No. 41 – Masks We Wear

No. 41 – Masks We Wear

Why is it so much easier to put our “fake” face forward rather than our real one? Is social media to blame with its influx of filters and highlight reels? Is it Hollywood’s fault with our idealized celebrity lifestyles? Or perhaps it is a deeper issue that lies within – a heart problem. I do believe that there are many contributing factors, but at the core is a flawed heart. One that seeks gratification through the approval of others.

I didn’t grow up with social media and wasn’t much apprised on celebrities and Hollywood. In fact, I grew up sheltered, but aware of appearances. Not necessarily how people looked – attractive v. unattractive – but how a lifestyle appeared. Did the family appear happy? Christian enough? Conservative? Generous? As long as all appeared squeaky clean on the outside, that was all that mattered.

Yup, we appeared to be an ideal family. But underneath, issues ran amuck. Issues that were never addressed and continuously swept under the rug. And from a young age, masking became ingrained and innate. I did it without even realizing I was doing so. Feeling anything but joyful? Mask it up and smile so no one catches on. I mean I perfected this art! So much that I often fooled myself when I looked in the mirror. Forgetting my smiling mask still adorned my downtrodden face underneath.

This lens through which I viewed the world and myself was no different when I first embarked out on my own. Battling what was familiar, albeit wrong for me versus the fear of breaking out of my old mold and growing independently.

After almost nine months, I still lived in a state of shock that thiswas my life. Thisbeing the current state of my situation and well-being. The state of complete disconnection from what felt like my entire family. Living in my own apartment, working two jobs, barely able to pay my bills and afford groceries. Scraping through each day, wondering how it all changed so quickly and drastically.

This was not the life I had planned or pictured for myself. I felt I had done everything right.

Go to college

Find career with job security

Get my own place to live

Start career

Find amazing guy √√

Checking all these boxes=happy life, right? Wrong. I had followed the steps, but my equation did not add up. My life was a mess. What would others think of this colossal failure I turned out to be? Drowning in a position I felt underqualified to teach, a poor excuse for an “adult” and a sorry excuse daughter that was convinced to feel like nothing more than a disobedient wild child. It didn’t feel right to call myself a contributing member of society. I felt more like a black hole, obliterating anything that crossed my path.

But my mask? Vacuum-sealed across my face as soon as my eyelids witnessed daylight. Making me feel safer and appear as less of a fraud. As well as one of the most familiar items in my recently changing life. Well my mask and the incessant guilt I was also attempting to cover up.

When I embraced my alter ego – perfect Sarah – I felt better. Always temporarily though, until I was home, alone, in the dark. Checking twice to make sure no one was around to witness, in horror, my disfiguration upon removing the mask from my skin. And as soon as I removed my mask, my true reflection flashed back at me. For on the backside of my beautiful mask was a mirror, revealing my authentic self. And I’d grown to loathe what I saw looking back at me.

Because of the shame I carried around with me, I never felt comfortable in my own raw skin. Fearful of what others might think. Unsure if anyone could accept and embrace the real me. Torn between the debilitating guilt I felt for going against the grain of my family contrasted with this newfound freedom to grow into the person I was truly meant to be.

And yet…

I didn’t want to entertain my next thought. I tried to push it down, back into the depths of my stomach. But even the distaste it brought to my tongue wasn’t enough to keep it down. Like bile, it purged ever upward. I missed my family.My father, mother, sister, brother. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The whole side of the family I had grown up with and into had so quickly been severed from my life.

It felt unnatural and perverse to miss the same people who rejected me. Rejected me and left me deeply wounded. How could I miss the environment that was so toxic for so long, that it clouded my view? That now, almost a year after I was still experiencing the aftermath.

