This is an in-depth look at a chapter in my memoir. I wrote a short post about this subject and I extended the post to really explore the subject.
This is a look back at the top blog posts for The Bipolar Writer Blog which will end March 12, 2021.
An in Depth Look at my Masks in my Mental Illness Life
The masks we wear in our mental illness hide the real people that we are inside. I have spent most of my life hiding behind the many different masks that I wore to protect myself from feeling my emotional pain in front of the world.
One of the most common themes in my life is the mask that I have had to wear throughout my diagnosis and even the masks before my diagnosis. The mask, or even masks, were the result of trying to hiding the demons that I was fighting internally both spiritually and within my own mind.
When I put on a mask it was to make it seem, if only for a moment, as if I was as normal as any person standing next to me. My mask was always a happy facade that people had to buy because I never let anyone inside see the real me.
The mask has changed over time, but it really just changed because of the situation that I found myself in. I think one of the issues that make men and women within the mental health community wear their masks is that there is such a harsh stigma about the people with mental illnesses.
So much judgment goes with having a mental illness that it is just easier to hide who we really are to the outside world. I can remember people telling me, “well why can’t you just get better. The rest of the world has to get up and do things, why can’t you?” Often, when I would post on social media how I really felt, it would garner negative reactions which made me turn even more inward to hide behind my mask.
One of the worst things is when people say is, “why can’t you just be normal?”
Since my early teen years, I saw this stigma on mental illness on a daily basis. People around me made fun of “those people” with mental illnesses and it scared me. I did nothing about it in my own life of course, and I even went along with the teasing to try and fit in with the crowd. I just didn’t understand my own private suffering and failed to see that perpetuating the stereotype of mental illness was my own way of hiding.
As a teen, people who thought about suicide or self-harm were looked at as outsiders and I was one of them. At the time I didn’t believe that people could get depressed. I was that young, even though I was dealing with depression on the daily basis, I just didn’t understand. One of the first masks that I wore was that of a normal teenage kid.
This version of myself did what normal kids do, I had friends who were normal and I was as active as an introvert could be in school. I joined a group of teenagers called the Sheriff Explorers (an offshoot organization of the Boy Scouts that involved law enforcement) and I was active in the activities weekly because my parents wanted me to do something productive. I had to be normal on the outside but I was always a mess inside. My mask was very good at hiding the real me.
I was even good at becoming a part of the group, and I even became part of the leadership of this group moving through the ranks quickly and making the rank of captain of the organization by the time I was eighteen.
At times it came naturally to be this version and wear this mask, but for the most part, it was a front because there were so many days I felt not normal, so much on the outside.
So I pretended to be a part of the group. I made it seem as if everything was perfect in the outside world and it made me feel good that when people looked up to me they didn’t see the mask, but it was there. They saw what I wanted them to see.
When I aged out of explorers and lost the leadership position it was hard to let go of this mask. I think at some level I loved the power I had when people looked up to me. The way people talked about this great person I was even though inside I was screaming with emotional pain. I could be someone else for a time, something I often felt when I put on my mask. It hurt and it is no surprise when I lost this mask and I had to deal with my emotional pain my depression spiraled into my first suicide attempt.
Interview with Kasey Claborn, Ph.D. – The Bipolar Writer Podcast
As an adult, I continued to wear masks. The hard worker mask was always my favorite mask. This version of me was always early to work and always worked hard. The praise I got from my bosses and co-workers only helped the mask become more defined. I could hide who I really was for eight hours a day, only to be consumed by darkness every night. I didn’t mind wearing this mask because it gave me the ability to leave my house and do things. I could go for long drives to clear my mind or go to the beach and watch the waves or the people living their lives. I often isolated myself as an adult, but I did things with people at least once a week like going to the movies to “feel something.”
When my life changed after my diagnosis my mask became a reason to lie to people. When I attempted to commit suicide for the first time I had to create a new mask. This version of myself told people “I am okay. It was a mistake.” I told that to my doctors, nurses, family members, and basically anyone who would listen. The mask helped me reconcile the fact that I was in so much emotional turmoil that I couldn’t let people in, and it became my shield against dealing with the pain.
