Saturday, May 19, 2007

Masks of Depression: Sunday Scribbling

You know if you suffer from clinical depression or from bipolar disorder that when you are ill, you are a misfit. No one wants to work with or socialize with or be intimate with a person suffering the symptoms of mental illness. No one wants to endure the rash outbursts of temper, the sudden accusations, the paranoia, the inertia, the hyperproductivity followed by spells of exhaustion, the meltdowns, the sincere apologies which seem hollow, or the multiple personalites.

Depression is an illness of masks. Most of the masks are troubled ones as you can see in Bill Brukner's 1999 oil painting "Mask of the Depression". The illness manifests itself in a variety of facial expressions so that the sufferer has many masks to show the world.

My own most common mask is gray. My wife can always detect when I'm about to go into the abyss or when I have descended by the gray mask that takes over my face.

The masks I am most familiar with are the masks of happiness or of competence that cover the sadness, madness, or feelings of inadequacy I am actually feeling.

Again, in my work as a community college instructor, my workplace is like any other. No one wants to see a sad, slightly insane, or deeply self-doubting teacher. Students don't. Colleagues don't. I assure you, department chairs and other adminstrators don't.

So I wear masks. I mask my sadness, madness, and feelings of inferiority behind masks of passion, competence, and sanity. No matter how I'm feeling inside, I have become highly skilled at wearing the masks I know I must show the world, especially in my work, if I am to survive.

In the moment, in the classroom or in the hallways with my colleagues, these masks are good and necessary.

In the long run, though, they exhaust me. When I am in the grip of mental illness, I sleep a lot. I sleep in my office. I sleep as soon as I get home from work. I have spent whole weekends either lying down or sleeping, trying to get my batteries charged for another day or another week of expending the energy it requires to mask my illness and put on the proper masks for my work and for what social life I have.

Medication has helped me dearly. Medication has helped level me. When I'm on a more level mental plane, I don't need the masks. I don't have to exert the extra energy required to face the world behind masks that hide my true emotional state.

This is a relief. Medication has helped increase my energy. Moreover, it's helped relieve me of the confusion of showing the world a variety of masks.

With medication, my masks of happiness and competence match much of what I feel within myself.

Such continuity energizes me. It's the incongruity that leaves me exhausted and only partially functional.

For other pieces on masks in Sunday Scribblings, go here.

If you'd like to read other of my reflections on depression or secret identities, go here, here, here, here, here.

14 comments:

Onion said...

I have a friend who is bipolar, and you're right, masks... it's a sad reality, but true friends understand it is not a personal attack...

I hope the medication continues to help you, it continues to fail my friend...

Rob Kistner said...

Ray -

Very honest and very engaging. Thank you for sharing yourself openly.

I battle the depression thing as well, triggered by my ADD -- which causes me much frustration at times. My wife needs the patience of a saint at times.

Keep the courage an keep the faith my friend. Poignant writing!

Frances said...

Several relatives on my father's side suffered from depression. Daddy always said that I never knew just how lucky I was not to have to deal with it.
I envy your ability to write so truthfully about yourself.
Be well.
Thanks for sharing,
Frances

nonizamboni said...

I was thorougly engaged by your 'scribblings' on the masks of depression. I'm no stranger to these feelings, and I so appreciated your fine thoughts on the masks we wear, sometimes in spite of medication. I say Hooray for Medication when your insides bump up to your masks of happiness and competence. The inertia that comes with depression is so hard to deal with for me and I too, am glad for sleep. It is even harder work to keep the masks tied on tight and right side up. . .I do understand and wish you well.

InlandEmpireGirl said...

I am glad the medication is helping so you don't have to wear so many masks. It is exhausting. Very truthful post. I also think is very imformative to people that may not have recognized the symptoms of depression. This may also help them.

gautami tripathy said...

This is one of the painful masks. Coping wit it at times becomes so difficult. There can be extreme behaviour patterns. Withdrawing into oneself or ranting and raving.

Sometimes one does not know where oneisgoing.

Glad you are coping with it.

Your post is very informative for a layman.

Annie Mahoney said...

Thanks for giving me a different way to look at depression.

I've had three close family members diagnosed with depression, two of them have been hospitalized many times because of psychotic depression. Sadly, one chose to end his life.

I have only ever been able to look at it from my position on the outside. So I have only ever thought of the masks I wear when dealing with these loved ones.

A good piece.

Amber said...

This is very honest and brave. And I think it can help people who are in your boat to know that they are not alone.

I learned about wearing masks because my mom suffers from the same illness you speak of. Growing up, I wore the mask of Everything-Is-Just-Fine-At-My-House! And I watched for the signs that her mask was going to crack... You speak of it well.

Much peace to you.

:)

Janie Hickok Siess, Esq. said...

You are very brave to be so honest. I know from dealing with family members that what you say is absolutely true. I also teach employers how to deal with physical and mental disabilities in the workplace, and can attest to the fact that most people don't understand -- and too many don't want to. It all too frequently takes a lawsuit to wake them up but by then the damage has been done to the applicant or employee with the disability. I will continue fighting the good fight in my way as you continue fighting in yours. Blessings to you this day . . . I hope the medication continues to help you and you thrive in your personal and professional endeavors.

Crafty Green Poet said...

very honest post and informative too.

Patois said...

I am very sad for you. And I think it's made stronger by the fact that my sister also suffers. Your first paragraph truly shook me. "Want" to be with you? Probably not want. But need to, must, because we love.

I am glad medication is working for you, as it is my sister. I pray it is always so. So that you aren't so damned tired by the masks.

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

The picture itself, gripped my heart with sadness. Art unmasking reality.

Very enlightening post. Brutally honest, real. My mask off to you for telling it like it is.

Anita said...

What an amazingly honest and brave post! My best friend suffers from depression and she doesn't have a handle on it like you do. I hope that changes one day.

raymond pert said...

Onion: Thank goodness your friend has true friends who understand and I wish her all the best in her struggle.

Rob: All blessings to your wife's patience. I will keep up the writing. It's encouragement like yours that helps me keep going.

Frances: Your father is right and thank you so much for your kind words about my writing.

IEGirl: I'm glad you understand the exhaustion of the masks. I do hope my reflections can help anyone looking to understand.

gautami tripathy: You are so right about not knowing where one is going and neither option of lashing out or ranting within is very good. Both damage.

annie: I think it is very difficult for a person on the outside to have good perspective. I'm very sorry to know about your family members.

amber: I sure would like to think that someone in my boat might read my reflections and feel less alien.One of the terrible things about mental illness is the masks others almost have to wear in order to survive, like you did in relation to your mother.

janie: Please do keep up the good fight. This situation, as you know, does often become a matter civil rights...it's a tough one.

crafty: Thanks for your kind words.

patois: Thank you for your comment.I'm happy to hear your sister has sought medicinal help and it's working.

Pinehurst in my dreams: A tip of the mask back to you. We know these masks to well, don't we? Here's hoping we don't have to wear masks at the reunion!

anita: I hope your friend can learn more about her illness and gain some perspective. It's excrutiating to learn about oneself in this way, but the suffering turns out to be worthwhile.