Who Are You Wednesday: Attending A Masquerade

Masquerade!/Paper faces on parade . . .Masquerade! Hide your face, so the world will never find you!
Masquerade!/Seething shadows/breathing lies /Masquerade!/You can fool any friend whoever knew you!

This song from Phantom of the Opera popped up when I put my iPod on shuffle recently while walking my land.  I heard those two lines and connected to them, much more than ever before. A wave of sadness came over me knowing that my masquerade wasn’t just for one night at a ball but every day of my life. I struggled in the past with living trying to be who I thought I should be and what I believed people expected me to be instead of accepting myself for who I was. I stumbled across an old journal entry in which I touched on this topic. I wrote

February 4, 2012

I want to put down my guard. I am tired of pretending like everything is ok. I am tired of putting on a smile and being Miss Positive when that is far from how I feel. I just want to cry. I want to scream. I want to tell the world to just leave me alone, let me be, let me go. It is so exhausting pretending to be someone I am not. I don’t want to do it anymore. I am not fine. I am not happy. I do not want this at all…not one ounce of me but I can’t state that out loud. I am expected to be the positive person to keep others fighting and stay motivated and to try to help them along this process. I am expected to always lighten the mood and start conversations when all I want to do is retreat inside myself and be alone, be solemn. I am so depressed, depressed beyond words, but I can’t let the world see. I can’t show weakness. I can’t display defeat. That is not Jenna…

I covered up the anger, the hopelessness, the emptiness, the sadness, the loneliness, the fear I felt about almost everything regarding living in recovery and life. I put on my happy face mask, trying to be who everyone expected me to be—carefree, positive, motivated, compliant, grateful, happy, easy-going, full, committed, dedicated, and strong. I was denying my authentic self.

I hated what was going on within me that nobody could see; the anxiety, self hatred, depression, defeat. I didn’t want to have to sit with my true self. However I couldn’t escape her so I learned to become someone else instead of trying to change and get to the root of why I was feeling the way I was and accepting that those emotions are ok. I couldn’t come to terms with letting my guard down and being vulnerable. Perhaps if I wore the mask long enough, I could make myself that person permanently. It only made it worse. It didn’t die down or go away. The more I pretended I was okay, the less okay I was. I watched as the mask took over. I remember getting to a point in my life where I saw myself in the mirror and went screaming bloody murder in the other direction because I was so scared by what I saw. That person had no resemblance to me, no trace that there was even a person underneath the mask.

The mask became glued to me. Just like in the movie “The Mask” with Jim Carey, I started putting on my mask and have it engulf me, become my skin. It gave me a confidence and energy the real me didn’t have that attracted people. I started to crave what the mask provided but at the expense of losing the authentic Jenna. It was attracting the wrong people, covered who I was but never a permanent fix to the problem. That hurting person was still there even despite the extreme transformation. No matter how hard you try, what you bury in the darkness only keeps resurfacing up into the light. What you suppress only intensifies the longer it is ignored.

I pretended I wasn’t falling apart. I got really good at concealing I was even wearing a mask and fooled everyone except myself. I knew the truth. I knew that at night before going to bed I was taking off a mask, placing it by my sink to be put on again the next morning.

I have come to learn that pretending that everything is perfect when it isn’t won’t serve me. No amount of pretending can make the real emotions go away, lessen the internal pain, dull the sharpness of loneliness. What I thought would bring me closeness with people actually makes me inadvertently alienate myself. I thought I was connecting through becoming a happy, upbeat version of myself that could relate to all those people living in such positivity. In reality, I was only disconnecting myself more. I smiled and laughed at anything people said. But beneath the mask I was wearing my tears were falling heavy and my soul was shattered. No one knew what I really felt. No one knew how broken I really was. Therefore, no one knew I needed help, to be heard, to be held, to be understood, to be loved so none of it was given. I felt abandoned and unseen.

I got into the habit of wearing the mask to such an extent that I often did not know who I was or what I really wanted. This then stopped me from really being myself. I learned to behave in ways that would please people, often stifling my inner most desires and losing my authentic self. Stemming from my dislike towards the person I felt I was being forced to be, I started to turn to self destructing behaviors. For me, it was an eating disorder. I went through life wondering who I was because I lost touch with my own self from spending so much of my life wearing a mask and pretending to be someone I was not. This lead me to gravitate towards something to define me. The behaviors were a way to display the truth underneath the lies, a way to reveal what was really going on without having to remove the mask. It was very important for my own mental health to learn to drop the mask I wore and just be myself.

My mask-stripping revelation happened a bit ago but that doesn’t means I am still 100% comfortable walking around maskless. I still doit to an extent today, telling people I am fine and acting like I have it all together when I am in the midst of great struggle. My goal is to be authentic in all I do, but I am realizing that is harder to achieve than I thought. I still carry with me a great need to put on a façade for everyone.  The world constantly pressures us to wear new masks. Stripping off the masks we wear is not a one-time thing. It’s a process, a constant recommitment to looking in the mirror and determining whether we are staring at our authentic selves or someone going to a Masquerade Ball. Through constant stripping of the mask, you will find you will have lost the energy—and the desire—to pretend to be anything that you are not anymore.

So I challenge you to take that mask off and put it away. It’s time to find out who you really are inside. Don’t fear what people will think if they see the real you. Don’t worry about what you might reveal. Let your soul speak to you, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be proud of it and be confident enough to allow the person who is inside to come out and show the world who it is. You are beautiful, just the way you are, without anything covering you up.

Love, light, and bravery, J.L.


Jenna LairdComment