In my mind, I was getting really good at hiding who I truly was to others and it showed in the fact that all three times that I tried to commit suicide in the first three years of my diagnosis it was a surprise to my family. It was less a surprise that I was capable of doing such unspeakable things, my family came to expect it from me, but the timing was always weird. It would be after spending time with my family as I lulled them into thinking that things were okay. I would go to my doctors’ appointments (which were always accompanied by my mother during this time) and talk about wanting to improve and get better. It was always a lie and yet another mask I would wear. I got really good at hiding my emotional turmoil in my mind.
I have talked about the years I lost with my depression cycles especially early on in my diagnosis. I even lost a year and a half between the last time I worked and my first suicide attempt. I think the only time I ever took off my mask was those moments where I could be alone. I found that role-playing games became a great place of solace for me because I could be someone else for a change. I could be the hero in the story where in my world I was the guy who was always depressed and liked to fail at committing suicide. The mask would come off in those hours and though my emotional pain was strong I could deal with my life for a time. It’s possible that this was just a different version of myself again because I never dealt with my issues until after my last suicide attempt, and even then it was years before I could write about my life.
I never imagined I would be a place in my life where I would be able to talk about my mental illness or the masks that I wore. One of my favorite masks, only because it was really tragic, was the boyfriend mask I wore in my relationships. The last relationship that I had been in the middle of one of the worst depression cycles in my life. I tried to be the good boyfriend. I bought her things and spent time with her. We had a good relationship, but when I was diagnosed the mask became heavy. Pieces of the real me starting to seep through the mask. My girlfriend saw some of the real me and I panicked. I ended the relationship with my girlfriend and closed myself off from letting people become a part of my life.
It is so hard for me now to even seek companionship now because I am afraid of showing all that I am. Even as I write my memoir, my relationships have always been the hardest to write about at this moment. I haven’t had a relationship in ten years because I am afraid— afraid of letting people into my life. I’d rather be alone where I am most comfortable. To the world, it’s another mask I wear.
I never wanted the world to see my weakness when it came to who I am when I get depressed or even manic. I can only speak for myself when I say that my masks were there to protect myself from the world seeing my emotional pain and that has been my best friend for most of my life. At my weakest moments, I hid from the world because it was a familiar feeling.
It was about three years after my last suicide attempt that things started to change in my life. It started small. When I came to the realization that suicide was never the answer to the issues I became more open to my psychiatrist. When I was finally able to get a therapist, I found that I could be open in a controlled environment. It was never easy, and even now almost three years into my time with my therapist I still keep things hidden from her. I have been willing to be more open and take off the many masks of my life. Just recently I talked to her about a friend who asked me to help her do something unspeakable and it was tough to talk about, but I found a way.
I have learned to be better and more open to the world about who I am with my family, my therapist, at times by many psychiatrists. The blog that I write, and of course with my memoir, has been my way of shedding my masks over the years. It took me years after my last suicide attempt to get to a place where I could open up.
I only started to get better when I removed the mask and let people in. In my mind, I still wear pieces of my many masks. In a way, it shattered when I finally opened up about my life. I can say the more that I write here and be open to my readers the more the pieces of the mask disappear. The more I can be effective the better I feel.
I know how wearing a mask in your mental illness can be a means to hide from the real world. The reason I decided to write about the masks that I wore in my life is so that those of us in the mental illness community can start to take their masks off and share their experiences with the world. I think the more open that we are with the world the better the stigma on mental illness can start to change. It gets tiring to hear mental illness only talked about when there is a tragic mass shooting and the people involved being “mentally ill.” It matters to me that this is how parts of the world see people with mental illnesses.
What I have learned in my experiences is that there are so many people hiding in silence behind the mask simply because it is better to not have people “fix them.”
For those who know people with a mental illness be understanding that it takes time to remove the masks that we wear. My people, those with a mental illness, are good people. I have met so many people willing to remove the mask but fear what that means in their lives. People tell me, “if only more people understood that I can’t just get better instantly” and I understand that feeling to want to hide behind a mask.
It became easier the more that I write about the masks that I have worn in my mental illness. It is liberating to no longer always have the mask on. There are still times where I feel the need to wear the mask but it is much thinner than it used to be. Someday it will be gone. Maybe when I have finished sharing my life in this memoir with the world.
Always Keep Fighting.
What is the worst that can happen?
James Edgar Skye
Visit my author website at http://www.jamesedgarskye.me
Purchase my Memoir and Novella here: https://www.jamesedgarskye.me/jamesedgarskyebooks