The mask

The mask

Yeah, yeah…tell me again how bloody amazing it is to be a parent…*a full-on-in-your-face yawn, while having an emotional breakdown on the inside*

If you’d said to me a few years ago, that I would be openly talking about my infertility and looking to help others in that sharing, I’d have told you not to be so stupid – why would I put myself on the line like that? I was quite happy hiding myself away and pretending that I was ‘fine’ or that I was ‘OK’.

Eugh! What do those statements even mean anyway? Absolutely nothing. They’re meaningless platitudes, but they meant I was able to hold people off and not have to delve into what I was really feeling. Not that you want to scare colleagues in the office, but in terms of conversations, anything more meaningful than ‘how you doing?’, would mean feeling, properly feeling…and ugly-crying in the office toilets (if I got there in time).

But this is a good example of the mask in full-effect. The mask that protects us from having to express feelings that we aren’t ready to share, or the world isn’t ready to witness. Behind that mask is a whole shit-storm of messy, fucked up feelings. It’s complicated and no-one, least of all ourselves, quite understands how the emotions will leak out when we let the mask slip. Will it mean crying in the corner, a meltdown of epic proportions or a rip your larynx out with my bare hands reaction? I can’t tell you in advance and that’s what makes it bloody scary!

The problem comes though when we get very adept at wearing the mask to every event that we rock up to, whether that be work on a daily basis, parties, baby showers, gender reveal…and so the list goes on. All of this ultimately means, that people genuinely believe that we are ‘OK’ or that we’re coping as we keep saying we’re ‘fine’. Because believe me, people like nothing better than not having to deal with their own emotional shit, so imagine trying to deal with someone else’s. Yikes!

But here’s the thing, the more you wear that mask and you don’t try to deal with the emotions they will seep out. They will leak out when you’re triggered by something. The frequency of the triggers will increase as more and more emotions accumulate. First, they’ll queue politely waiting to be expressed and then it’s a full-on Black Friday brawl, leading to emotional overload. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel the overwhelm coming, so to counteract this, your horizons diminish, as you work harder not to be triggered, leading to a restrictive and confining comfort zone. A very dark and lonely place to be.

How do I know? Because, I’ve been guilty of this, on more than one occasion – everyone got held off at arm’s length, including my own family. They weren’t given the whole story until after my hysterectomy, because up until that point I had still hoped to be able to have a miracle child. All this despite the fact I was told it was impossible for me to conceive naturally…

Anyway, let me give you an example of my own mask slippage…I remember returning after three weeks of sick leave for depression after my miscarriage. I was coping, but I was glassy eyed and went out of my way to avoid people on a social level. I just loaded myself up with work and churned through it.

That was until I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while, when I went to get some lunch. She meant well, but she’d noticed I hadn’t been in the office for a while, and had put two and two together, coming up with five. How did this show itself? She patted my stomach and asked me whether I was expecting, not realising that up until about a month ago I had been. My mask crumbled and I sobbed outside the office where lots of my colleagues were walking about. My friend cried too, when she heard the story and shared in my sadness.

But even now as I write this I can feel the pain, like a stab through the heart, as I recall the loss and the intense grief. But the difference is now I can share it with you willingly. At the time, it was shared, but only when the mask slipped and I deeply resented having to explain what had happened despite this being to a friend. Not because I didn’t value her friendship, but because of my own hang ups about showing my vulnerability. At that point, I hadn’t realised that there is strength in showing your vulnerable side and asking for support.

This story was the first time I had let the mask slip entirely. There were other occasions, but all were done unwillingly and only when things surprised me or I hit overwhelm. And for a while the mask became even more tangled up with my sense of self, as my infertility story became more complex. I lost sight of what was me and what was the mask. 

But, the process of disentangling myself, started with the realisation that I didn’t know me anymore and that’s more terrifying than the idea of letting people get underneath the mask to see the emotions. So, I’ve worked hard to get comfortable with sharing my story and feeling, really feeling, the pain that’s invoked in me when I remember things or something triggers me. It’s not happened overnight and it’s been a steep learning curve. But, that’s not to say I don’t still sometimes don the mask to protect myself because it’s easier for me to wear it than not. It is after all, a form of protection and I still have bad days and anniversaries to try and get through. But, After the Storm represents a full-on de-masking for me, and going forwards, you’ll see more and more of the real me, because I no longer want to hide away and I want to show that it can be a good thing to embrace and really feel the emotions. Sound scary? Good, because I’d hate to being doing this alone. 

So, my questions to you are – what does your mask look like and how good are you at donning that mask on a daily basis? Are you sick of it yet, or is it still useful for you to protect yourself? Are you ready to delve beneath it to explore those masked emotions? 

Because, there comes a point that the mask moves from being a safe, protected place to just being a restricting pain in the arse.

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