Why do we mask our pain? And what can we do to remove the mask?
Fear of being unfairly judged, fear of not being understood, and fear of being labeled weak, unworthy, dramatic, or any other negative attribute under the sun. It’s natural to want to be our best selves, so anything that threatens to disrupt that can cause us to put on a disguise…a mask.
It’s easy to see the appeal in guarding difficult emotions, experiences, and stressors. Our “masks” provide a sense of protection against unwanted responses to our very real and legitimate need to nurture our mental health.
Unfortunately, these masks only feed into mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. The sense of protection they provide is temporary, at best, because our troubling thoughts and emotions remain. And while it would be nothing short of heavenly for mental health conditions to simply resolve on their own, the truth of the matter is that they won’t. We HAVE to fight, because when we choose not to face our struggles, we choose not to express them, and ultimately not to seek the help we need.
Community is a necessity to fight any mental health condition. We can define “community” in a number of ways, but it evokes the same sense of connection, acceptance, and support. While I know there are some that hold a different opinion, I will say it anyway because it holds too much value not to share – life is not meant to be lived alone.
I’m not referring to our relationship status or necessarily how many friends and family members we have. Our community is self-made and unique to whatever we aspire to make it; we build it around who we are at our core. Our interests, beliefs, and values help us find opportunities to connect with others.
For example, if you have certain causes you are passionate about, consider regularly volunteering to give yourself a chance to meet like-minded people. Or maybe you haven’t been to church in a while or engaged in a small group or ministry; this is an opportunity to connect with others through your church home.
When we have a strong community around us, we have people we can open up to. We build trustworthy relationships that contribute to our livelihood and our support system. It’s not always easy to put yourself out there, even with friends and family, but it is worth it. As social beings, we thrive off of connection, which gives us an opportunity to get out of our own heads.
If you’re not aware that you’re suffering from a mental health condition, then how would you know to ask for help? It’s a harsh reality that not all people have access to health care and education to support their overall wellness, let alone mental health wellness. Economic and demographic conditions play a significant role in the availability of mental health care and proper resources to educate individuals.
While there’s a bigger conversation to be had about why this is an issue and how to resolve it permanently, there are still ways to be a part of the solution for yourself and for others right where you are.
The internet remains one of the most effective ways to find mental health resources, from healthcare to education to support groups and more. A simple online search of some mental changes you’ve noticed or “mental health resources near me” is a great start. Here are a few nationwide organizations that I recommend:
There are cultural differences surrounding mental health that have been created and sustained from generation to generation. Certain cultures value and celebrate strength in our family, faith, mind, body, and spirit. Mental health conditions threaten those cultural values and can cause feelings of shame for those suffering from conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When we’re raised according to certain values and beliefs, we are challenged to open our minds and hearts to other ways of life. This doesn’t mean forgoing the very foundation you may have built your life on, but it does mean it’s time to assess the values that are causing you any harm.
So what do I do now?
God is very clear that He has no plans for us to live a life of destruction with Him. The more clear and serious we get about this truth, the easier it will be to fight for ourselves and the people that care for us.
Once you’ve had a chance to connect or reconnect with God’s position on your mental health wellness, I recommend that you take a moment to be honest with yourself about what you’ve been feeling and experiencing. Then take it one step further and think about what makes you try to hide what you’re struggling with. This may be difficult, so just be as honest as you can.
Maybe you have a lot of responsibilities at your job that don’t leave room for you to be vulnerable about your health. Acknowledge that truth, but then go deeper than that. Work is a factor, but not the root. This could stem from a fear of being labeled “weak” or “inadequate.” This could stem from the values you were raised with, such as working hard, making good money, and never quitting.
After you’ve had some time to assess yourself, it’s time to take action and seek out the help that you need and deserve. Sure, it’s uncomfortable and scary, but truly all journeys of healing, growing, evolving, and thriving are. In fact, purposeful discomfort is typically a sign that you’re on the right path to flourish the way God intended.
I’m encouraging you to begin to remove your mask, starting today. Just put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Healing doesn’t happen in one day, one week, or even in one year. But it WILL happen and it is worth every ounce of effort that you have.