A Look Back: The Mask We Wear in Mental Illness

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

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Seif Ak on Unsplash

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.

The Bipolar Writer Podcast Interview with A.K. Wilson The Bipolar Writer Podcast

About A.K. My name is A.K. Wilson, or otherwise known as Angel. I am a mother, blogger, mental health, and domestic violence survivor advocate. I am a multi-genre author and writer.  I was born in New York, Raised in NJ, made a home in Kentucky. I live life to the fullest and cherish every moment. My links 🙂 http://www.twistedenchantedworld.com Contact James If you are looking for all things James Edgar Skye, you can find his social media visiting https://linqapp.com/james_skye Also support a life coach that has influenced me along my journey of self-reflection: https://www.groundsforclarity.com The Bipolar Writer Podcast is listener-supported, and for as little as $5 a month, you can help support the mental health advocacy that I do by visiting http://www.buymeacoffee.com/jamesedgarskye. Please help this podcast grow by sharing with friends or anyone that you think will benefit from the experiences of others and myself. You can also find me on the following websites. You can also find me on the following websites to book your interview, ask questions, and reach out to me. http://www.jamesedgarskye.me Purchase my books at: https://www.jamesedgarskye.me/jamesedgarskyebooks — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/jamesedgarskye22/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/jamesedgarskye22/support
  1. The Bipolar Writer Podcast Interview with A.K. Wilson
  2. The Bipolar Writer Podcast Interview with Hunter
  3. Interview with Amy The Bipolar Writer Podcast
  4. The Bipolar Writer Podcast Interview with Norm
  5. The Bipolar Writer Podcast Interview with Kathleen

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

For everything James Edgar Skye use the QR code below Or use this link.

Signs of Hope and More

I am an Etsy shop owner.

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When I first opened my Etsy shop my goal was to make a line of gifts, cards, magnets, stickers and wall art for MENTAL HEALTH RECOVERY AND WELLNESS.

I thought… there is not much out there that I am aware of–not many cards or gifts specifically for people with mental health and who are in mental health recovery.

I thought… I know what has helped me the MANY times I was battling severe mental health SEASONS of my life for over two decades. I know what would have helped me.

I thought… some people want to help and are thinking of you, but they just don’t know what to say. So, the say nothing and that hurts.

I thought… a card or magnet could say what others couldn’t or didn’t know how.

I thought… I need to help others show their love and HELP others heal and feel better with a card or a magnet.

So, in the beginning my main goal was to create new art and adapt my old art with quotes, sayings and heartfelt words etc.

But then… the Corona Virus hit.

Etsy asked people to make masks on Etsy. I could sew, so this was a no brainer.

I had to put my goal for my Etsy shop in my back pocket for later and in April began making masks nonstop and selling them both locally and on Etsy. I made enough money so I didn’t have to work at a part-time job to supplement my SSDI.

Mask making became my job. In fact, masks were in such high demand I had to close my shop a few times to slow down business so I could catch up and so I would not go over my allowed SSDI income amount. It was unbelievable.

I loved being my own boss and don’t want to ever get a part-time job again. So, I am working diligently to create, make and sell new products.

I LOVE being my own boss.

I can go to work whenever I want. (Oh wait, I am always there.) I can stay up late to work as I tend to be a night owl and always have been, If I stay up too late I can sleep in. This is awesome because sleep has always been an issue for me and this helps greatly.

The best part is I am available to be there for my adult children whenever they need and I am available to visit and help take care of my beautiful grandbaby whenever they need me.

I would like you to meet my gorgeous baby girl, my granddaughter, my heart, my miracle, my life… Leora Bravely who will be one year old on August 3rd.

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I am beyond blessed to be alive to participate in her life and love her up. I almost missed this. Proof how life will get better. Just hold on and keep fighting. Suicide is not an option. Oops. Sorry, I do digress. Back to the topic.

The mask business has slowed down, so now I am trying to create, make and sell other products.

I am attempting to learn SEO and how to get to the top of search engine searches on Etsy and Google searches. It is a slow and difficult task so far.

If anyone knows about this and other ways to sell and market online please share. I will be most grateful and appreciative.

Please visit my Etsy shop here:

Signs of Hope and More

This is my shop banner:

Signs of Hope Banner 2

I apologize ahead of time if the following information is confusing.

I am learning how to add items for sale as I go.

These are some of my products I sell on my shop. I have many many more fabric choices:

MASKS — $12.95

IMG_20200405_093315~22020-06-20 22.51.48

2020-05-25 16.14.55

Face Mask

Face mask with filter pocket, adjustable ear loops, wire nose piece, double layer of cotton, Reusable-washable-Handmade-expandable-pleats-stylish.

$12.95

MASKS AND MATCHING SCRUNCHIES — $15.95 for the matching set

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Face Mask with Matching Scrunchie

Face mask with filter pocket, adjustable ear loops, wire nose piece, double layer of cotton, Reusable-washable-Handmade-expandable-pleats-stylish with a MATCHING SCRUNCHIE.

$15.95

SCRUNCHIES — $3.00 — varies with type and size

IMG_20200711_193937~22020-07-13 14.48.36-1

2020-07-11 19.35.32

2020-07-08 12.02.05
Hair Scrunchies

If you like a scrunchie I have shown, please describe the fabric. I have many more fabric options on my Etsy Shop to choose from. Please go there to check out the fabric and return here to make an order. Or order directly from my Etsy shop. Happy shopping.

