The Masks I Hide Behind

“Humans have 3 faces: First, one we show to the world. Second, one we show to our close ones. Third, one we only show to ourselves. It is the truest reflection of who we are.” – A Japanese Quote.

Day by day, we may experience a lot of things in the unstoppable and raging river of time. Some, we may think, are insignificant but sometimes we experience things that are veritably world-changing in and of themselves. The loss of a loved one, the extra fat you gained, the newest addition to the family that purrs by your feet at night, that little bit of extra cash gained for doing a job well, crying in the dark because of a spat with your parents. What do we truly feel when these events happen? Why do we take into account our environment when it does? What happens after that? 

Some people think that a strong personal character is when we feel these things, deal with how they affect us in a productive manner, and then move on in a positive direction. As if to say that, no matter what, do not show negativity or weakness and always strive for goodness and perfection so that society does not view you as being weird, eccentric. To me, this seems so mechanical, almost machine-like in nature. Am I not allowed to feel sad, angry or tired in the middle of it? As though these emotions have no clout in my daily life and that any notion of it would shake my standing in a ‘normal’ society. Study hard, get straight As, graduate with first class honours, get a well-paying job, marry someone that is religious and exudes filial piety. Is life ever this meticulously planned? Stray from it and people will begin to shut you out as if your previous relation to them was only a temporary business arrangement that can be amended or cancelled at any time. What was my worth in your eyes before this? 

So many questions with complex answers but so little time we invest into answering them. We are forced to continue walking because if we fall down, the world will not wait for us to get up again. That is the reason why we need to rapidly think of responses that please the people around us while we hide our problems behind a metaphorical door until we can sort them out within a safer and more private space. Try as we might, the emotions that we feel will be instantly displayed on our faces as though we wear our hearts on our sleeves. Quickly, we look at our surroundings and factor that into our thought process to nit-pick and choose which emotions to safely show to the audience watching. Any discontent you may have felt will be buried in favour of a more light or happy mood which screams, ‘I’m normal and happy, just like you. I don’t feel mad at myself or the world at all. Let’s drink some tea together sometimes.” This is a stellar example of hypocrisy at its very core.

That is what I do every single day, and what I will have to do for the rest of my life if I want to ‘fit in’. Society rewards progress, stability, innovation and discipline. Anyone who does not follow the social quota which benefits society as a whole such as misfits, outcasts, the misunderstood, the eccentrics and other abnormal behaviour of the same ilk will be casted to one side and ignored as if they were unnecessary components in a large well-oiled machine. When I got good results, people smiled and congratulated me; proud that I made them feel accomplished somehow. Made it look as if I would never have gotten these results without their meagre intervention or support. Did the anxiety, stress, fears, tears and sweat that I put into obtaining those results meant nothing? Apparently, it didn’t as the very next moment they told me study more to get better results or maintain it. Then and there, I smiled weakly and answered, “Sure, I will try.” In the privacy of a locked and dark bedroom, I cried and then thought about my own feelings to the situation and yet I was no closer to finding an answer.

For the public eye, I put on my best mask and dance around to their predetermined tunes. Ignoring my own principles and desires in favour of fitting in the mould that they have set. Around my family and friends, I put on a mask that exhibits a hodgepodge of normalcy, charisma, and stability in order to fool them into thinking that I’m fine. Yet, when I’m alone, in the dead of night or the stillness of a dew-ladened morning, I wear my truest and most sincere mask. I noticed this at a very young age when I wondered why no one around me differed or showed more emotions in response to situations that warranted them. I see it happening when the stigma around mental health was spoken in hushed whispers or rarely being talked at schools at a young age to instil confidence and self-respect. Students that have mental breakdowns due to the stresses of studying being labelled as social pariahs just for being pushed to their breaking point time and time again for something as simple (read: difficult) as learning. These scenarios show how society avoids and punishes abnormal behaviours or weaknesses which causes us to wear masks in appropriation to our surroundings. I was never taught how to cope with my conflicting feelings which caused them to worsen. Action and reaction. Cause and effect.

In the end, after a worrying amount of contemplation, I think I arrived at a pretty good answer. I use these masks as shields to protect myself. Self-preservation could be said to have been one of the most important aspects of life. Protect yourself to the best of your abilities, using whatever means that are available to you. Well, in that regard, I wear my masks. Hiding behind the sturdiest of facades every moment of my life, just to run away from anything that could hurt me emotionally or physically. To avoid having to go back to that one dark corner in my mind and contemplate about myself even further. At first, I thought it was a bad thing. I thought that it was me being a faker, a pauper, a fraud. Then, I realized that I’m thinking of this wrongly or at least from the wrong perspective. It was never wrong to use these masks to protect myself. It was never something to be ashamed of. I needed it for protection, so what? Military men wear armour to protect them from harm. Why can’t I do the same? People have their own feelings and thoughts that they want to shield and protect from the outside world. If that is so, then wearing the masks doesn’t seem so bad in comparison.  

Whatever that is thrown at me from anyone or anything perfectly justifies me using the masks for protection. I’m fighting my own battles, just like the people who use weapons or tools to fight for their ideals. Suddenly, the idea of using these masks as battle armour makes much more sense. Here, I arrived at self-acceptance. These masks don’t truly define me and I don’t have to rely on them completely or forever to protect me from harm. Once I see that the world won’t hit me as hard, I may learn to discard these shields of mine. When the world seems dark and scary, we will always find ways to light it up again. Humans are very persistent, versatile and tenacious that way. No matter what has befallen us, we will strive to walk straight and live life even if we need some help along the way. It can be a favourite YouTuber, a close friend, reading a favourite novel or even eating some chocolates. Anything that will motivate us to take one more step and live life as we feel is right can be the pillar which supports us on our journey. Regardless of what happens to me in life, because of many things, I will always be here, being me. I will end my self-reflection with a short and simple poem.

THE CANDLELIGHT:

“In the dreadful dark, I shine the brightest,

In the lulling light, I shine fair and fine,

In the luminous light, I shine the dimmest,

But no matter what may come, I will still shine.”

By: Imanina Hanafi

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