Smart Masks

“You hid behind your intelligence. You never revealed what goes on inside of you, what makes you unique.”

“I just … I didn’t want to look like a fool.”

“Well, that’s the chance you have to take. But until you’re willing to risk it, you’ll never know who you are, you’ll never be able to grow.”

Yes, I’ve been watching 90’s teen drama again – Beverly Hills 90210 – please hold your groans until the next ad break. The quote was part of a conversation between brainy Andrea and her current male teacher crush.

There’s a book on my bedside table, waiting for its turn: “Depression: The Curse of the Strong”. I think its premise is that strong people end up depressed because they tolerate distress and repress emotions beyond the normal range, which leads to maladaptive coping strategies and patterns, ending in a depressive disorder. Don’t quote me – I haven’t read it yet.

I have another, related theory about depression. Perhaps, sometimes, intelligent people find ways to navigate around life’s difficulties which mean they don’t need to address issues, and therefore avoid distress and also repress emotions, etc – I’m sure you can  see where I’m going with this: “intelligence”, as normally understood, may sometimes lead to depression because the intelligent person constructs smart yet maladaptive coping strategies.

Anyway, just an idea.

Certainly, many depressed people wear masks. Sometimes we feel ashamed, or we don’t want people to see the “real” (inherently unworthy) us, or we feel we have to protect people – even the ones who love us most – from ourselves. Good old twisted depression thinking, eh?

Masks can protect us, but they can also lock us into ways of behaving which aren’t going to serve us in the long run. Here’s a short list of some of the masks I’ve adopted today:

  • I’m able to feel happy (I’m not, even though I feel relatively OK this week)
  • I can handle people changing plans on me at the last minute (I can’t – my anxiety goes through the roof)
  • I’ve actually been working the last nine months (ahem … let’s just say it was a lie of omission, so not really a lie, right?)
  • Everything is just hunky-dory in my home.

Some of these masks have helped me out; some of them are probably not constructive in the long run, and could be ditched.

Do you wear any masks as you live with anxiety and/or depression? Are there any it would be more helpful for you to ditch?

File:NIA human brain drawing.jpg

Drawing of the human brain, from the National Institute for Aging, National Institutes of Heath, United States Depsrtment of Health and Human Services. This drawing shows several of the most important brain structures (Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons)

14 Comments

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14 responses to “Smart Masks

  1. My social anxiety mask is a bit different. I’m like a scared little mouse, when the real me is much more talkative and sarcastic. Like Andrea, I don’t want to look like a fool. 90s television was just full of life lessons, wasn’t it?

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  2. Sometimes I don’t even know which me is real and which is my mask. I always consider myself to be stupid but then I hate it when others think I am…

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  3. ocdjm

    I mask my anxiety because it freaks people out when they see you losing it. Although I am unable to keep anxiety under wraps when it gets bad. That is when I try to hide from everyone.

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  4. Oooh…this is a juicy topic! So many different masks, so little time. 🙂 Perhaps the mask that I use most often is that I have everything under control. Unfortunately this leads me to think that it’s really possible to have everything under control, which is certainly not true. It also leads to a lot of negative self-talk when it becomes painfully clear that I don’t have everything under control.

    Who knew that such insight could come from 90210? 🙂

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  5. Cal

    Oh gosh, so many. I’m pretty high functioning while depressed, or I have been until now, and have been working hard to maintain a facade of nothing-to-see-here-folks! I can make small talk and be social when needed, I can act like I’m okay, like I’m fine with friends not returning my calls/messages because hey, we all get busy. I put a lot of effort into not presenting as “depressed” because I don’t want to freak people out, but the result of that is that people (my friends, my boss, my parents) find it hard to see how depressed I really am. I think it’s all part of my perfectionist tendencies, to want to pretend like I’m okay when I’m not, and also my desire to be good and perfect for my parents when the truth is I’m sick.

    I really liked this post. I’ve definitely got where I am from being “intelligent” and pushing/being pushed to do well for too long. I always assumed what I was feeling was stress, but I think it was really mild depression, something that never even occurred to me. Do share once you’ve read the book.

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    • Yes! We share so much experience. I’m high-functioning, too, especially this week (though my moodscope score is still just 33) but I’d love to be able to feel an emotional happiness.

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  6. Are you aware that people who are not suffering as you do go through many of the same things, it simply does not register the same ways?

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