You won’t notice it. In fact, even after reading this post you might never, ever notice it. If there’s one thing I know for certain, is that people with mental illness who manages to live a semblance of a normal life, will definitely wear a mask. These masks are the personality we show you when together, and they will contradict the hell out of our actual persona. How different can we be really? It’s not like our personalities can just switch over at the flick of a thought, right? Turns out, that’s exactly how it worked.
I knew of another conscript in my army days that suffered from major depressive disorder and a horde of other mental demons. For a time, we were both going through some of the lowest points of our depression episode together, and often confided in each other. When around others, the mask he wore was a charismatic one. He was outgoing, friendly, active, and always pushing himself to work harder and better. But one day, I went to his bunk to find him, not as a friend or colleague, but as another person with mental illness. His mask slid right off.
He couldn’t get out of bed and just wanted to sleep. We were comfortable with long periods of silence, even though when with others, this guy could not sit still for longer than a few serious minutes. There was a desk set up in his bunk so he could read and study, which contrasted with his mask, he’s the kind who would rather play soccer and crack jokes over a noisy dinner table. Yet the moment one of our superiors came to find us, his mask snapped back on, and he was the charismatic, outgoing, active man everyone else knew him to be.
Some of us don’t even realize we wear a mask. These people often confuses the personality they show and the one they feel as the same thing. Because the mask for us are so natural, we don’t even feel out of place or discomfort with it. Others though, like myself, never had a natural mask. We crafted it, meticulously over a long period of time, to fit the image that society wants me to be. In the process of doing so, we become masters of social manipulation. Once, to prevent myself from entering an awkward conversation with a girl who insisted she knew me from somewhere, I implanted myself into her memories through manipulation. I got her to slip out her school name, her class, and even her teacher. I also cold read some of her personality and school life. In the end, we parted with her memories of me being that we were from the same class. In reality, we weren’t even from the same district, let alone school.
For my mask in my own social circle, I made myself out as the Joker. And the character I play is none other than Aden Ng. Yes, Aden Ng doesn’t exist. He is my personality template, a figment of my imagination. And I play him well. That’s how a guy with an IQ score of 137 can fail so many tests. How a person with a background in violent gangs and martial arts lose so many fights. How a person who would use to cry at simply being called ‘fat’ would be able to laugh it off and even make fun of himself for it. That’s because what I’m doing is acting. I’m playing a role that would appeal to the people around me. And it worked. It kept on working.
In fact, I dare say that everyone who even remotely considers themselves my friend from secondary school onwards knows next to nothing about my personality as Ng Jun Xiang. They know Aden. Aden is funny. He makes jokes. You can insult him and he shrugs it off because he’s a douche who doesn’t give two crap. But for every one of these ‘joking insults’, me, Jun Xiang, feels the pain. And the moment the door to my room closes behind me, the mask comes off, and these insults will hit me like trains. I feel hurt, worthless, and sometimes, suicidal. I have to fight these overwhelming sadness and pain, caused by the people I care about because they don’t know any better, just to prevent the anhedonia of depression for getting a grip on me and sending me down into a spiral.
Why do we wear the mask then if it causes so much pain? Surely there must be some kind souls out there who would be willing to accepts us for who we are! No. Chances of finding these kind souls are next to nothing. Because reality is a cruel mistress, showing our true, ‘mental’ self, we get labelled. Classified as weird instead of charismatic or funny. So we end up wearing masks for different reasons to avoid the label. Maybe it’s so that the world will see us as normal, or to prevent family members from worrying about our conditions. Sometimes, it could be for something as simple as making friends and be accepted as a human being.
For me, my reason’s are a little more selfish. I want the people I care about to be happy. I want them to laugh at my stupidity or feel happy about being an overall better human being than I am. I want my family to not see me as needy. I don’t want to be seen as the a freak. I want to redeem myself for all the wrongs that I did and about to do through making people laugh by being the ultimate punchline. Basically, there’s a lot of ‘I want’ here. Even if doing all these means making myself suffer emotionally.
Remember that while I’m doing all this, my friends are remembering me by the mask I wear. To them, I am a joke. I am THE joke. And I am okay with that. Well, I have to be. And no, I am not being a humble brag. Inside me, I genuinely, truly, absolutely really, believe that I deserve this horrible, miserable existence because my irrational mind absolutely believe I have done something wrong in the past that requires endless mental self mutilation.
I wear a mask because it’s my shield. It stops others from hurting me for being the horrible person I am. How do I know I am horrible? The answer is simple. It’s the only logical outcome. How else can I explain this extreme hatred for myself, so much so that I am willing to end my own life?