A tragic scene played out before me. I stood on one side of the canyon facing the North, yet I couldn’t help but to look back, tears welling in my eyes. Scanning, even for the tiniest glimpse of a silhouette on the other side. But we were so far away now. All I could see was the tattered remains of the bridge that once connected both canyons. Now, limp, sliced to ribbons. The unstable bridge made of rope and slatted wood was a place I frequented. Often traveling between the two sides. While the bridge was meant to connect, it seemed to only further divide. For I was the sole traveler back and forth. Always compromising, striving to be who I knew I never could. Journeying to the other side, never met in the middle. And each trek, extracting more toll than the prior.

Still unable to grasp how I could hate and miss something simultaneously. I didn’t hate my family, not even in the slightest. Honestly, it would have made everything so much easier if I could. Because then I could make a clean break and move forward, uninhibited. But with every torturous step forward, a suitcase full of baggage drags behind me in the dirt.

I missed them. Flat out, missed my family. The familiarity they encompassed. The memories they consumed. The idea of being supported: much more present in theory than in action. Regardless of all the hurt and disconnect, I have and always will keep my family in my heart.

smile, maskfree, me

Author’s Note: This is me, Sarah, in an attempt to bare it all with you. No mask, just me.

I get asked often, in person and online how things are with my family now. And truth is I struggle, still, with my family dynamic, which at the moment in non-existent. It’s gone through ups and downs over the past five years, but has flat-lined for about the last 18 months. I wouldn’t say we don’t communicate, because a lack of communication is still sending a message. But we rarely speak. An occasional holiday text is sent, with the standard “thank you,” response. So much has been said in the past, and so much more still needs saying. But with a fundamental, absolute disagreement, commonality seems to go out the window quickly.

 After all this time, emotions are so barbed and intertwined with logic, that feelings are inevitably wounded any time real communication is attempted. Which only further irritates the wounds. So to be totally frank with you, I don’t know exactly how to categorize the relationship other than not good.

Not everyone has a similar family situation to mine, but there are many, many reasons why one might wear a mask. Some wear a mask to fill in the perceived gaps and areas of lack, believing to be incomplete. Others may adorn a mask to dull their full light, afraid of being too much. Or like me, you may garner a mask because it’s all you know how to do. But whatever the reason, don’t fall victim to the lie that you, exactly as you are this second – right now – or ever in the future are going to require a mask.

Somewhere down the road, we’ve rallied behind the notion that we have to shoot for perfection. And when we inevitably fall short, because news flash no one is perfect, we feel the need to fake it till we make it.

Wrong.

Wrong.

WRONG!

If you go through life pretending, all you will ever learn is how to fool yourself. I’ve done it. I’ve lived this lie for years. Merely surviving is no way to live. There is so much more for you, friend. And it’s waiting on the other side of that mask you’re hiding behind. Let me say this again, out loud as I write.

There is so much more life waiting to be lived after you remove your mask.

I know it’s petrifying. I know it’s new and unknown. And yes, it will require work. But that mask that you’re sporting hasn’t served or protected you; it’s been harming you. Stunting your growth, camouflaging your identity, clouding your judgement with the lie that you aren’t enough.

If you’re anything like me and dedicated your life chasing perfection, you must be exhausted. Exhausted and well aware that you’ll never be able to achieve your goal. So instead of presenting everyone with this concocted version of yourself, why not remove your mask and introduce people to the real you? You already know your old method has proven unsuccessful again and again. Give yourself some well overdue credit and just try it and see. I have been amazed at the freedom I’ve gained by stepping into the person I was created to be.

Now that I’ve gotten all rah-rah, I’ll put my pom poms down and leave you with this. You were fearfully and wonderfully made and should live your life in a manner that manifests this truth. You. Not the masked you, YOU.

 xxx

Sarah

 

 

 

No. 27 – The Message

No. 27 – The Message

My new life had begun to fall into a routine. Going without was normal. I didn’t find myself as hungry. My back grew accustomed to the floor. Without furniture, my apartment seemed much bigger. It was easy to keep clean. I didn’t have much to mess it up anyway. My sleep schedule was even adjusting because me and mornings…were not on the same team. This adulting wasn’t so hard.

