We wear masks now in public places. COVID19 has us covering our faces for health and protection for ourselves and others. I’ve noticed walking in my urban neighborhood, people are wearing masks and respecting the social distancing, keeping clear of each other on the sidewalks, perhaps even crossing the street to give the other person a wide berth.
People aren’t greeting each other as much though; it’s as if speaking is also dangerous. They are wearing masks of another sort. Everyone is nervous, unsure of what to do next.
Not feeling safe is now a big preoccupation. When you don’t feel safe, you retreat, shield yourself, or become defensive. What you don’t do is lean in more to the situation or person.
How many of us didn’t feel safe before the COVID? Safe enough to be real with our family? with our friends? How many masks have we really been wearing?
The work mask: Maybe it’s the super professional, get down to business mask or the jovial, helper mask you wear. You can’t be vulnerable because it could mean an interpretation of weakness or lack of leadership.
The public mask: You wear this one out a lot. It’s the mask of leisure or pleasure. It’s the one you wear with shopkeepers or servers or when you are socializing with friends.
The private mask: This mask is about who you live with. You have to play by the rules of fairness and getting along. Perhaps you have a spouse and you don’t believe you can be truly vulnerable and honest. You might live with other people and don’t want them to know things about your private self.
The mask you never take off, not even for yourself: This is the truth you don’t know about yourself or are afraid of revealing. There are feelings you are uncomfortable with and fear acknowledging them, approaching them, and being with them.
When do you get to be real? When do you take all your masks off? Naked and vulnerable, loving and acceptable to who you are in this moment? Expressing your deepest emotion? Saying the truth of how you really feel?
I’m lonely, or I am tired of being alone.
I’m really pissed. I’m hurt. I’m angry.
I feel uncomfortable when you do this….
I feel shaky.
I don’t like this uncertainty.
I don’t feel like I am worth …
We wear masks to protect others, just as we are doing now with wearing physical masks. If you told everyone at work how you really feel, they might not receive it so well, unless of course they feel the same way, such as feelings around this pandemic. When you have a general consensus or an event which is happening to others, then talking about how you feel is ideally supportive. And less than ideal is called whining (with empathy and commiserating somewhere in between).
If you blurted out every emotion you have, you appear as a spoiled child (example: the present Commander in Chief!).
We wear masks out of politeness, a sense of getting along. It’s called social norms. The norm is to act a certain way, set by the culture and people. Regions of the country have different norms. In some regions it’s not surprising to have the door opened for you and greeted warmly with a “Yes Ma’am” or “Yes Sir” thrown in. In another part of the country people would think your behavior odd!
Now you are left with one mask you should comfortably be able to take off- when you get home, in the safety of your private environment. And if you are having trouble being real with a partner or a roommate or parent, then finding safety for you is very important.
Expressing yourself can feel very vulnerable. You may not know how it will be received. You may be misunderstood.
You may have worn this mask for so long, you don’t know how you feel! You have covered your truth, your heartache or sadness or just wonderful you with other things. These things may look okay; they may fit into the social norms.
Some people just stay busy. Busy distracts the mind and the soul from being honest, from helping to understand the underlying reason or pain.
Some people surround themselves with others; perhaps they concentrate on helping others, deflecting from what they feel. Everyone loves a helper. Helpers are famous for wearing the mask of helping in lieu of asking for help.
Other people will create habits that calm them:
Comfort food: When you think of comfort food, it’s likely not a carrot or a bowl of lettuce, right? It’s ice cream, bread, or something that is in the form of a processed carbohydrate (which releases dopamine). It literally calms your body.
Alcohol:an adult beverage loosens you up, allows inhibitions to lower. You may drink it socially to ease being uncomfortable around others or at home after a stressful day. Fact: Alcohol sales are up during the sheltering in of COVID-19!
Other go to habits: drugs, smoking, gaming videos, watching endless hours of Netflix, sleeping a lot, and maybe bizarre ones I can’t mention.
Taking the mask off that you have worn for so long usually requires expert help. Therapists, psychologist, counselors, and healers can be great support! Most of all, you have to be loving and gentle as you begin to peel off the layers of hidden emotions. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in seeing what is underneath the mask.
Being real is not so easy. Being real can be uncomfortable. Being real requires courage and self-care and gentleness. There is a reason you have been wearing this mask.
But this mask is not working for you. It is hurting you instead. Imagine putting on a mask that is infected! In this time of ambiguity, of lost jobs, relationships, and sadly, people we know and love dying, removing the mask of the real you is needed.
The slogan #allintogether may or may not be true. The more you can love who you are, appreciate how you are made, embrace those parts of you that have been hiding, the more you can be there for you and then for others. And then, your realness, your ability to be vulnerable and trusting may just become contagious. And this kind of realness can create a wave of healing.