I am going to kick today’s blog off a little differently, with the reading of a poem, of which I am not the author, gifted to me by my Psychiatrist, titled DON’T BE FOOLED BY ME. And you may wish to grab tissues and a seat for this one.
Don’t be fooled by me,
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear,
For I wear a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off,
And none of them are me.
Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me.
But don’t be fooled,
For God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give the impression that I’m secure,
That all is sunny and unruffled with me,
Within as well as without.
That confidence is my name and coolness my game.
That the water is calm and I’m in command.
And that I need no one.
But don’t believe me, please!
My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask.
Beneath this lies no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this, I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear of being exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind;
A nonchalant, sophisticated façade to help me pretend,
To shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only salvation and I know it.
That is if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself,
That I am worth something.
But I don’t tell you this, I don’t dare, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh at me,
And your laugh, would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing, that I’m no good.
And that you will see this and reject me.
So, I play my game, my desperate game,
With a façade of assurance and a trembling child within.
And so, begins that parade of masks. And my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk,
I tell you everything that is really nothing,
And nothing of what is everything.
Of what’s crying within me;
So, when I’m going through my routine, do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
What I’d like to be able to say,
What for survival I need to say,
But what I can’t say.
I dislike hiding. Honestly!
I dislike the superficial game I’m playing, the phony game.
I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous , and me.
But you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to hold out your hand.
Even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of breathing death.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you are kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
My heart begins to grow wings, very small wings,
Very feeble wings, but wings.
With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding,
You can breathe life into me. I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
How you can be the creator of the person that is me if you choose to.
Please choose to. You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
You alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic and uncertainty,
From my lonely person. Do not pass me by.
Please…do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach me, the blinder I strike back.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for,
But I am told that love is stronger than walls, and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands,
But with gentle hands- for a child is very sensitive.
Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well.
For I am every person you meet.
– Author Unknown (drug user)
OK EVERYBODY, big breath in, big breath out. Without doubt, this one is a doozy and chances are it resonates with each one of us in some way, shape, or form. For me it makes my breath catch, my heart ache, my head nod in vehement agreement, my skin tingle, and my hair stand on end. I. COULD. HAVE. WRITTEN. THIS. MYSELF.
Now to confirm, and with no judgement, I am not a drug user, I actually rarely drink, maybe a glass of red on occasion, but it does not mean I am not addicted. It does not mean I do not have self-destructive ways of coping, of burying my deep hurts, disappointments, shyness, shame, and unworthiness; all sequestered beneath co-dependent relationships, too many to count, acts of self-soothing (plug in retail therapy here), and a resolute desire to maintain control under all circumstances (plug in eating disorders here). I would like to suggest that the vast majority of us move through our lives donning the necessary masks to “fit in”, to find acceptance, and to create the illusion that life is indeed the best thing ever!!!
I am going to share a little story here. I moved from Thunder Bay, Ontario (small town living, relatively speaking) to London, Ontario for my Grade 11 year; mid-freaking high school, cue traumatic life event! Thunder Bay was home to me, here I literally had “the world by the balls”. I was Top of My Class, academically; one of the Top Female Athletes in the city, High-Scorer, Record-Setter; had a Best Friend, we were referred to as the Dynamic Duo for the magic we created together on the basketball and volleyball courts; a great group of female and male friends, oh, and I was dating our school’s Senior Football Quarterback. Life was good…or so it seemed.
Fast forward to the first day of school in London. My Mom pulls up to the school, that we already know is populated like a small city, and the very first words out of my mouth…“Cheese & Rice, this looks more like a correctional facility than a school!” I. AM. DYING. As I recall, my sister pops effervescently out of the car; she is braver than me, excited, starting Grade 9 and the world is her oyster. I. DON’T. MOVE.
Mom says ‘’OK Jule, you got this, in you go!”
“NO.” This from me, one of the most compliant people I know. “NO. I. AM. NOT. GOING. IN. THERE.”
“BUT all of your new friends are in there waiting to meet you.”
