Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘confidence’

I am searching

DH starts his new job in 10 days time, leaving me solely responsible for the children for the first time in a year and a half. This is a massive change in our lives and while it’s a positive change it’s also a terrifying one. I am scared, I am nervous and I am cowering. But I am also searching.

I am searching for the woman I used to be.

I am searching for the woman who spent her nights moshing in underground metal clubs.

I am searching for the woman who survived the death of her fiancé at just 19 years old.

I am searching for the woman who worked for the government for 6 years, often working 10 hour days with a 75 minute commute each way.

I am searching for the woman who had the confidence to travel abroad to lecture at an international conference.

I am searching for the woman who survived the loss of her most trusted friend while suicidal with post-natal depression.

I am searching for the woman who managed to take care of her 2 year old daughter while heavily pregnant and suffering from ante-natal depression, with her husband working nights and studying at university during the day.

I am searching for the woman I used to be, the woman who has somehow become lost in a fog of depression, cyclothymia and anxiety. I used to be capable of so much; now even the thought of going out to see friends sends me into a panic.

Somehow I need to remember who I used to be. I need to find my strength, my confidence, my resolve and most of all, my self.


I glance into the mirror and pause. A face stares back at me; a face cleansed of make-up, of pretence. A face that is both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

This face looks tired, drawn, careworn. The faint lines at the corners of the eyes seem more defined now, shorn of their cosmetic camouflage. The eyes look lost and blend into the rest of the face without anything to define them. The skin is blemished and naked.

This woman is plain. She looks vulnerable. She appears to only have a passing acquaintance with sleep but too much familiarity with pain; it shows in the tightness around her eyes, a tightness usually hidden from view. The layers of artifice and disguise have been stripped away and she is but a pale shadow of the mask she wears daily.

This woman is me, and yet she is not. This woman goes unseen, hidden beneath the layers of superficiality. She is protected by the painted mask and now, dragged into the light, she seems reduced somehow. She has less presence, less substance, less reality. She is my shadow self and yet she is also my true self. She is that which is hidden in plain sight.

She is me, the me that I permit few people to glimpse. And now, like a small animal dragged in terror from its burrow, she is exposed. I stare into the eyes so like my own and yet so different and then I turn away from the mirror, already casting aside the memory of that wan, tired, naked face gazing back at me.

“Masquerade, paper faces on parade…”

“Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you”. (From Phantom of the Opera). I’ve long identified with these lyrics. I discovered at an early age that people around me were happier if I pretended to be happy; sometimes it even made me happier.

As I’ve grown older I’ve learned to appreciate the protection that a good mask can give. I don’t mean a real mask of course, but ways of acting and appearing to others in order to protect your inner self. One of the easiest ways of doing this is plastering on a bright smile and answering enquiries with “Oh I’m fine thanks, how are you?”. Very few people ask how you are because they’re actually interested – it’s a social convention that means very little. Someone told me this week that he was surprised to discover that I suffer from depression because I “…always put a positive spin on things”. My smiling mask is obviously pretty good. It’s particularly useful when dealing with small children – there are times when I just want to shout and scream at them to leave me alone but instead put on the smiling mask. It’s better for everyone that way.

Another mask is physical appearance. I am unable to leave the house without make-up on for a start. When I apply my make-up it’s a little like donning a suit of armour; it makes me feel less vulnerable, more protected and more confident. When I was younger I wore a lot of what might be termed ‘goth wear’. Lots of black, a spiked leather collar, heavy make-up, heavy boots. People looked at me but they didn’t see me – they saw the clothes, the make-up, the stereotype. It was very liberating and gave me huge amounts of confidence. Over the years I’ve had to tone it down for work and then because I could didn’t fit into my old clothes after pregnancy and could no longer afford new ones. I do still have a proclivity for heavy eye make-up though, and my hair has been all colours of the rainbow over the years. (My favourite was neon pink; it’s red atm).

A third kind of mask is the online persona. I have written things in this blog that I rarely ever talk about, even though it is pretty easy to find my real identity. When I’m writing on here I have confidence; I don’t care what people think of me. This is even more pronounced on the parenting forum Mumsnet. I have been a member since 2008 and over the years have had the most incredible support from posters there. I regularly get involved with debates, discussions and arguments and will happily fight my corner; in real life I would be hovering on the edges of the group merely nodding in agreement occasionally.

All these different types of masks, all these different ways of concealing myself, protecting myself – why are they necessary? I’m conscious that the word ‘confidence’ has cropped up a fair few times in this post and I think that’s the key. I am a very introspective and over-analytical person; I constantly second-guess myself and care deeply what others think of me. One of my closest friends has been a close friend for over a decade yet I still wonder sometimes what she really thinks of me.

The same is true for DH. He is the only person who sees through my masks even when I don’t want him to. He sees the real me and knows and understands me even better than I do myself. This is terrifying, to be honest with you, but at the same time it’s a relief. I can be completely honest with him. I still worry that one day he’ll get fed up with all the drama and constant need for reassurance, or he’ll decide that he doesn’t like the real me after all – but we’ve been together nearly 11 years now so it seems he’s happy with who I really am.

I just wish I was. And that’s the other point to the masks – I can pretend that I’m someone else. Not necessarily a different person but perhaps a different version of myself, the improved version. I can pretend that I am finally the woman I want to be – outgoing, calm, confident, happy and mentally healthy.

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