Hiding behind a mask

“Wait…you have depression and anxiety?????”

“I never would have thought that.

“You hide it so well.” 

I’ve had this “mask” for 9 years now. Sometimes I wear it a lot, and other times I don’t touch it for weeks. I’ll describe it to you as best as I can. I’m smiling, I’ve got makeup on and my hair is done. I wear it when I need to be brave or when I’m meeting new people. It’s what I want people to see, not the reality I live with. It goes on when my guard is up. When I’m too tired to face the criticism and ugliness, that I know comes from some people.

I wear it when I’m out in a crowded place with friends. Half of me wants to be there, and the other half is dying for fresh air and space. But me being there is important to them; so I put a smile on my face and desperately hope I can wait until I get home to cry off all my makeup. 

I wear it when my depression and anxiety are working together and against each other at the same time and the end result is me feeling numb. Living with a mental illness can be so extremely exhausting. You are constantly trying to process and figure out what is going on in your head, there are days you can’t find the strength to describe it to someone else. 

I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends and family, who accept me when I’m struggling and also understand that some days it takes all I have to put a smile on my face. 

My anxiety works like this… It hates change. It hates when I try something new, when I don’t know what to expect. Therefore I can’t prepare myself for every possible ridiculously outrageous scenario I may face. It tells me I’m not good enough and it reminds me of mistakes I made many, many years ago. It thrives on my deepest fears and insecurities. 

I wear my “mask” when I’m meeting new people, because I never know how people will react when the topic of mental illness(es) comes up. I try my best to shield myself from the stereotypes that still go around. The best feeling is when I know I can be myself, in front of people. I can show my quirks, openly take my medication, and not fear of being judged. I have the perfect story to explain exactly this. 

Last summer, I went on a family trip out west to Alberta and British Columbia. We flew into Calgary, and were staying with friends of my parents. The year before, when we went out west, we had gone to their place for lunch before flying home. To say I was anxious would be an understatement. But it became apparent to me very quickly, why my parents were friends with them. We landed in Calgary late and my dads friend, who he went to University with, picked us up from the airport. I felt more and more comfortable every day, I knew I could openly talk about my struggles. I felt like I was at home. We spent every day doing something, going somewhere and laughing a lot.

I had some anxiety while there; traveling, busy days and the time change all played a part. But I knew from my first full day there, I didn’t have to wear my “mask” to hide what I was feeling. We flew back from Vancouver to Calgary, and stayed at their house again before flying home. After the long morning of returning our rental car, going through airport security and flying into Calgary, I was exhausted. But going back to their house, to play monopoly was exactly what I needed. I was safe, and that is such an important feeling to me. 

I have hope that one day, I won’t need my “mask” at all. That people will be more accepting and stereotypes will have vanished. 

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