I also began to get in the groove of this whole teaching thing. I had developed a positive rapport with my students quickly. Were my days utterly exhausting? Oh yes! Very much yes! But I felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives. Seeing their eyes light up when I walked in the room to help them helped to give purpose to my exhaustion. And to my struggle.

I communicated with my parents about once or twice a week. Most of the conversations revolved around teaching. It was all very surface level and forced. I doubt that would ever change. However, the newest development was that my mother was coming down for the weekend to visit me. I wasn’t quite sure what we would do, but maybe this would provide an opportunity for my mother to see the state of my apartment that they left me in. Or maybe, just maybe it would allow us to have a mother-daughter interaction that doesn’t end in a fight, tears, or both. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time.

Maybe this weekend could set our relationship on a new, more positive track. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high, because that usually ended in heartbreak, but I was still hopeful. This could be good. We had some time and space apart so everything had to have settled down, right?

It was a Thursday afternoon and I had several students in my room to complete an assignment. I was walking around, monitoring. A buzz from my cell phone on my desk redirected my attention. I finished my lap and paused at my desk, picking up my phone. The screen illuminated as I glanced at the notification. It was a text message from my mother. She most likely wanted to pin down the plans for tomorrow.

I froze as I read the message.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

My stomach sank and my face was flushed. It felt as if one of my students had set the thermostat on 100 degrees, a vast difference from the usual “meat locker” temperature it remained set at. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and stared at my screen. My fingers hovered above my phone’s keyboard, but they were frozen. Or maybe it was my mind that had come to a screeching halt. I set my phone back on my desk as I couldn’t steady my shaking hands.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and walked back to the round table. “Good job,” I managed to blurt out as I nodded towards my student’s reading excerpt. The rest of the class period was a blur. I was glad the students were working on their own and needed little support to finish their assignment. Seven minutes seemed like 700 as my mind was reeling from the text I received from my mother. The bell rang, and my small group of students left. I remained seated at the table and blankly stared out the window. Maybe I had misread. Maybe there was another piece of the message that hadn’t come through yet.

I rose from the chair and walked back to my desk. My entire body was tingling, reeling with the intenseness from my mother’s message. Where was this coming from? Why out of the blue? And Kendrae? Had they talked to one another?

Upon reaching my desk, I gently picked up my phone and stared at the blank, black screen. My hands trembled as I unlocked the screen. I blew out a deep breath and re-opened the message. Eyes wide, ready to soak it all in.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

It was still the same. I hadn’t forgotten a single syllable. I screenshot the message and sent it to Kendrae. The alleged boyfriend in my mother’s message. Moments later, I received a screenshot of a different message my mother sent out.

“Tell your girlfriend she has a week to get her own cell phone plan, car insurance and health insurance. This is just as much your fault as it is hers.”

The feeling in my hands turned numb. I couldn’t feel the phone in my hands. The four walls around me started spinning and closing in at the same time. A lump formed in my throat, and as I tried to swallow, I couldn’t breathe. Cold beads of sweat percolated on the back of my neck. Glued to the screen, my eyes reread that same message over and over. And then one more time.

My mind was too frazzled to settle on one thought. I had hundreds bouncing around in there. Reverberating off the walls, knocking into one another, spinning out of control in circles.

Where did this come from?

What do I say?

What do I do?

How am I going to pay for all of that?

Did they bug my apartment?

Was there a tracker on my car?

Now what?

I sat in the chair behind my desk and handed over the control of my thoughts. Leaving me no more at ease because of it. I was actually more distressed than before. I felt as if someone dropped me in the middle of the ocean. I was underneath the waves, frantically swimming. Searching for which direction was up. Getting tossed and tumbled with each new wave, tiring more by the minute. The moment I stopped thrashing, stopped trying to make sense of everything was when I began to float up to the surface. The murkiness began to clear and the light penetrated the depths of the water. I emerged on the surface, gasping for air.

This was not something I could fix. This was not a problem I could out-think the solution to. Bottom line, I would have to do what the message said. Get my own phone plan, health insurance and car insurance. I was planning to do all of that in a few weeks, once I got paid, but it didn’t look like I had much of a choice. The logical portion of my brain took back the reigns and drove my thoughts to safety.

