Unmasking: Step 1

Today is World Mental Health Day. Positive conversation around mental health helps further diminish the stigma, fears, and embarrassment that surround mental health. The conversation around being real, speaking up, and risking vulnerability is a real thing, and I’m here for it!

When I was growing up, mental health was a term reserved for people with “serious” issues. My mom’s a social worker and her first job I was old enough to remember, was at a hospital. There, discussing someone’s mental health included terms like psych ward and evals, which made it seem like something reserved for people who were seconds away from being committed. Mental health was a conversation surrounding those who’d experienced trauma, or whom had a mental illness or disorder. Mental health was for them, not me.

As I grew up and further understood what mental health encompassed, I realized that it’s exactly what it says. Just like the caring for of your body is physical health, mental health is that for your mind. One thing that can help improve the health of your mind is to face the thoughts, emotions, and secrets that consume you and work to resolve them.

Unmask isn’t a new verb. It’s not something created by social media, artists, or counselors, but the rise in attention around people who are tired of hiding and vocal about what they’re dealing with, is. Some people use unmask to describe their desire to the reveal mental health issues they secretly deal with. Here, it’s the movement of young adults who are working to show the world their true self so they can be happy instead of faking happy.

Masking is that bad habit that you learned from your parents or other adults in your life. It’s the (sometimes unconscious) practice of faking a smile or hiding what you’re thinking or feeling. It’s getting dressed in the morning and right before leaving the crib, choosing which version of you, you’ll show the world that day. It’s keeping the stuff that’s too real, too painful, or too vulnerable, to yourself, while presenting yourself as a person who is happy, fulfilled, and “fine”.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to be happy and in pain. You can stub your toe on the way to the door and still be glad to see the pizza delivery guy. But, I’m talking emotional pain.

Before you can remove your mask, you must be willing to recognize you have one.

If you’re reading this and thinking, this is cool, but this ain’t me, or this sounds like someone I know, glad I don’t have that problem, one of two things are true. You’re right or you’re wrong. If you’re right, good for you, seriously, and shoutout to the adults in your life who showed you how to live true and keep it real.

Want to know if you’re wrong? Nah, no one does, but see if any of the following apply:

  • Do you lead a pretty, public life and an ugly, private life?
  • Do you front, stunt, fake, or fraud on a regular basis and worry someone will find you out?
  • Do you spend so much time on your outward appearance in hopes of no one seeing beneath the surface?
  • Do you wish you had someone you could talk to about the painful stuff?
  • Do you smile in your REEL life but suffer in your REAL life?

This is a no judgment zone. My goal is to help you recognize that there may be a masked version of you walking around keeping the real version of you from living a healthy, peaceful, and authentic life. I want to help you unmask, but you must first get honest with yourself; admit and recognize the walls you put up and mask you put on to stay hidden and safe. After that, the work can begin.

There’s freedom in the unmasking. We are just beginning… let’s Launch!

Artwork for this post is by the talented Kirsty Peters. Check out more of her art at Kirzart.com and read her comments on her art and mental health here.

For more about unmasking, check out this post- an interview with UK author Siobhan Curham and her book, True Face, which also encourages young people to confidently live an authentic life.