Many circumstances have led me to believe that many people really do lead lives of quiet desperation. I’ve often been surprised to find out that someone I see regularly is going through a major personal or family crisis. Most of us have been taught to hide any impression of being stressed or depressed. Put aside fear or indecision, and forge ahead with a purpose. Never let them see you sweat…or sigh, give up, give in, quit. Big girls don’t cry. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Blah, blah, blah.
I know I was schooled in the art of living the lie that everything was fine when really it wasn’t. Early on, we’re taught to get ahold of our emotions and stifle them or bury them when it isn’t considered appropriate to express them. When growing up, we learned to do this not only when we were in the grocery store and wanted candy we’d been told we couldn’t have, but also when in front of a group of our peers whose teasing only escalated if we became increasingly upset. When company came, we were told to be on our best behavior, meaning not embarrassing our parents by saying or doing anything that would reveal our true nature and upbringing wasn’t by any means Mary Poppins kind of picture perfect.
If almost every one of the family members and friends I am close to has one thing or another going on in their lives that is a crisis or could easily become one, then it makes me think that’s also the case with people I don’t know very well.
For many years, I was convinced that I shouldn’t say anything about what I experienced or how I felt because other people wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t care, and/or wouldn’t believe me. Most of their families seemed normal. I assumed my friends weren’t worried about the effects of workaholism, alcoholism, depression, or co-dependency on a family. I was right. Some of them weren’t worried about any of those things; instead, they were concerned about cancer, separation, divorce, finances, physical and/or emotional abuse, drugs, and death.
Now that I’ve learned more about human nature, I know adults are particularly adept at putting on a mask that tells everyone life’s just fine even when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Some people’s masks are more elaborate, sophisticated, deceptively calm, sickeningly sweet, or duplicitously attractive than others. I’ve found, lately, mine, which used to be several inches thick, has begun to wear thin—perhaps because I’m sick of keeping so much in. If I’ve fooled all of the people some of the time, then I bet you have, too. What if I take off my mask and you remove yours?