The first depression occurred when I was 16. My parents probably thought it was just moody rebellion. I certainly did. I was defying rules, ignoring curfews, blatantly disobeying everyone and anyone in positions of authority. I experimented with drugs, alcohol and sex. I was 16 and life was good. Until it wasn’t.
The darkness came over me gradually brought on by a haze of substances and activities, all designed to twist my emotions and distort reality. Hormones raged and endorphins screamed. The old Jenny, the straight A student, the compliant child, got swallowed up like a fan in the stands of an Aerosmith concert. When I emerged, I was changed. The music had stopped, but the noise was still deafening. Voices that were never in my head before became my constant companions. They said things I didn’t want to hear and sewed new truths in my fertile mind.
Those around me noticed the change, but were equally unsure if it was just teenage angst or something more sinister. Clarity came in the ambulance. You see, they had to remove all of my other masks in order to put the oxygen mask on me the night I tried to end it all.
Later in life, being fully aware that I had a special propensity for depression, I watched for the symptoms. But ego and pride out-muscled humility every time. They beat down each sign like a constant game of whack-a-mole. A feeling, a symptom would pop up and BAM, pride would hit it hard, telling me that I was stronger than that. Another glaring red flag would rise, constant crying or feelings of worthlessness, and again, BAM. My ego would jump in, wield the hammer and tell me that I should just get it together and stuff those feelings down, especially in front of other people.
So along I went, carrying my hammer and swapping masks as the years continued. Every time another emotion would appear, I would smash it with one hand while gracefully sliding on my mask of the moment with the other. In crowds I was outgoing, friendly and bubbly. When that was too much effort I would wear the “tired” mask. “Oh no,” I would say to concerned friends, “I’m just really tired.” Inside, the tears would be rising up ready to burst through my damned dam of pride.
Eventually, I succumbed to the realization that my depression was as much a part of me as my poor vision. I would never be rid of it and instead tried valiantly to fix it. Acceptance wasn’t part of my vocabulary yet. So a ruthless cycle of psychological experimentation, medication and intoxication ensued. All the while, I fine tuned my masks. I had more masks than any self-respecting 30-year old girl had shoes. But then again, I wasn’t a self-respecting 30-year old. I was the master of disguise.
My masks were pieces of art. They were so well crafted that nobody could even tell when I was wearing them. In fact, as time went on and seasons dragged me from summer bliss to fall anxiety to winter depression, those closest to me thought I had overcome my moods. For years I put on Oscar worthy performances to everyone I came in contact with, even that girl in the mirror.
When I found the solution to my problems – a geographical change – I packed up my masks and patted myself on the back for a job well done. “Good for me,” I thought. “I had finally solved the problem. No more self-loathing, no more endless weeks of crying, no more swimming through cement just trying to get from day to day. Florida would change all that. It would be blue skies from here on out. And it was. Until it wasn’t.
Everyone in recovery has heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, not only did I bring myself with me to sunny Florida. I also brought all of my masks. When the time came to wear them again, as it always does, I dusted them off and found that even though it had been a while since I had donned them, they still fit perfectly. So well, in fact, that I wore them all the time. When my blue skies turned dark, I protected myself with my masks. When the storm got worse, I secured them more tightly to prevent any wind or rain from getting through. By the time the depression was evident to everyone else, I was like Jim Carrey. I knew I was wearing my mask, but was unable and unwilling to take it off. It had become my new identity. Jen was gone and this facade, this alter-ego had taken up permanent residence in my life.
They tell me I was sad. They tell me I was moody. They tell me I began to change months before my psychotic episode forced me to open my eyes and see through my mask of delusion. I had been sinking for so long that I thought I had always lived in the depths of hell. When it got so bad that it started to scare me, I attacked my situation with the usual suspects – pride, ego, denial, blame, self-pity and lots and lots of self-medication. All the while, I wore my mask like a champ. And all the while, I was screaming, crying and begging for someone to help me from this horror, this nightmare, from myself. And yet, no matter how loudly I pleaded on the inside, no one outside of me heard.
We all have masks. Some are simple, others ornate and quite elaborate. No matter what the mask looks like, they are all designed to do the same thing – to mask our true emotions. The insanity of it all is that we want more than anything in the world for someone to see inside of us, to see our pain, to reach in and heal our hurts. And yet, we stuff, hide and mask those wounds at every turn. We wonder how no one can see how much pain we are in while we graciously accept compliments on our beautiful masks. We wander around feeling empty, lost and scared, while receiving awards for our bravery and gold stars for our strength.
Masks are our downfall. Even the finest masks are forged from the hardest pride and staunchest ego. They are deceptive to those around us and if worn long enough, even deceptive to us. If we know this, we can justify our masks by saying we don’t want those closest to worry about us. But don’t we really want their love and support? Don’t we really want them to hold us and comfort us? So why, why do we push them away instead of giving them the opportunity to wipe our tears away?
I don’t have the answers. All I know is that my masks are like false idols. I put them in front of me, relied on them and was lost without them. God has since replaced my masks. Today, I put Him in front of me, rely on Him and am lost without Him. He is my support, my comfort and the one who will wipe my tears away, if I let Him. And He has always been able to hear my pleas through my pride and see my pain through my ego. The problem was, He couldn’t help me until I was ready to help myself. And that day came when I finally took off my mask.
Are you wearing a mask? Are you scared to take it off? Are you frightened of who could be underneath that facade? Don’t be afraid of who you might reveal to the world. Don’t be anxious about other people’s reactions to the little child hiding behind the mask. Instead, take one hand and reach out to God. He will strengthen your other hand so together you can take off your mask. And if you only have one hand? Put it in His and He will take your mask off for you.
God tells us all we have to do is reach for him… and he will be there.
Psalm 34:17-18 ESV
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 30:11 ESV
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
John 16:33 ESV
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Psalm 94:18-19 ESV
When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
Psalm 42:3-5 ESV
My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation
1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Psalm 3:3 ESV
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
Psalm 40:2 ESV
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.