How To Make a Mask

Several months ago I wrote about “The Secret Life of Me“.  I talk about the mask that I created for myself as I worked to survive being bipolar.  It kept Bip at bay and allowed me to be socially acceptable.  I thought today I would talk about how the mask came to be.

Social Acceptance

This is huge and possibly one of the most important things we deal with deep down.  We all want to be accepted by our family, friends and peers.  For many teenagers to be accepted socially is the focus of our life.  Nobody wants to be the last one picked.  The person who is chosen, not because they are wanted, but because there is no one else.

People who are emotionally moody, depressed and unpredictable are often shunned as weird or uncool.  They are made fun of and laughed at behind their back and to their face.  They are purposely not invited to activities, asked to leave and are often left alone.  I did not want to be one of these people.

The Creation of the Mask

Deep down within the real me I am friendly, caring, inclusive and fun-loving.  This however must be protected from Bip, the bipolar dragon.  I did not want to be swallowed up by the darkness and pain.  To protect myself I locked myself away in the safety of my heart.  Away from Bip.  This, however, created a serious social problem.  How do I interact in a social acceptable manner without coming out of my safe place.

I began constructing a shell of myself around Bip.  It required a very strong framework of self-control, determination and my faith in God.  Once this framework was in place I began to paint a duplicate of myself over the outside.  The challenge here was knowing who I was and who I wanted to be.  Every emotional reaction, facial expression, physical and verbal response and character trait had to be thought through and carefully crafted to be 3-dimensional and as real as possible.  This was my greatest success as a teenager.  Why?  Because I came to believe it was as real as everyone else.

It’s the Truth and a Lie

Have you ever stood outside in the dark and looked into a lighted window?  Do you remember looking through the eye holes of your Halloween mask?  I spent my life doing just that.  Every morning I would drag myself out of bed, put on the happy and socially acceptable me and begin my day.

Behind the mask Bip would rampage.  She was constantly attacking and slashing at the mask. Sometimes the mask would crack and Bip would escape.  I would withdraw from my family, friends and life while I struggled to recapture this dragon before someone else was hurt.  I was not always successful.  People got hurt.  Most often it was the ones that I care most about.  I was always afraid that Bip would get out and I would not be able to cage her again.

Over time the mask became the truth.  This made the cage that contained Bip stronger, but it also took everything I had to keep it going.  As I said, the mask was made from self-control, determination and my faith in God.  Self control takes immense amounts of emotional and mental energy.  Determination can fuel it for only so long.  My faith in God gave me added strength to endure the fatigue and pain that maintaining the mask required.

Nobody Knew Anything Was Wrong

What did my mask look like?  It was a confident, loving, intelligent and determined Christian woman.  It was a caring and tender mother involved in her children’s activities and school.  It was a faithful and loving wife.  It was everything I wanted to be.  Most of the time.

We all have bad days and I was able to pass off Bip’s escapes as really bad days for a very long time.  I would be “sick”.  I would have a “headache”.  I would be “too tired”.  I would give the socially acceptable excuse that best fit the situation.  Only those closest to me knew that anything was wrong.  Even then, many weren’t sure.

Author’s Note:  People have always told me that I was so strong, but I didn’t feel that way.  All I could see was that I was exhausted and wondered if it would ever end.  My advice to those struggling with masks and dragons is to never give up.  Life will get better.  It may take a very long time, but I can guarantee that it is worth it.