Halloween may have been yesterday, but some people are still wearing a mask. In fact, they wear it all year long. The “I’m fine” mask. Some wear the “I don’t need help” mask” or the “I got this” mask.
Sometimes a mask is the easiest way to go from one part of the day to another. After all, not everyone you come across needs to know what you’re dealing with. The coffee shop doesn’t care about your PTS; they just want to be kind and say, “Have a good day.” It’s a nice gesture. If you’re out with friends, you don’t want to ruin a fun time by breaking down. Telling coworkers doesn’t seem right when you have a job to do. So, you keep it up and you keep it on.
But what happens when we keep wearing that mask day after day with no breaks? How can we pull it off when it’s been there for so long? And to whom can we show our true selves? The answers may be easier than you think.
Arthur C. Brooks, contributing writer for the Atlantic and podcast host for How to Build a Happy Life, wrote, “The energy required to maintain your identity is probably greater than you realize, and finding a way to relinquish it regularly can help you recharge” (The Disguises We Wear Every Day, October 2021).
When we come home from a day of hard work, we want to take off our shoes and put up our feet. Shouldn’t we also want to take off the mask once in a while? Keeping up the act of “I’m fine” or something similar is hard work. We can either keep lying to ourselves – which often results in dramatic outbursts, unhealthy vices, or drastic choices – or we can change. So, how do we change “I’m fine” from a lie to the truth?
What it really comes down to is choice. Truly, you have to want to change. And, in order to want to change, you need to realize you have something that needs changing. Accepting the truth of the matter is really the first step. It’s okay to not be okay, and realizing that can be one of the most freeing feelings. Once you accept that you’re not really you lately, or that something isn’t okay with you inside, you can get to work. After all, you can’t fix a problem you don’t know about.
To do this, we self-check. Executive Leadership Coach Lolly Daskal has six questions you can ask yourself daily:
- Did I work towards my goals today?
- What bad habits do I need to stop?
- What motivated me today?
- Have I been the kind of person I want to be?
- What mistakes did I make today, and what can I learn from them?
- What am I grateful for today?
Depending on your level of self-care, you may only want to focus on numbers two, four, and six. When we have hang-ups, it’s hard to set goals. Perhaps the best way to get past that, however, is to have an outside party help you through it.
Who Can You Trust
Okay, so you’ve played nice with the mask for so long that no one really knows the real you. At least, it feels that way and maybe you’ve done so well that it’s true, but now what do you do about it?
You need someone you trust who won’t judge you or tell you what to do based on any preconceived notion of their own. You need an unbiased third party to talk to.
A coach is a great person to do this. It can also be a therapist, close friend, colleague, teacher, or other trusted person, but a coach is specifically trained to help you see yourself in a new light. Coaches listen deeply and help you find new perspectives so that you come to your own conclusions and make your own goals. When it comes from you, it means more and has a greater impact on your motivation. That said, if you don’t have a coach or can’t get someone, you still need to talk. There are resources out there.
If your self-check has very negative answers, don’t wait. Speak to someone immediately. Don’t let yourself spiral downward. You may keep saying your fine, smiling on the outside, playing it cool, but it will eat you up inside. When it finally surfaces, it could get ugly, uglier than you intend and with consequences you don’t want. Take care of yourself now. If you’re not sure where you stand, you can do this quick Check-in with FRC and it’s free! If there’s any red flags, someone will reach out to make sure you can access available resources.
Freedom at Last
Those who have worn a mask for a long time and finally torn it off have found freedom at last. They will tell you how much better they breathe knowing they can be themselves and be honest about it. Sure, we all have bad days and stressors in our lives. We all smile at the grocery store or say we’re doing well when we’re not feeling it sometimes. The difference is whether you live in that perpetual bad day or if you can take off the mask with someone, unload, talk through it, and work out a solution or way to cope.
We don’t need to wear a mask all the time. It’s time to open our eyes to better self care, pull off the mask, and let the sun hit our faces. Self check daily, show yourself who you are, and take care of that person.