it is the actor, the one who has decided to stop acting, who will win the award. Because she will stop playing the part that was given to her, and she will start living and being the person she decides to be, brokenness and all.

We cannot change our pasts. Some of us were not given good parts to begin with, and that is not our fault. But nonetheless, what we do with it is up to us. We can choose to keep on being these hidden people, living in the shadows behind the costumes and scenery. Or we can embrace who we are – faults, illnesses, and all – and step boldly into the light. We can choose to be unafraid of what people will think or say because we are the ones who are free. Free from expectation, free from stipulation. We are free to say, “This messy, complicated life I am living is mine to live, and I am beautiful and worthy of writing my own story.”

I found that I lost a lot of people in my life when I came out from the shadows. But I also gained people who loved me for who I was and who weren’t intimidated by the baggage I carried with me. Embracing reality is key to making life what we want it to be. I am hurt, broken, scarred, and bruised. But I am beautiful, and today is mine for the making. With every step I take, I become more of a person living in love, light, and truth.

We don’t have to listen to those who ridicule us for being real and honest. We choose the “critics” we allow in our life: the people we listen to and whose opinions we value. Value the thoughts of people who know you and love you, messy life and all. I used to believe the lie that other people had everything together, that I was the weird one with all the problems. But the older I get the more I realize that everyone has their own battles to fight. No one is exempt. We are more alike in our brokenness and beauty than we are in our pretending and perfection. It takes great courage to remove our masks and be who we are really are. But I think if we can find the strength to do so, then we will in turn receive a greater freedom.

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Comments (32)

  1. Aiyana

    You’re a brave woman. I don’t have mental illnesses, but I do have an autism spectrum difference. We are alike.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      I hear you Aiyana. From one brave soul to another. 🙂

      Reply  |  
  2. Ray

    It’s funny reading this because I understand where you’re coming from. It’s just interesting when we deal with our demons – we’re so clueless sometimes to how bad it really is and we just write it off as “normal”. I hate admitting that I have a problem with self harm but the more I admit it, the easier it becomes to deal with. You know?

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Absolutely Ray! It’s amazing how just being aware of something can bring so much progress toward freedom. 🙂 Keep it going, you’re on the right path!

      Reply  |  
  3. angela

    Well put, so inspiring, thank you

    Reply  |  
  4. angela

    Such an inspiring read thank you

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Thank you Angela

      Reply  |  
  5. Jennifer

    This is beautiful. Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable, and in so doing, revealing your strength.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      When we are weak, we are strong. 🙂 Thanks Jennifer!

      Reply  |  
  6. Debbie

    I feel like I can stop holding my breath….a giant exhale and admitting I am broken.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Absolutely Debbie. It feels so good when you finally breathe! 🙂

      Reply  |  
  7. Amanda

    I understand this and just love the description of a mental health ward. I’ve been in one 3 times in my life since 2010. (I was 22) I’m now 26 and still understand how this is. I’ve found some hope within a mutual support group that I attend. I wouldn’t have found this group if it wasn’t for a mental health ward.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      That is wonderful Amanda, I am so glad you found that!

      Reply  |  
  8. Elci

    The only time that I felt sense of belongin was on my 1st AA meeting there was people like me. I was able to relate and grow. I know I’m broken and different but I’m enough and important!

