The Mask –
One of the most difficult truths about mental illnesses is knowing you have no control over when and where your’s will show itself. This morning mine decided to visit just before going to church. I felt; “edgy” and distracted thoughts swirled around in my head. When I got to church the mask of; “everything is OK, nothing to see here, pleasantries for everyone” was put on before I walked in the doors and stayed before, during and after service. Like a duck on a pond, smiles and easiness on top, churning and just trying to stay afloat beneath the surface.
Having a severe anxiety disorder and clinical, chronic depression often means wearing masks. You know what’s socially acceptable, what won’t make other people uneasy, what keeps everyone balanced. You understand that when someone asks; “How are you?” You can’t unload on the unexpecting. It’s not fair to them.
So, the mask goes on, you say; “Hi.”, shake a hand, exchange a few banal words which don’t require follow-up conversation, and move on. About 3/4 through the service I noticed my arms, legs were crossed and I was hunched over a little. I thought to myself; “You’re trying to become as small as possible to avoid being seen, judged, called on, noticed.” Not that any of these things were going to happen but your emotions in the midst of an anxiety episode can be a powerful motivator. I was this way the rest of the service and when it was over I exited, wishing for invisibility.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Severe anxiety is one of many mental illnesses people live with, some more successful than others. It’s part of our lives similar to anyone with a chronic disease. You do your best to enjoy the better days, endure the hard ones and hope the meds, therapy, hobbies and other treatments prescribed mean that one day the mask is no longer wanted or needed.
This morning I woke up about ten minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off and noticed my bladder was telling me to; “get up!” The bed however was giving me another message; “be still, stay, relax.” I compromised. Normally I hit the snooze three times before dragging myself out of the bed but today, because of my bladder’s urgency, it was only twice.
Life is filled with experiences in which we try to find the balance between stillness and urgency. There are moments, times, seasons when urgency is not only needed but necessary. Emergencies, crises, or other situations may require us to be more hurried in order to avoid dire, serious or even grave consequences. However, mostly our days are filled with the temptation to turn ordinary, normal occurrences and happenings into times of great stress and anxiety. Instead of allowing the usual to become the urgent wisdom teaches us to take a breath and let go of that which is not truly critical so we can embrace the crucial.