Take Off Your Mask

Jess Down with the Sickness (Mental Health), Massey Approach to Recovery, Personal Care 3 Comments

It’s okay to be sad. Depressed. Angry. Annoyed. Guilty. Afraid. Disappointed. Desperate. Conflicted. Frustrated. Hurt. Worried. Remorseful. Resentment. Overwhelmed. Anxious. If you feel negative; it’s okay. If you feel positive, that’s definitely okay too, but this article is for those not feeling so great, or for you when you don’t feel good. I’m telling you it’s okay.

I write a lot about positivity, and the power of positive psychology, and I believe in it. I believe that it makes our good days better and that it can help fend off bad days. I also believe that there is nothing wrong with feeling—truly feeling—all of life’s emotions, even the negative ones. Too many times have I masked my negative emotions, tried to shove them down and ignore them, pretend they weren’t happening, when in reality what they actually needed was acknowledgement. They needed validation. Those feelings needed what I give my positive feelings—time and support.


The problem lies with two facts 1) I did not want to spend time with these emotions and 2) society did not encourage me to spend time with these emotions, it wanted me happy or “happy.” It took a long time to even come to this realization, that I needed to spend time with these emotions, before I could figure out how I was unhealthily currently coping. Once I was able to realize that I was wearing my “mask” of happy emotions — when I was unhappy underneath most of the time — that changed everything. That’s not the kind of life that I wanted to live. That’s not the kind of life anyone should live—pretending to be someone else just because their real feelings might make other people uncomfortable.


But realizing it and stopping it are two different things. This had become a life-long habit for me, one I have realized I started in childhood and utilized as an unhealthy coping skill throughout my adolescence and adulthood. It was so much easier to show people my “happy mask” than what was underneath… a depressed, anxious, irritable, frustrated, overwhelmed, conflicted woman who was constantly questioning herself; and just wanted a friend to trust. It came to a point where I had to break myself down completely. For me, that literally meant leaving my job, moving across country, leaving my friends and family, and starting over someplace totally new. I am not advocating this for everyone. But for me—this is what was right.


Once I got to the other coast, I had to build myself back up. I had to leave the mask in Ohio. I needed to listen to all my emotions—positive and negative. Everything serves its purpose in life. The good doesn’t feel good without the bad, and I try to look at my bipolar like that—I am lucky enough to see the beauty in the small things because my depression takes me so low that I see good in the everyday. When I’m not depressed, I can see beauty all around me. When I am depressed, I feel it for as long as I need to, because I know it will pass. And I use my coping skills and Three Keys (organization, adaptability, and listening to myself to the Massey Approach to Recovery to gradually get back on my feet. But first I feel it—because if you try to shove past it, whatever negative emotion it may be, it will come roaring back like a monster; ten times worse than before.


So take your masks off my friends. Let the people in your life see you for who you really are. Don’t be afraid to show them the real you. Be proud, and be true to yourself. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you don’t know how to break free. Find support, someone to help you take off your mask and make your mark on the world. And feel all of it—even the scary stuff. Because that will pass, and the beautiful things behind it will be even better! Until then, feel however you damn want! Just know you’re not alone.

And that tomorrow is a new day.

Please Hear What I Am Not Saying — Charles C. Finn

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by this mask that I wear.
For I wear a thousand masks and none of them are really me.
Masks that I’m too afraid to take off, fearing that you’ll get to know me.

Pretending is an art that is second nature to me.
I’m pretending that I am in command and that I need no one.
That I’m cool and that my surface is so smooth and I cannot be shaken by anything.
I act as if I am in control, but please don’t for one moment be fooled by my surface, that’s only
my mask.

Beneath this mask lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath this mask dwells the real me in confusion, loneliness, and fear.

But I don’t dare tell you that.
I don’t dare tell you that this is my mask.

I’m frightened by all the possibilities of my weaknesses being exposed.

I think about it all the time. Will I look like a fool?
That’s why I work frantically to create this mask to hide behind in my relationship with people.
This nonchalant, sophisticated facade helps me pretend and shields me from the glance that
knows me.
But such a glance is precisely my only salvation.
It’s my only salvation if, however, the glance is followed by acceptance and love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison…from the
barriers that I have so painstakingly created.
It is only that glance that will assure me of what I cannot assure in myself
And, that is, that I am really worth something.

But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to. I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid that your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love.
I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me…that you’ll laugh and that your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I am nothing. That I’m just no good and soon you’re going to find out
and you’ll no longer love me…that you’ll reject me.
So I play my game. My desperate, pretending game with the facades of assurance from without
and that of a trembling little child from within.
And my life becomes a front.
And I idly chatter to you in suave tones about anything that really means nothing.
And yet I can never tell about the crying inside of me…of my greatest hurts…of my deepest fears…my concerns.
I can’t tell you that because I am afraid.
So please listen carefully not to what I am saying, but to what I am not saying.
To what I’d like to be able to say. And for what my very own survival I need to say.

I dislike this hiding…honestly.
I dislike this phony, superficial game I’m playing.
I really would like to be genuine and spontaneous and me.
But you’ve got to help me.

You’ve got to hold out your hand.

You’ve got to hold out your hand even when it appears to you that it’s the last thing I want from
you, because I am going to share a secret with you about myself;
the moment I act like I need you the least is the moment I need you the most.

The moment I act like I need you the least is the moment I need you the most.

Don’t be fooled by this mask. When you see anger in this mask, don’t be fooled for one
second…that’s not anger, that’s hurt.
The mask of anger is easier to show than the mask of hurt.
And if we make the error of looking at people’s masks only to see anger on their face, we may
end up in a confrontation only because we missed the point.

You have the power to wipe away this blank stare of the “breathing dead” beneath this mask.
It will not be easy for you.
Long felt hurts make my masks endure.
The nearer you approach me the harder I may strike back.
Irrationally, I fight against the very thing that I cry out for – my identity.

You may wonder who I am. You shouldn’t.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear.
I am someone you know very well.
I am every man and woman and child.
I am you.

Comments 3

  1. Michael

    Interesting article although I’m not sure I agree. I understand why you say it’s OK to once in a while take off the mask but I feel that when I’m down it means I have to work twice as hard change my mindset. And I do! Staying positive takes work and is an ongoing battle sometimes, but a battle that must happen. If we let ourselves be sad, it can be an emotion that lingers.

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