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Absolutely Elci!!! 🙂

      Reply  |  
  9. Matt Black

    I stumbled across this post accidentally, but it speaks to me a lot. I spend my days making other people feel better, fixing their problems. I have a medical background and I’m a scientist, I split my time between developing phages in the lab to treat people who are ill and talking people down from panic attacks (I get up to 30 messages a day from people panicking and asking for medical advice for themselves or their children etc). All the time I wear the mask, the facade of someone whose life is going well – and yet really I am struggling. I see no value in my life, have tried to end it twice recently and was about to make a third attempt until I came across this post and it made me stop and think. People forget that even the people who do the helping sometimes need help, even I forgot that and gave up – I guess it’s hard to admit you’re not perfect when so much is expected of you – when you’re expected to be fine all the time, to be at the top of your game. I’m sorry for rambling on, but I just wanted to say thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to admit your problems and ask for help. I’m going to see my doctor today, had I not come across this post, perhaps I wouldn’t have been around next week. Thank you again for sharing your inspiring story.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Matt, thank YOU for sharing. That is what TWLOHA is here for, and I am proud of you for getting help. There is no shame here. We are broken and in need. Some people just put on a better show than others. 😉

      Reply  |  
  10. Laurel

    I feel like I’ve done this exact thing on my blog QuietComplexity.wordpress.com

    There is so much freedom in showing your true self. I have gotten so much positive feedback and it’s opened me up so much to write more. It’s been a great experience so far and I plan on continuing to speak my mind and be free as my blog progresses.

    Thank you for your words

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Thanks Laurel

      Reply  |  
  11. Kristin

    “we are more alike in our brokenness and beauty than we are in our pretending and perfection” – that sentence nails it. thank you for your words; i needed a reminder.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Thank you Kristin. 🙂

      Reply  |  
  12. Abby

    That was powerful and true. It was just what I needed to hear. Thank you! I made the last few sentences of this my status update on Facebook.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Thanks Abby, I’m glad it was inspiring.

      Reply  |  
  13. Jacquie

    This is awesome and so encouraging. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Thanks Jacquie, I appreciate it!

      Reply  |  
  14. Lei

    I wish I could remove my mask in real life like I do when I’m alone and when I’m online. It’s hard to open up in real life and when I last did, everyone brushed it off… as if I never even said a thing. But even though I got through to no one, I still felt relief when I got it off my shoulders but the hard part is leaving that mask behind.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carissa

      Lei, I know what you mean. I have found that the more I do it, the easier it becomes. And that there are people in my life (albeit just a few!) who I can leave the mask off with – so I focus on those relationships more than the others. 🙂

      Reply  |  
  15. Gladys njoki

    Really inspiring.I hope that someday I will able to shed off all the masks that I have.That a day will come that I will be able to let go of my past and be really happy with the kind of life that I do have.

    Reply  |  
  16. Olivia

    “We are more alike in our brokenness and beauty than we are in our pretending and perfection.” This will stick with me forever, Thank You!.

    Reply  |  
  17. Elizabeth

    I found this colomn riveting… Its nice to know were not alone in our pain …our brokenness and eventually our healing..💙❤💙❤

    Reply  |  
  18. Alexsandra

    Putting the mask back on is something I am fighting right now. I have been suffering from alcoholism from the age of 12; I am 54. For the past five years, I have been struggling in and out of treatment centers, mental health group therapy, hospitals, recovery houses, and now in A.A. Four months ago, I walked into a 7am group that I remembered going to years ago with a friend. There was something about that room that I remember feeling comfortable.
    I have been attending this meeting every morning and also two other study groups doing steps and traditions.
    I for the very first time felt a connection to a higher power.
    The connection was strong for a couple months.
    The connection left, or should I say, I left!
    I chose to put the mask back on and go out and have that first and many thereafter drinks.
    I lost myself that night.
    I woke up to a stranger.
    I woke up in a strange house.
    I lost things.
    I lost time.
    I lost my dignity.
    I lost the hope that I can beat this again.
    I say ” Thy Will, not mine, be done”
    My connection is disabled
    I feel nothing
    The mask is on.
    I lie to the ones I love. I don’t remember why I didn’t come home.
    If I could only keep the mask off!!! are my thoughts.
    I have felt sobriety, and I have felt happiness. I so desperately want to find all the pieces of my soul. To open my heart to what I can do in this life not only for myself, but also others.
    The darkness that has crowded my mind for so long must go.
    The mask must be smashed!

    Reply  |  
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