Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘masks’

“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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