There’s an old belief that everyone wears different masks.
If you’re lucky enough to have zero qualms about the skin you live in and are 100% living your best self behind no walls and no masks, then I extend a “Bravo!” to you. Loving and accepting yourself for who you really are must be a freeing experience; to live your life regardless of what other people think and loving all the flaws and quirks that make you, uniquely you.
But for the rest of us who still struggle with appreciating our flaws and being comfortable in our own skin, sometimes we put on masks to present an “ideal” version of ourselves in order to save face (no pun intended). We present these “faces” to the world for many different reasons. To display a sense of confidence, to hide anxieties or worries, to “mask” qualities in ourselves that may seem “undesirable” or “annoying” according to societal standards. Even though we are moving into an age where differences are uniting us and quirkiness is admired, many of us are still too afraid to reveal our real faces, to show our true selves.
By wearing these masks, we create two different versions of ourselves, two different faces: the ideal person we want to be perceived as and the “real” us who we think doesn’t deserve gratification.
And just as we separate ourselves into who we think we should be and who we really are, my PTSD also presents itself as two faces.
Now just to clarify, I’m not stating that my PTSD has given me split personalities. I’m not saying that these two faces represent a hero and villain version of myself (even though there are days when my PTSD does make me out to be the villain).
Just as people wear masks, there are “two faces” to my PTSD that tend to be very dominant; Two versions of myself that I struggle with while living with a mental health issue.
In a way, I often compare these two faces with those of Sailor Moon. There is the brave courageous (sailor) solider who fights for (love and) justice and presents a strong and confident demeanour – a vigilante hero who never gives up no matter how tough the battle. And then there is the “cry baby” side who bottles up everything inside and is very timid. A young woman who stills struggles with every day challenges and feels like a burden to her friends.
It’s a pull between being strong and fragile, confident and insecure, bubbly and lonely, determined and exhausted. It’s a constant conflict of trying to put on the mask everyone expects me to wear and struggling with the face that’s less than perfect. Or it’s the fear of being judged for being “fake confident” or “too emotional”.
Neither face is easy to wear, but both play key roles in how I feel my PTSD affects me both mentally and physically and the person that I truly want to be.
The Strong Sailor Solider
While my PTSD can be the devil in disguise, there is a certain beauty to it. From all the pain and darkness I have been through, there was an awakening to the strength I found to keep fighting.
Though sometimes troubled, my PTSD has also turned me into a brave solider who isn’t afraid to fight (the good fight). Maybe I don’t like the colour pink, nor do I get to have a super sexy special awesome transformation sequence, or have a silver crystal (Does my engagement ring count?), but when push comes to shove and my PTSD starts to cast evil from the shadows in which it came, you can guarentee that I’m not just going to stand there and take it.
When it comes to my mental illness, I will always be prepared to fight, no matter how exhausted and tired I become. Some days I don’t always win the battle nor do I always feel victorious in forcing my PTSD to retreat back into the shadows. Despite this, I still push forward.
I didn’t choose to be in this fight. I didn’t ask to be plagued by the darkness of my PTSD, but I will still fight regardless. Once I saw the bigger picture, once I realized that you can live a good life – a happy life – beyond the depression and anxiety, I realized the importance of never giving up, even on the days I don’t win.
And while my illness has taught me strength and has ironically built up my confidence, I also realized that this battle isn’t just about me. It became more than just fighting my bad days and suffering through terrible flashbacks and nightmares. It’s also about anyone who has ever experienced a mental health issue in their life.
It’s about standing up and fighting for those who still feel isolated and alone. It’s about showing support for anyone who is still fighting their own demons. It’s about ending stigma and tearing down walls, to pave the way for mental health to become a normal part of every day life, about normalizing talking about mental health.
Even though some days my writing and advocacy is only for myself – to make my voice be heard – it’s also about building a community for those dealing with mental health issues. It’s about creating safe spaces and building support systems for those who need encouragement to keep fighting. It’s about coming together, sharing our experiences with others who are fighting smiliar battles but finding strength in our differences.
I have learned that while I can be a brave solider all on my own, I never want to fight this battle alone ever again. I found my strength through friends and family who have supported me over the years, and through those to share their own stories to help make a difference. I could never have “transformed” (See what I did there?) and discovered my own strength without their help and guidance, without their love and positivity.
