When I started thinking about writing “Behind the Mask”, I realized that there was certainly more than one kind of mask. Masks come in as many different forms as there are different people. We all come from different cultures. Even if the culture is the same, families live that culture in different ways, so every family is, in reality, a different culture of its own. And they all deal with mental health problems in different ways. But depression is still depression. The feeling is the same, even if people have different masks and different behaviors.
No matter how different they may be, masks seem to boil down into three categories. What I think of as the cheerful mask is used by someone who feels a wide range of different negative emotions about herself, her life, and the situations in which she lives. She doesn’t want anyone to know the hurt, fear, depression, and anger that live inside her. She doesn’t even want to reveal it to herself. To protect herself from feeling and dealing with those emotions, she acts like everything is fine. She appears to have a personality that is outgoing, smiling, and friendly. To those of us living with her, that is who she is.
Sometimes, instead of an outgoing, personable exterior, a second type of mask is used: the neutral mask. This mask doesn’t show much emotion at all. These neutral masks appear neither happy nor sad, and consequently, those who wear it are not well-known by others. They quietly blend in and purposely don’t attract much attention. They are often intelligent. As students, they usually get good grades. They are most often quiet and polite, so their behavior attracts little attention from their parents, teachers, or peers. One student expressed it this way in her journal:
“I got an A on my chemistry test today. It is amazing to me that no one really knows who I am.”
Another student wrote:
“I may seem like a happy kid, but every morning, I slip on this fucking outfit that makes me out to be fine, but it’s a lie, and I’ve gotten good at hiding it—hiding my anxiety, my grief, and lack of interest in other people’s shit. I don’t know who this person is.”
These kids certainly don’t have good perceptions of themselves behind their masks. They assume that what others see in them is what they see in themselves. When they are told that they are liked, they don’t really believe it. They only see what they see in themselves, no matter what others say they see. It makes it hard for them to understand, and they wonder what the truth really is.
“I guess I long to know what others think when they see me: passersby in the hallway, my classmates, teachers, even my best friends. Do they see what I see, or do they see what I act like I want them to see? Are my own perceptions of myself accurate? Rarely does a day go by when I don’t change my view of myself. Some days, I’m ugly, hideous—a huge head with distorted features and an odd, misshapen body. Other days, I’m completely acceptable. I’d much rather be me than anyone else. Still other days, I border even on pretty—clear blue eyes, ivory skin, and a nice mouth with a nicely proportioned small figure. Only one of these can be what is truly there, because last I heard, we don’t morph into other forms on a day-to-day basis.”
On the other extreme is the third mask, the angry, defiant mask. This mask is worn by kids who act out the hurt, fear, and anger that lives inside them. They definitely get noticed. There is little doubt about what others think of them. Other angry, hurt kids identify with them, and they bond together. Most adults and many kids observe how they act and believe they are bad kids. We don’t think of the angry, defiant adolescent often enough as someone wearing a mask. For the most part, they are loving and compassionate kids who don’t know how to handle the difficult circumstances into which they have been thrust. Eventually, they act angry for so long that they don’t really know a different way to behave.
“I don’t care. I hate them all. They don’t care about me. Why should I give a shit about them? I wish they were all dead. I could kill them all!!! If you put a gun in my hand, I swear I would do it.”
They know they are capable of loving and being loved. Yet, they also feel so hurt and horrible inside. They don’t believe they deserve love, so they act in a way that drives others away.
“I’m a fat, ugly whore. I know it; they know it; and so they can all just go to hell.”
Over the years, I have gained some insight about the people who lived behind their masks. It’s my hope to pass that knowledge on to others through this blog. I encourage you read and react. Your experience and knowledge about your mask and the mask of other you relate with can help us all better understand and eventually help get rid of our masks.