“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.