There will be three types of people that read this article.
The first type, who will know straight away what I’m talking about.
The second type, who think this doesn’t apply to them and have probably stopped reading this by now, or perhaps never even opened the article.
The third type, who saw the title and think I have widely read the works of Shakespeare. I should probably admit to those of you who recognise the quote in the title and think I’ve read Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’, I haven’t. To be honest, I just like the quote.
Let me get something straight, right from the start. This article is not about convincing you to broadcast your deepest thoughts and feelings to everyone around you. It’s about having an awareness of what makes you you, what makes you not you, and in turn, help you be the best version of you.
But first, what do I even mean by a mask?
Have you ever gone to work and put on a ‘brave face’ but then been exhausted when you got home? Gone out with friends and wanted to be anywhere but there? Been surrounded by family but felt alone?
These are all examples of different occasions when we wear a mask. The problem here is that although wearing the mask can be effective at keeping others out, it may serve to keep our problems in. You may have heard the story of the professor who asked their students how much a glass of water weighed. The answer? That it depends how long you’re holding it for. The longer we wear our mask, the heavier and more painful it can become. As we put it down, we release a burden and are more able to use our energy to focus on the things that are important to us, develop the relationships that we value and be the person we want to be.
When you think about it, the idea that we should ignore our difficulties or “keep calm and carry on” doesn’t actually make much sense when it comes to health. Imagine having a physical health condition which could benefit from some care and attention, and trying to beat it by keeping calm and carrying on. Consider how that condition could get worse if not treated, or at least looked at in the first place.
Now imagine having mental health difficulties and trying to beat these by wearing a mask, keeping calm and carrying on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people that would have hugely benefitted from accessing the support of a trusted friend, family member or professional at an earlier stage. I appreciate there are many reasons why this happens, but that’s another article altogether.
Saying all this, I realise that the idea of lifting our mask can be scary. If we have presented ourselves to the outside world in a certain way all our lives, we may worry about what people will think of us if we show our true self. Will they think I’m crazy? Will they still want to be friends? Maybe they won’t like the ‘real’ me?
Before you think that this is about ‘them’ and not ‘me', it isn’t. This is not about a minority of people with difficulties, it’s about everyone. We are all human, we all experience challenges and we all have our own mask we wear at times. I have sometimes even wondered whether it is the mask that hides our difficulties, or whether the mask is the difficulty which hides our true selves. After all, if the shutters are always down, they will not only stop the sun from coming in, but they will also prevent anyone on the outside seeing what greatness may be inside.
So what can you do?
Open up the conversation. Ask someone how they really are. Share. You’ll be amazed by how many people step off the stage and show you who their character is really played by.