The Masks We Wear

What's underneath all of that protective gear, anyway?

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When I got the email from one of my favorite stores, I almost deleted it. If there’s one thing corona has shown me it’s that my closet has a rich fantasy social life.  It wears outfits to places that I was unfortunately not invited as we sheltered-in-place. I’m just grateful to have escaped the corona-19 so that when I do get out I’ll have something to wear.

Very cool bohemian spring and summer clothing lured me in to a bit of online window shopping, and there they were: interesting masks. Designer masks? Uh-huh. Very cool and bohemian, too:)?  What could be better.

I figured as long as we will be wearing them, I may as be comfortable and stylish. Apparently, masks aren’t going anywhere, and although neither am I in this somewhat diluted shut down, having a little mask mojo may just put a pep in my suffocated step while grocery shopping.

Some major life changes have left me feeling marginalized and somewhat bereft as of late, and it felt cruel that this virus would catapult me into further isolation.  So it’s a bit odd that this virus, with all of its protective gear, would be the the thing to finally totally expose me.

I like the mask, sometimes. I like the ability to hide in plain sight. I have done it for most of my life. I dated a guy who said to me “what have you been hiding from?,” and yet you’d never have known me as a recluse, hidden behind the masks I once wore. There were many, and so carefully constructed and designed that not even I knew how concealed I was, how protected.  

For those of us workaholics, shopaholics, alcoholics, overeaters, helicopter moms who’d rather over-volunteer than introspect, for the over-exercisers, the busy-bees… Corona OUTTED US, if we were one of the lucky ones. It seems putting on the mask took OFF the roles I’d hidden behind and gave me an excuse to hide out alone. And that’s where I met the dark and ugly in me and realized that it wasn’t. All that over-functioning and under-functioning, drinking, eating, living in my head (analysis paralysis, anyone? Obsessive worriers? Future trippers?)  turned out to be protective layers of well constructed defense mechanisms designed to keep me safe. 

The problem with safety, with a lack of vulnerability, is the haunting loneliness. It’s a feeling that was ingrained so deeply that it took a virus to (I hope) fully expose it to the one person whose love, nurturance and approval – whose deep connection – I’ve needed the the most. My own. 

I’ve blamed adoption, parents, career, my former husband. Friends, sometimes. Kids, if they were having a rough go of it. God, even. I’m pretty sure there’s a ton of that, too — “how could God let this happen?” is a question I’ve heard more times than I can count. Mostly, I think this is subconscious. For children raised in massive dysfunction, getting out of the victim role can be an enormous challenge. Understanding the way in which I’ve victimized myself with my own internal voice and impossible self-imposed standards and judgement has taken me years, and I’ve had oh-so-much help.

“Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today…” and that’s been a journey for a fighter like me. Accept all of my horrible mistakes and misguided efforts to control pretty much everyone and everything? Couldn’t I NOT look and just toss on a mask instead?

If I could’ve gone into the ring to prize-fight reality, I’d be a heavy weight champ. Surrendering the masks I once wore, seeing myself and my life completely as it is and learning to love, accept and embrace myself has opened me and left me more open, softer, more peaceful. More present. More…me.

Now, I feel as though I am exiting a time warp, a northeastern rain-drenched cold drizzled deep Covid sleep that left me gloomy on some days but mostly very self aware. Aware of a crucial decision: continue to harshly judge and shame myself or to offer myself love, mercy, tenderness and compassion so that I can be useful to myself and others. 

I still have lots of masks today, and I am learning how to wear them, when they can be helpful, the outfits they match and when I can choose to let them go.  See what online shopping can do?

Thanks, Anthropologie. 

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