First, I would transfer my phone plan from my parents’ plan to my own. That shouldn’t cost anything up front, I could just be billed for all of that later. As far as car insurance, I would try the same thing. Transfer my insurance to my own policy and hope that I could pay the bill at a later date. After the 25thof September. But health insurance…I don’t think I would be able to take care of that now. I had already declined coverage with the school district because I was covered on my parents’ plan. I didn’t get sick often, I could handle a year without health insurance.

I could do this. Calmly, I could do this. I just had to breathe, and handle this situation one step at a time. Thinking about the situation in its entirety was too overwhelming. I had already been down that vortex, and it was paralyzing. No, I had to tackle this task in small, manageable chunks.

Step 1: Make sure Kendrae was alright. He did nothing to deserve a message dripping with disdain, guilt and shame. All he had done was love their daughter.

Step 2: Get through the rest of the school day. Which meant, closing this up for now and not allowing anyone to know what was going on. My students didn’t deserve to suffer because I was.

Step 3: Go to an Allstate insurance office and see how to get on my own plan. Make sure to double check that I could pay at a later date.

Step 4: Visit a Sprint store and get my own cell phone plan. Again, make sure that I could pay the bill at a later date.

Step 5: Text my mother that everything has been taken care of. Do not be tempted to text beforehand, it will do no good. Perhaps even make the situation worse.

Step 6: Pray that I don’t get sick because I certainly won’t be able to afford it.

Step 7: Get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll be a few steps closer to true independence. This will all be worth it. Chin up.

Authors Note: Life can be overwhelming. We’ve ALL been there. Been through seasons, long and short, of struggle. Survived, barely, on the other side of a harsh reality. I will admit, I’m the first person to smile, nod, and say “I’m fine” when I’m absolutely not. I am the first person to sit and listen to someone else’s struggles, but never verbalize my own. Offer a helping hand to pull someone else up, when it feels like I’m the one falling. Focus all my remaining energy to brighten someone else’s day when I haven’t seen the light for weeks.

The recent tragedy of Mac Miller losing his life to drugs really hit home with me. Any death, untimely or not is tragic. Losing a loved one is never easy. But I was unsure why this particular tragedy really resonated with me. I didn’t listen to his music. Didn’t follow him on social media. Didn’t really know much about him. So I researched and consumed every article about him I could. He was 26, my age. And a common theme laced through each post and article I read was that he was kind. He was caring and a good friend. He was a positive person. Not the first adjectives that come to mind when hearing of an individual who suffered from a drug addiction.

But that’s the thing. EVERYONE has their own inner battles. Everyone is struggling with something. And it is often the ones with the biggest smiles and kindest hands that have the deepest wounds. How many people have I passed by and smiled hoping they don’t ask me how I’m really doing? How many people have I greeted and just went through the motions, not taking the time to truly see them? We need to do a better job of seeing those around us. Not just smiling and exchanging casualties because we’re too busy or too consumed with our own lives to care.

On the flip side of that, we need to do a better job of letting ourselves be seen. Allowing other people to be there for us, rather than trying to take on the world in solitude. Speaking from personal experience, my first response when I’m down is to shove that mess in the farthest corner of my brain and focus on anyone else but me. And while this might sound noble, it’s really not. Because how can I truly help someone else up if I won’t tend to my own broken arm? Life is messy. And hard. But don’t ever feel like you have to go through it alone. If you’re hurting, don’t minimize your pain. Because ignoring it, will never solve anything. It actually makes it worse.

I wasn’t able to truly move through my struggle because of my own grit. Did it help? Sure, but I came through this valley by the pure grace of God and because I leaned on those around me.

So in short, what I want you to gather from my post is this: you are not alone. Reach out to those around you. And if you have no one around you, reach out to me. I’ll welcome you in with open arms. See the people you come in contact with. And allow others to see you too. It always seems darkest before the dawn. Your light is coming, I promise.