Behind the Masks
by Graham Brown

The theatrical symbols of the masks of Comedy and Tragedy that you see on a number of websites about bipolar disorder are especially appropriate at portraying the extremes of bipolar disorder.

However, the mask of normalcy that we all put on to try and hide our inner torments is the most common one.  And it is the one that fools most people to the extent that when something happens, they are just left devastated.

Last year a work friend of mine killed himself.  He left a wife and three young kids who, with his workmates, were at a loss to understand why.  Mark always appeared to be a happy go lucky guy, ready to crack a joke or share a story and would have been the last person in the world that you would have considered a suicide risk. 

His workmates were devastated on his particular shift.  They simply could not grasp that any one could feel that things were so bad that the only rational alternative was to leave this life.   

I could.  At the time I was also in the middle of a low swing and understood that the specific reasons that bothered Mark didn’t matter, it is just the way we feel at times.   

But we put on the mask so people think that everything is okay, in fact, we get so good at it that people think that things are better than okay – and often they’re not. 

On the other side of the coin when we are feeling really good and we start taking that odd risk or two that we normally wouldn’t – do we also put on a bit of mask until the high takes over and the behaviour becomes self evident?

Is putting on a mask to hide our emotions and turmoils necessarily a bad thing?  No…… Unless it stops us from getting the support and help that we need simply because we hide it so well that no one knows there is a problem.   Unless we get so good at hiding the problems we convince ourselves that there isn’t one – then we really do have a problem!!!!

I know that the worst times in my life have been when I have hidden away deep inside myself the raw emotions that plagued me.  When I withdrew into my mask and shell and shut my wife and family and friends away to try and stop the hurt.  And you know – it doesn’t make it feel better because my sense of loneliness and of being different and separate increased.

Take the risk.  Crack that mask just a little to let yourself out because, at the same time you let people in, and it is amazing that a difference it can make.

Graham Brown

January 2003


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