I wear a mask every day. If truth be told, we all do. Not literally, of course.
Humans have worn masks forever. Whether it be for ceremony, protection, fashion, theater, or disguise…masks are the faces we sometimes don. There’s one thing in common that’s shared across all of the masks we wear: they conceal.
Sometimes we cover our faces because we’re afraid. A doctor might wear a mask to avoid germs, as does a welder to stop sparks. Baseball catchers need masks to stop poor pitches, as do divers to prevent fatal accidents.
Sometimes, the mask is used for ceremonies: rituals, and dances. On Halloween, tradition holds that sporting a mask confuses wandering spirits. In theater, the arts, masks create characters that veil the actor underneath. At masquerade balls, the ornamental masks were barriers between a person’s true self and the person they had to be, allowing the wearer permission to act as they pleased.
Even the internet is, in-and-of-itself, a mask: shrouding its users with an anonymous face.
As for me, my fascination with masks started when I wore one during my therapy sessions at the clinic. My counselor said they're a useful tool to aid me in seeing my true self.
“What is my true self?” I’d always ask.
“Your true self is the person you wish to see in the mirror” she would say, “the person the mask represents is the person you are inside. Allow yourself to express your true persona.”
“In the mask?” I would ask.
"Yes," she would say, "for example, let's suppose that I'm your former physician, Dr. Childs. Using the mask, express how you truly feel about me."
I was silent. She leaned forward.
“Pretend I’m Dr. Childs. You aren’t you today, you are the mask. Let the mask express how you feel about Dr. Childs” she said, pointing to herself.
“I hate you.” I whimpered, balling my fist.
"That's good," she said, "that's progress. It's okay to feel angry. We all feel angry. Sometimes, we just mask our emotions and bottle them up.”
“Mask our emotions?” I spoke.
"Yeah, we all do it," she said, “but at the end of the day we feel how we feel. We are who we are.”
I now know what she meant: how we love to conceal how we truly feel.
I watch waiters be spat on by customers, smiling and nodding when they really want to knock their teeth out. Or how parents shush screaming kids, sometimes wanting to ring their necks. I see people bite their tongues when they want to scream, hold back tears when they want to cry. No one acts how they truly feel.
Well, not me. Not anymore. I’ve decided to take off my mask, to be who I truly am: no longer a slave to Dr. Childs insults and rants. No longer a subject of therapies, medicines, and exams. I'm going to be free.
And sometimes, that means donning a new mask.
I mean, my entire existence has been one. A mask, that is. Day after day I’ve lived behind it, grinning through lying teeth as if I were just some normal person.
I’m not…I am who I am. I've realized that now.
Besides, I like my new mask a whole lot better. This one…far more literal.
Written by MakRalston