What’s Under The Mask?

The mask I wear is a pretty thick one. My mask is so intricate that no one would ever perceive it to be a mask. I have never been able to take off this mask entirely. Even during the times that I have been able to peel sums of it off, those moments of liberation were brief.

Over the years, this suffocating mask has taken on many forms. As a young kid in elementary school, this mask was one of my being a bully – a kid who was tough, strong, and unstoppable. As I matured throughout elementary school, my mask became less extreme and molded into forms that reflected truer, deeper aspects of myself, but nonetheless, it was still unmistakably a mask. In high school, this mask got me on student council, recognized as the one who was friends with almost everyone. My current mask, the one I wear in college, is the most reflective one of my true self thus far. It appears in many Jewish organizations, volunteers in various hospital/medical settings, and reads too many books to better relationships.

This mask always smiles, laughs, cracks jokes, and will do nearly anything to cover up my inner discomfort and vulnerability.

So What’s Under The Mask?

Major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, intense loneliness, and frequent suicidal ideation. BUT, there’s also innocence, a deep craving to give love and be loved, a yearning for connection and a need to be understood.

I could describe the broken home I come from, the family protective services interventions, the irrecoverable traumas endured and bla bla…

But everyone has their own personal saga, their stories to tell, their suffering to share. The truth is you don’t need to have a story like mine to feel lonely. I’m just an average girl from the tri-state, in college, with brown hair, just like nearly every other Jewish girl.

The Medication Under The Mask

I began medication before senior year of high school and probably have tried every single pill on the market and maxed out (surpassed the highest possible dosage of a medication) many times. After a year and a half of failed experimentation, I finally found a combination and dose that works. Despite popular belief, medication is not pixie dust; you don’t just give a little sprinkle tinkle and voila. It’s much more complicated, and not all that magical. Medication does not make you happy, but it helps you take that first step by scraping off the edge. You decide to be happy.

Even while on medication, I can still fall into severe bouts of depression and even regress to certain behavioral and thought patterns of the past. However, just as a heart monitor goes up and down, this simply shows I’m alive.

Living with My Mask, Medication, and Mental Illnesses

My communication skills, or lack thereof, stink. It’s painfully difficult to communicate my desires, feelings, and vulnerabilities, almost as if my tongue were made of led. This happens a lot, where I become incapable of participating in conversation and interacting with someone that I want to connect to. My hands get all twisty, my eyes get all puffy, and my neck gets all jerky. Times like these are really frustrating and make me wish it would be socially acceptable to wear signs on our foreheads that read “In dire need of TLC (tender loving care)” or “Struggling to be open, but please don’t give up on me.”

My hope is that when you see someone struggling to open up or communicate, tell them, “It’s okay. Communication can be overwhelming. I know that this isn’t you, so when you’re ready, I really want to hear what you have to say.”

Why I Continue to Wear My Mask

I’ve chosen to remain anonymous because, unfortunately, the stigma that people with mental illness are “lower class” people who are needy and are burdens is all too common. But while I am hiding behind the screen, still wearing my mask, I need you to trust me as I say:

“To all of you who are suffering and feel worthless, I promise you that you are valued. While mental illness can create a painfully lonely existence, I promise there are people who love you, even if you don’t feel it or receive it in ways that you should or need.”

My Inner Struggle

Last year was a painfully lonely year, because not only did I already feel like I had no relationships, but anyone who I had even the tiniest bit of connection to was halfway across the world studying in Israel. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I have stood on the subway platform and thought, “As the next train is approaching, I’m just going to jump.” As I hear the anticipated oncoming train, a voice in my head screams, “Don’t do it. One day, you’ll be glad you didn’t.” It’s usually the next time I receive love from someone, even just a simple hug, that I hear the same voice saying, “See?”

Why I Choose Life

Someone told me that once you’ve hit rock bottom, you can only go up, and suicide doesn’t fix anything; it only removes the possibility of things getting better. It’s true. I have my bouts of loneliness, but I know that one day, I will make an awesome wife, mother, and inspiring example for people to follow.

Just like ending your life is a choice, building it up to create something great is a choice too. The choice is yours. I choose the latter, and I hope you will too. Please take the time to give someone a hug and tell that person how much they mean to you. It is enough to save a life.

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7 Comments on “What’s Under The Mask?

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I know what it’s like to struggle with suicidal ideation, and it’s really not easy! May G-d give you continuous strength.
    On another note, when in therapy, perhaps ask your therapist about CPTSD. Some of what you are struggling with sounds like all of the different symptoms might be related under one roof. All the best!

  2. What a great read this was! I too struggle with “wearing masks” and showing one front at work and another at home. I am yearning for the day when mental health will be a topic of discussion like anything else. I yearn for the day when we can all embrace Mental illness just like any other Nisyon from Hashem.

  3. When I read your piece I thought, I know you. You know me. We are in this together. Therapy, specifically IFS (Internal Family Systems) is helping me peel off the mask and let the love in. Wishing you all the best on your journey to healing.

    1. I recently started learning about IFS as well and using it in therapy…
      Elisabeth Corey of beating trauma website is a great resource- a a blog, a recently published e-book and other materials…
      All the best with everything and I hope the layers of your mask continue to peel off and you feel a great love come in.

  4. Reading your piece, I felt so much for you. I can relate a lot. Your description of masks, the loneliness, the need for love, a hug, and connection, are all too familiar. The difficulty communicating, the suicide ideation, the thoughts and feelings at the train station, even the diagnoses you mentioned….I too have been at the edge of the platform many times with those thoughts. Thank you for your words on suicide ideation.

    I can’t say how much I respect you. Through your article, I feel I have met some of the real you. A person I can look up to, who has built herself up in life with incredible bravery and courage…someone I would like to meet, though wearing our respective masks we wouldn’t recognize each other:)

    May you continue to go from strength to strength in your healing. I believe you will get to where you want to go. Hugs from another mask and much love.

  5. I’m truly sorry for all your pain. You said you went through much trauma as a child. You then went on medication as a teen. Unfortunately the sad reality is that medication causes many many more problems than the original issue. Please look into Anatomy of an Epidemic and Peter Breggins MD. After releasing yourself from the meds, you can work through past trauma and finally live the life you desire. You deserve that, after all the years of suffering.

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