"Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then, it will be a really good day." Louie Schwartzberg
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I always thought I did not wear a mask but apparently I do...

posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , , , , ,

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When I say that I always thought I did not wear a mask, I admit to a certain amount of pride in that statement. See? No mask...I admit to pride.

By mask I am not referring to the various roles we have to play in our lives. I go from teacher to mother to friend in a day and each role has its own face which I must put on. These faces do overlap but generally I can't go into the classroom with my friend face on, and likewise, it would be unwise of me to wear my mother face when I am with a friend. But all of these faces are truly me and reflect who I a genuinely am. I am revealed to others whether I am teacher, friend, mother, writer, wife, so on. These faces are all a part of who I am.

They are not a mask. A mask covers and hides. As a quietly-spoken introvert who has always had to fight to be heard and known, the wearing of a mask to hide and cover is a strange concept to me. So I was taken by surprise when a friend I thought I knew and loved turned out to be an entirely different person. Looking back over the years of our friendship, I realise I did in fact see glimpses of the person she was hiding, but our friendship was built on a facade. When that facade was broken to reveal only duplicity, my heart broke too.

I was heartbroken and disillusioned not only because of the loss of a friendship which turned out to have never existed, but because I suddenly grew up. I faced the reality that not everyone is as they seem, a truth which had previously only existed in literature to me. As a student of Shakespeare, Austen and Thackeray, I should have known better. Just like every other good Honours English student, I had written essays on the theme of Appearance versus Reality. I knew this stuff. But it had always been head knowledge, rather than heart knowledge. I guess I was lucky that I had never experienced the heart knowledge in my own life until then.

But it made me examine myself in terms of the masks I might have been wearing and I was glad (proud!) at the end of it to have confidently ticked every authenticity box I designed for myself.

And then a couple of weeks ago we had some friends over for dinner. We hadn't seen each other socially in a number of months because for both us, life had become a bit of a challenge. At least we knew of each other's challenges and were open about them. Once netball season started we began to meet at the courts and as good honest friendships do, we were able to pick up where we left off. Each Saturday my friend would share snippets of their life having recently moved to New Plymouth from the country, and I would update my friend on our young man's health and prognosis. I thought I was being entirely honest and open in my sharing.

It turns out, I wasn't.

My friend confessed to me a few days after they were over for dinner that she was shocked to see our young man in his condition. She said she had not expected him to be as bad as he was, even though I'd been telling her he was in bed constantly, suffering from headaches etc. She told me that the expression on my face in telling her about our young man's condition didn't match the words I used and she would walk away from our conversations assured that he was okay. It was okay. We were okay. Because I was smiling.

Welcome to my mask. 

He is okay. It is okay. We are okay. I had no idea I was wearing a mask.

I looked at my facebook page. First, you need to know that I do not have a thousand friends on facebook. I don't even have hundreds. And I have unfriended people without a tinge of conscience because at any point, if I feel I can't be myself or share openly or honestly on facebook, then I scrutinise my friends list and discover that yes, there is someone there I am not entirely comfortable with. It's not that I share everything. Facebook is not the place. But I definitely do not want to have a facebook projection of me which is a different person than the real me. I understand why other people do that very thing and I am not passing judgment here. That just isn't my way. In all things, authenticity is my benchmark.

Sure enough, there it was, all over my facebook posts: He is okay. It is okay. We are okay. 

It's not that I am being inauthentic in my conversations with people or in my facebook posts. He is okay. It is okay. We are okay. That is all true. But it is only half the truth and I began to look at why I was only sharing that half. Why was I wearing this mask?

It certainly is not because I want people to think I am a superhero. I do no more than any other mum whose child is struggling. It also isn't because I wanted to hide the truth. It's not because I didn't want people to know the other side of it. In fact, I desperately do. 

It is simply because the other half of the truth is frightening and exhausting and sometimes terribly sad. I am constantly afraid of things getting worse, hospital visits, more tests and examinations. I am constantly scared that I am doing the wrong thing and frightened of the unknown because no one knows what it is, what caused it, why it has happened, how to treat it and what the future will look like. I am afraid for his future full stop. And I am constantly exhausted by the roller coaster of good days and bad days and maintaining positivity for his sake as well as our own. 

Often I am sad. He is missing out on so much and he is also in pain with severe headaches. How can I be anything other than sad about that?

But all of that truth is a burden. And I don't want to burden anyone else with what we have to carry. That really is what it comes down to and why I wear a mask.

So I share one side of the story, one truth, and in so doing, I mask the other. I share the funny things that happen, the times when our boy is up and laughing, and photos of the excursions we have with the girls. Yes, every time we take the girls out for a "family" outing, my heart breaks a little bit because we are missing one. Yet I love and cherish these moments too as the photos show.

The smiles on our faces are very real and true. We are happy. We can be extremely happy while also being very sad. We are okay even though things are not. Because we have hope. And hope gives us the strength to carry the burden and the sadness and the exhaustion and the fear into tomorrow. Because that's all we can do.

So if it is a mask I am wearing, I'm good with it. My pride can take that knock. It doesn't mean I am Becky Sharp or Mr. Whickham. Mine is a hopeful mask; it says, yes, there is a hang of a lot of stuff going on that quite frankly, sucks, but I'm smiling because I know it's not forever. And I'm smiling because there is a lot of good stuff too.

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