Early in recovery, I spent a lot of time removing my masks; the masks I wore were to cover my pain and my lies and my hurt. This was necessary because I spent so long wearing masks to show the world how “okay” I was that I wasn’t even sure who the girl behind them all was anymore. So I worked hard; I went to counseling, I worked my recovery path and I did the work on myself to figure out how to live authentically with no masks.
Somewhere along the way though, I adopted this belief that everyone in the world was entitled to my mask-less soul. That anyone I came in contact with deserved my best, most authentic self and I gave and gave and gave. I have come very close lately to giving out. I give until I have no more to offer and I’m tired.
These days, I’m wearing a different kind of mask. Due to treatments I’m undergoing to manage a blood disorder that weakens my immune system, I wear a mask in public. This mask protects me–from germs, from exposure and from things that could potentially harm my body. When I’m in public with my mask on, it’s clear to people that I’m taking care of myself in some way. People are careful around me because they assume I’m protecting myself. All that has me thinking, why do I not offer my heart and mind the same kind of protection?
Why do I feel the need to offer everything I have, to the point of exhaustion, to anyone and everyone? What if I protected my time and energy the way I protect my body? What if I didn’t hide that I was serious about taking care of myself?
With the mask I wear in public, I am allowing people to see my struggle. I don’t have to speak a word for them to know I mean business about taking care of myself. Not once has anyone asked me “Are you sure that is necessary?” No one has ever stopped me to say “I think it’s pretty selfish of you to wear that.” Why? Because that would be absurd! And yet, I seem to think that caring for my mental health is somehow selfish or a luxury.
It’s harder to define how to care for ourselves when it comes to our energy. Self care for me doesn’t mean bubble baths and time to read a book, though those things are certainly lovely. Self care for me right now looks a lot like look a notebook and a pen and a good hard look at where my time and energy are going. Most days it’s doctor’s appointments, blood transfusions, and follow up lab work on top of regular mom duties. My days look differently than what I had planned, for what I hoped, and sometimes the grief of that, of my loss of normal, is heavy to bear.
The best way I can care for my mental health is to look at which things I can delegate, which I can quit worrying about and what’s important to me. Spending time worrying about what people think or if people are disappointed in me is not going to be on that list anymore. It’s too taxing and it doesn’t add anything to my life. It’s getting cut.
I’m going to put on my mask–not to hide, but to protect myself. The same way I would if I were in a plane that is going down. A flight attendant instructs people on every flight to put on their own oxygen mask before helping anyone else with theirs. They tell passengers, “if you don’t protect yourself first then you have nothing to give anyone else.” In the same way, if I don’t protect my mental health, how in the world can I expect to be able to help anyone else? I have to save my own life first.
Not all masks are bad. Some are life-saving. I’m choosing those.