The mask of depression

I think that, at different points in our lives, we all wear masks — whether it’s, for example, pretending to be brave when facing fear, or putting on a smile when we are sad, or faking indifference when upset. 

I don’t know how often the average person dons a mask, but I now realize that, going through most of my life with (until recently undiagnosed) depression, I’ve worn masks for as long as I can remember … long before I even knew I had depression.

On the bus on the way home after a day at high-school, gazing blindly out the window, wondering “what is the point?”, “why am I alive?”, “why bother?” only to have, seconds later, a school-mate I didn’t even know all that well ask me, “why don’t you talk more, smile more? You’re a completely different person when you do.”  So I’d beam a mega-watt smile, flash my dimples, join the conversation, laugh at jokes, make jokes, earn some laughs, and be life of the bus party … all the while wondering if I was even remotely pulling it off. Then I’d get off the bus and sigh with relief that the acting was over. I wasn’t made to be an actor.

Years later, in university, different people, different venue, same feeling.  And in the workplace … and at family gatherings… At some of these occasions, I’d look around, see people I loved having fun with, and wonder why I couldn’t feel, well, anything, and then try to mimic them — and hope to hell I was passing for normal.  

Of course, there were a lot of real moments too during these times — what I now think of as true moments. I’m fortunate that I can remember (and have probably forgotten) an abundance of times when my laughs were straight from my belly without thought, the jokes as impromptu and genuine as the sun, the love I expressed coming straight from my heart.  But, when depression clouded reality, I wore a mask — a mask designed to hold over until real feeling returned.

Why the mask?

For most of my life, I donned a mask because I didn’t know (or admit?) that I had depression. So, uncertain, I mimicked people around me.  In recent years, dealing with depression, I’ve put on the mask because how do you tell people on any given day – your co-workers, your friends, your family – what you are really feeling when you can’t even quite understand or express it yourself?  It’s just easier to answer “fine” and paste on a smile.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing the depression mask. Sometimes it just isn’t the time or place to reveal your true face.  Sometimes the mask is a very helpful aid to get through the day. The important thing is to recognize when and why we are putting on our masks.  And to show off our real faces, let them shine, whenever we can.  

That’s what I’m working on.