This poem was given to me, by one of my therapists at the Cleveland Clinic, when I attended a 5 week Chronic Pain Treatment program last year. It was very on the nose about me. Throughout my life, I have worn a mask. In my effort to be everyone's friend, to fit in, and to not draw attention to myself, or my pain (emotional, spiritual, physical) I put on my mask. The "eternal smile" I called it.
This poem really applied to me and I hope that it might make you think about the mask that you might wear.
The Mask I Wear
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks- masks that I'm afraid to take off and none of them are me
but don't be fooled,
For God's sake, don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure
That all is sunny and unruffled with me
with as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water's calm
and I'm in command,
and that I need no one.
But don't believe me. Please!
My surface may be smooth but my surface is my mask,
My ever-varying and ever-concealing mask.
Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.
But I hide this.
I don't want anyone to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weaknesses
and fear exposing them.
That;s why I frantically create my masks
to hide behind.
They're nonchalant, sophisticated facades
to help me pretend,
To shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only salvation and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
and if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself
from my own self-built prison walls
I dislike hiding, honestly
I dislike the superficial game I'm playing,
the superficial phony game.
I found, when I read this for the first time, that I was afraid. I was found out. Someone saw through my mask, and I did not know what to do. Once the fear subsided though, I realized that I wasn't alone. Someone in the world understood me. I was not the only one, and it was liberating.
I also came to discover the depths on which I depended on my mask, and it made me sad. I was sad that I was so ashamed of who I was that I could not bring myself to take a chance and share the real me with anyone, except my husband and children. I realized how depleted my self esteem really was. My well had run dry. What did I have to show for it? I had a lot of acquaintances... people I would call friends, but it was all an illusion, and I was miserable. Those are hard realities to face, but once I did face them, I could see more clearly what I had to do, and what I needed. I also came to realize that I was blessed.
I was blessed, because I had a wonderful man in my life who always saw through my disguise and loved me for who I was. He had never asked me to be more than myself. He had only asked for my trust, my love, and for those things that made me...me. I had beautiful, creative, funny children who needed me, and loved me in a way that no one else ever would, or could. Those are good realizations to have.
I am grateful for the struggles in my life, because you can't get to the heart of anything without scraping off the hard outer layer. (metaphorically speaking).
We all have masks, whether we know it or not. We all have things about ourselves that we are not happy with, or resist. We all want to fit in, and be seen. We all want to know that we matter, that we are accepted and that we are loved.
However, my question is, what price do we pay for that buffer of imagined security? What of ourselves do we give up to fit in, to find our place, to find acceptance?
I gave up all of me and it has taken me a long time to rediscover myself.
You might ask though, do I still struggle? Do I wear my mask, even on a part-time basis? Of course I do.
It is a struggle that I will probably have for all of my life. I struggle to feel happy. I struggle to feel valued. I struggle to fit in and feel accepted. I struggle to feel good enough. I struggle with the worry about what other people think of me, but it does not mean that I am not still trying to overcome those thoughts. It is work... like with anything worth having in this life... but I am not giving up. Giving up and succumbing is easy, it is the repairs that have to be made after ward though that are the real bugger.
I am learning though, that I am a good person. I do deserve to be happy, and I deserve to have good people around me, who will accept me flaws and all. Those people are hard to find, but I'm not giving up on that dream either.
Good luck my fellow travelers. I hope that you will learn to let your mask down once and a while. Risk is scary, but you are worth it.