At the end of the day, this is my battle. And yes, some days I do need to fight it alone, but even on those troubled days, I know I have a whole team behind me when the battle gets too tough and I’m starting to feel defeated.
While it may be brave of me to share my story and help fight for change, my true courage lies in my determination to keep fighting for my life – in choosing to live in moments where I could have thrown it all away.
My true strength is my ability to keep moving forward – alive and breathing.
The “Cry Baby” School Girl
While most of the time my strong sailor solider face seems to be the most dominant (especially through this blog and to the outside world), it’s counterpart is a face that I feel more inclined to hide. My “cry baby” school girl mask only gets worn when I feel completely defeated or my PTSD leaves me so raw and wounded that I don’t have the strength to transform into a strong moon princess.
There’s a double-edged sword when it comes to being a mental health advocate, and the effects of the negative stigma further drive that blade into those who choose to share their experiences. For mental health advocates, sometimes it feels like you’re suppose to share your “sad story” while wearing the strong solider mask. But what most people don’t realize is that every time someone shares their experiences, they are dragging up a dark part of their past. They are silently igniting a riff of bad memories in order to share their success stories.
Even for myself, I struggle with the pressure of needing to constantly be the “strong example”, to keep all my pain on the back burner so others can look at me and hopefully think, “If she can still be this strong after everything, so can I!” And while there are times I don’t mind recounting these bad memories, there is also a vulnerability that I try to protect. Sharing my story means exposing myself, and it’s uncomfortable and nerve-wracking, no matter how many times I have done it.
It’s a fine line to walk, to both lay it all bare and still wield my sword (or flashy pink sceptre). But everyone has a breaking point. Everyone has moments where their mental illness overwhelms them and cuts to the core. And while I don’t try to pretend to have an illusion of confidence and composure, sometimes even I crack under the pressure. Sometimes even my strong sailor solider side breaks under the war raging in my head.
But when my cry baby face comes out, it likely means I’m at my lowest point. It’s where the self-doubt starts to creep back in. It’s when I start to feel worthless and undeserving of all the good things in my life. When the pressure becomes overwhelming, I feel like a failure. I become afraid of literally everything in my life, frozen in place and too afraid to move. The panic attacks start to rearing their ugly heads. I’m plagued by the pain that constantly grips my ribs. It’s like falling a thousand steps behind on my road to recovery – that I’m not strong enough to keep going.
And the hardest part is watching your friends and loved ones looking completely bewildered and conflicted on how to help you. How can they help fight an unbelievable sadness when there is no physical cause? How can they fight against a darkness only you can see? Not only do you have to carry the weight of your own demons and darkness, but you have to carry the grief of watching your own loved ones standing by, looking helpless.
When I wear my cry baby face, I truly feel defeated.
And it’s very lonesome.
Ultimately, the lesson is this: while the two faces of my PTSD are a part of me, I know I can’t let them define me. Yes, my mental illness impacts my life and has changed me over the years, but it cannot completely control me. It doesn’t get to decide who I am as a person and what I’m capable of becoming.
Sure, there are days I have to wear one face over the other to disgue my pain, but just like Sailor Moon, I have learned that I don’t have to be one or the other. I don’t have to be confident all the time, nor do I need to keep hiding the “dark” side of my struggles.
What makes me strong is being able to wear both faces at once. To shine in my triumphs and be humbled by loss. Because my true self is a combination of both faces – a little bit of courage mixed with the fear of being alone, while being a bit of whiny meatball head when I don’t get my way. 😉
So in bringing this very elaborate, geeky metaphor to a close, just remember this: Don’t be afraid to show all sides of your mental illness. Embrace the good and the bad because it will help shape you into the person you want to become.
Because I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my inner courage to keep fighting. I wouldn’t haven’t gotten this far without the support of the kick-ass sailor soldiers in my life. And if not for hitting rock bottom, I wouldn’t have found the beauty of living this life – for in defeat I found the strength to rise again.
And of course, having my own Earth Prince standing by my side helps me believe that anything is possible. ❤
Don’t try to be what others expect you to be. You are unique and deserve to be proud of that, no matter the battles you had to face to get here. No matter of the struggles you still face today. Embrace your inner sailor scout. Embrace your inner cry baby. Become the Moon Princess (or Earth King) you were always meant to be.
All that matters is being true to yourself.
(Even if it means being a little bit geeky. ❤ )
And as always,
Fight the good fight.