$3.00

POCKET ZIPPER SCRUNCHIES–$4.00 (holds & hides keys, money, lip or chapstick etc.)

2020-07-11 18.09.14-2

Pocket Zipper Scrunchie

If you like a scrunchie I have shown, please describe the fabric. I have many more fabric options on my Etsy Shop to choose from. Please go there to check out the fabric and return here to make an order. Or order directly from my Etsy shop. Happy shopping.

$4.75

PLASTIC BAG HOLDER DISPENSERS — $12.00  (a decorative where to hide and organize your plastic shopping bags)

2020-07-13 14.35.00-1IMG_20200712_153143~3 (1)2020-07-13 14.46.01

Plastic Bag Holder Dispenser

Please describe the fabric you would like when making your purchase or order directly from my Etsy shop. Happy shopping.

$12.00

Please visit my Etsy shop here:

Signs of Hope and More

GIFT CARDS, STICKERS, MAGNETS, WALL ART: Currently $3.00 for downloadable digital prints

recovery purple brown frameIMG_20200326_163139~4

IMG_20200327_130643~2

Be a Rainbowbroken crayons - 1

Digital Downloadable Art Print

If you like an image I have shown, please describe your choice when making a purchase. I have many more on my Etsy Shop to choose from. Please go there to check them ALL OUT and return here to make an order. I will send a copy for $5.00 plus shipping. I am sorry but it is not possible for you to download from my blog. You can download on my Etsy shop for ONLY $3.00 a copy. Happy shopping. I CAN PERSONALIZE THE QUOTE OF YOUR CHOICE FOR $6.00 plus price of shipping.

$3.00

MY COLOR PENCIL DRAWING WITH QUOTE — CAN PERSONALIZE QUOTE

Martin Luther King Jr.

MY ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR PAINTING WITH OR WITHOUT QUOTE can customize quote

butterfly inspiration

CUSTOMIZED DRAWINGS — GIVE ME A PHOTO and I create something like this…

boy scan ETSY

I will continue to add more products:

  1. Next adding head bands– matching headbands for babies and Mommys.
  2. gift cards – for mental health
  3. stickers and magnets – for mental health
  4. wall art and quotes – for mental health
  5. I WILL ALSO BE SELLING CUSTOMIZED PENCIL DRAWINGS/SKETCHES OF CHILDREN, FAMILIES, PETS etc.

I hope you will visit soon. Please visit and then check back as I keep adding more items.

This is from my mental health line of products and can be used as a gift card, magnet, sticker or small wall art. I am working on creating more of this type of product.

Sorry the image is fuzzy but is not when ordering.

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Please let me know if you think it is a good idea. What would you like to see??? Please share. (the image is fuzzy–sorry)

Please visit my Etsy shop here:     Signs of Hope and More

I apologize if this is confusing as I am learning as I go.

Copyright © 2020 by Susan Walz of My Loud Whispers of Hope ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Top Featured Image photo credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Masks We Wear in Mental Illness

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.

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.

04CD78B4-B4B7-4E82-9AF4-EA0D267A607F.jpeg

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.

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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.

69921226-6BA0-4369-9CEF-C6FDA4B088C7.jpeg

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.

James Edgar Skye

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoMax Bender

unsplash-logoJohn Noonan

unsplash-logoTevin James

unsplash-logoTom Roberts

The Masks we Wear in Our Mental Illness

The masks we wear in our mental illness hide the real people that we are inside.

One of the most common themes in my life is the masks that I have had to wear throughout my diagnosis and even 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.

The mask changed over time, but it really just changed because of the situation. I think one of the issues that make men and women within the mental health community wear masks is that there is such a harsh stigma about the people that deal with mental illness on a daily basis. So much judgment goes with having a mental illness. I can remember countless people telling me, “well why can’t you just get better. The rest of there world has to get up and do things, why can’t you?”

One of the worst things is when people say, “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 of course, but I just didn’t understand. Those people who thought about suicide or self-harm were looked at as outsiders and I was one of them. I can say 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 me 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 and was active in the activities only because my parents wanted me to do something productive. I was even good at becoming a part of the group, and I even became part of the leadership of this group. 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.

As an adult, I continue to wear masks. The hard worker mask was always my favorite mask. This version 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.

When my life changed with 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, therapists, 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.

I have chronicled my experiences here in my blog about the years I lost with my depression cycles. I think the only time I ever took off the mask was those moments where I could be alone. I found that role-playing games became a great place of solace because I could be someone else for a change. The mask would come off in those hours and though my emotional pain was strong I could deal.

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 had to wear. One of my favorites, only because it was really tragic, was the boyfriend mask I wore in my relationships. The last relationship that I had was 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.

No one wants the world to see our weakness. I can only speak for myself when I say that my masks were there to protect myself from the world seeing how much pain I was in. At my weakest moments, I hid from the world because it was something I always did in my life.

I have learned to be better and more open with the world about who I am with my family, my therapist, and at times my many psychiatrists. It took me years after my last suicide attempt to be more open. I only started to get better when I removed the mask and let people in. In my mind, I still wear pieces of my mask. 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.

What are some of the masks you have had/still do wear in your mental illness journey?

Always keep fighting.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: John Noonan