If I were to appear without my mask, I would appear almost exactly as I do now: serious except when humorous, caring, determined, sometimes deeply moved. Heaven and Hell are so close I almost cannot tell the difference, except for the pain of it.
I was unable to speak again, and as always it surprised me. After we discussed his wedding at the weekend, he asked why I volunteer here.
I have emotional problems, I thought. I am (or part of me is) happy to be open about that. And I could not say it. I closed my eyes trying to gain control, feeling tears rise. It is not that I consciously feel overcome. And then suddenly I was over it, as if there was a barrier to speaking and then there wasn’t. And later when D asked the same thing I had no problem saying it, in that higher voice which feels the more authentic me.
I do not know what I am feeling, much of the time, but today I realised how anxious I am. I wish I were not, but the need to be perfect is hard.
And I do not realise what I want, often. I wrote, “I want”, then put the paper down for some time. Then I picked it up and wrote,
“to take a full part in my AM. I want my service valued there as it is elsewhere.”
When I got home, I called the Samaritans to talk of that paralysis or barrier. I don’t climb over the barrier, I let it go.
I want to be high-functioning, I said, and saying it I know it to be true, and so learn the fact and realise how much I want it.
I want to appear competent, so there is a barrier to saying things like “I have emotional problems”, because a competent person should not; yet achieving competence requires that I am able to admit it is it is true. Competence does not mean pretence.
She asked, why do you wear a mask? Because I am frightened of showing what is underneath. What would happen if I did? Utter humiliation equivalent to death. And yet I showed myself this morning and was met with sympathy and understanding.
I don’t climb over the barrier.
I let it go.
I may learn this fully, then the barrier (fear, need to keep up appearances, whatever) will have no more power.
Then it is a paradox: the need to appear competent in my own mind prevents me from being competent. My fear of being unable is the only thing preventing me.
Then we talked of suicide. I have been suicidal, and am not now though I feel incapable of looking after myself, and my income is inadequate and precarious. I tell the safety harness story. Jess said, “The thing I learned about you is you are a really hard worker,” and that is how I learned it myself. I had not known it before. And now I realise how much I am hurt by that.
I am seeing how hard I am working now and what I have had to overcome. I would have said ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ Perhaps I would still: me without the mask looks very like me with it. Yet I would no longer believe that.