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What the mask meant to me

I’ve told close friends that when my first husband died, I lost my mind.

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That’s not some flowery romantic language. I literally lost my mind. And it wasn’t just the pain of losing him – it was compounded on top of losing a close girl friend to cancer and two babies still in the womb, the trauma of surviving a vicious sexual assault, and the pain of rejection by my family.

The pain of being me had become so great that sometimes I needed to forget who I was. I use the word “needed” very intentionally because the pain of living in my own skin had become so great that death seemed like the only escape.

But I couldn’t die – despite all the things I tried, still my broken heart kept beating and I hated every pulse of it. Being alive meant to be in pain. Being alive meant I wasn’t with my children. Being alive for every family wedding, birthday, and holiday where I wasn’t wanted meant feeling that rejection all over again.

And so because I couldn’t die – I had to find a different way to cope with the overwhelmingly relentless pain I felt every day. In an attempt to save my life, my psyche created a mask for me to wear sometimes so that I could take a break from all that grief. I gave her a name, a birthday, a back story. She had her own clothes and her own sense of style. But most importantly, she didn’t have my pain.

It worked for awhile. The monthly (and sometimes weekly) suicide attempts ceased. Instead of trying to end it all, I put on my mask and became her instead so I didn’t have to feel. Most people who attempt suicide don’t actually want to die – they just want the pain to stop. I think the most-relatable suicide note I ever read simply stated “I had a headache.”

Becoming her meant changing clothes, putting on her makeup, and behaving however she felt like behaving – which was poorly. She was an alcoholic. She smoked too much. And she hated my current husband because even while I was her, she still remembered me. She knew that everytime I looked at him I was reminded of my lost children, my lost friends, and my lost family. She inaccurately diagnosed him as the source of my pain. But she wasn’t anywhere near qualified to make any sort of diagnosis. She was a manifestation of my anger and pain, but she was there to protect me in her primitive way.

I’ve noticed that I don’t even like to use her name anymore – in my speech or my writing. The first time I wrote about her, I used her name ten times. I have yet to use her name even once this time. Saying it aloud feels like like I’m invoking a demon sleeping within me. And I want her to stay asleep.

It took me years and a great deal of professional help to reach a point where I was capable of withstanding the weight of the emotional burdens that had become mine to carry. When I grew strong enough, I was finally able to put that mask aside. But the consequences of being her still linger. I’m still ostracized from my family. Some relationships were destroyed. My life and my mind will never be the same again. Once a splintering like that happens, it’s always a possibility that it could happen again.

But since I’ve been able to be myself all the time, new healthy relationships have been established and nurtured. I feel loved and supported by the family I’ve created – even if my “family” doesn’t want me around. I’ve made myself a new one made up of people who love and care for me and my well-being. In that way, I am fortunate.

I am also fortunate to be alive. One in ten people with my mental illness die by suicide. None of my attempts were successful and I am happy to say that I am now in a place where even in dark moments, I still know there is light. Even through my grief which is still present, I know that is not all there is for me in this world. I finally feel I have a life that’s more than crippling pain. I have a life that is worth living.

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2 Comments

  1. “I feel loved and supported by the family I’ve created – even if my “family” doesn’t want me around” — this is somehow relatable. You need to choose your family if the real ones don’t even care at all.

    Reply
  1. Changing the conversation | Just One Take

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