Yeah, I’m onto you Mom, reverse psychology is NOT going to work here.
”OK, there is a Mall across the street, let’s go get you a special back-to-school-outfit and then you go in. DEAL?”
An hour or so later, I enter said “correctional facility” dressed in a white, teddy bear blouse and a jean skirt…oh, and, of course, my big, rockin’ 80’s hair- ha! ha!
Looking back, I am well aware that it was here I came to inspire and perfect my plethora of masks. During the first 6 months, paralyzing shyness had me eating lunch in my math room (for crying out loud the cafeteria was like a small village itself), and over the year I became known as The Girl Who Smiles A Lot (this, because I did not wish for people to think I was a Snob). And thank goodness for sport. This was the only time I felt I was truly Me; whilst shining on the basketball and volleyball court, and Fosbury Flopping over a high jump bar. Here I belonged, here I made a difference, here I had value, and here I could lead. To this day, I thank my lucky stars for my athletic endeavors, my awesome teammates, and my kick-ass coaches. I. WAS. DROWNING. THEY. SAVED. ME.
Now allow me to introduce The Many Masks of Julie, circa 80’s & 90’s. There was…
Star Student Julie; Star Athlete Julie; Perfectionist Julie; Fat Julie; Skinny Julie; Pretty Julie; Ugly Julie; Loved Julie; Hated Julie; Liked Julie; Disliked Julie; Bulimic Julie; Anorexic Julie; Over-Exerciser Julie; Never Enough Julie; Useless Julie; Painfully Shy Julie; Socially Inept Julie; Smiling Julie; Empath Julie; Introvert Julie; Depressed Julie; Happy Julie; Sensitive Julie; Strong Julie; Vulnerable Julie; Shameful Julie; Worthless Julie; Exhausted Julie; Suicidal Julie; Survivor Julie…
And by no means is this list exhaustive, but I do not wish to overwhelm you- ha! ha! Heck, I could have used a Full-Time Personal Assistant to look after all of those “Julies”!!! I was 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 years of age and completely lost in myself. It has literally taken me a lifetime, battling eating disorders (early/late teens), depression, and 5 suicide attempts (2 cries for help, 3 downright determined), to unveil, to deconstruct and reconstruct, to find and fall madly in love with myself. AS. I. AM. Yes, I have come a long way, but I continue to journey relentlessly in the pursuit of full healing and recovery. Mental health management is a daily, diligent practice in self-care, for me, this includes a small but mighty, trusted tribe and a keen commitment to diet, sleep, yoga, meditation, breath-work, walking, counselling, and the “right” medication.
Somewhere along the line, and I am going to suggest men get the even shorter end of the stick here, we learn to suppress, to hide our true feelings (especially the hard, the sad, the shameful ones), to buck up and pretend all is A-OK, no problem, nothing to see here, nothing to talk about, life is grand and yeah, it’s absolutely, bloody, freaking perfect! All of this, in the name of acceptance and belonging. NOTE: THERE. IS. NOTHING. HEALTHY. ABOUT. THIS. FOR. ANY. OF. US.
Unveiling takes tremendous courage; it takes trust (of self and others), it takes compassion and patience, and it takes oodles of practice. So how about we all just decide to GET REAL and STOP PRETENDING? Let’s collectively choose to BE HONEST, TO DEAL, to walk through the good stuff and the heart-shattering stuff- TOGETHER. No more throwing masks on to hide our truths, our hurts, losses, and disappointments. Rather revealing our genuine selves and showing up authentically for each other; sharing story, friendship, connection, and community.
I will leave you with this quote (book title, actually) from Megan Devine; Grief Advocate & Author…
“It’s OK That You’re Not OK.”
It’s. OK. We’re. Not. OK. The sooner we collectively realize this, the sooner we set ourselves free and get on with REAL. LIBERATED. LIFE. INSPIRED.
Today, and moving forward, I wish you the freedom to be REALLY YOU. I wish you profound connection with self and with others. We are STRONGER TOGETHER.
With deep gratitude and love. Namaste.