Time to take off the mask?
With the current state of Australia burning, I have been reflecting on the impact this will have on the mental health of our friends, colleagues and fellow countrymen and women. There are moments when watching the media coverage alone is overwhelming from my safe, non-threatened living room; how unimaginable it must be for those experiencing the fires firsthand, with loss of lives, livelihood, homes and precious life memories.
In the coming days, weeks and months, we will need to be vigilant with regards to our own mental health, and the mental health of our friends and colleagues. I have decided to publish a “Letting the child out to play” blog that I have been working on over the last several weeks – it’s about masks. You may find the link to the fires tenuous – if so, I apologise. But please read on, and perhaps there will be some resonance with you and those around you.
Is it time to take off the mask - the big reveal?
The recent launch of the “Who’s behind the mask” television show has brought to the forefront of my mind an area that used to be something I was passionate about – the wearing of masks and the perpetuation of the myth that I, for one, have it all together! I don’t.
Do you have a poker face? That mask you wear to all around that sends the message “I am ok – actually, I am better than ok, I have it all together”. Are you that someone that others look upon and think – I don’t know how they do it – they seem to be the perfect doctor, the perfect nurse, the perfect spouse, the perfect parent, the perfect friend, always upbeat and optimistic, nothing seems to unsettle them….. I think there continues to be a cultural expectation that we hide our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our sadness and brokenness, despite the lip service we pay to authenticity. I have often been criticised for wearing my heart on my sleeve, being too sensitive, too transparent with my emotions. It has not always been that way for me. Many years ago, I made an active decision not to perpetuate the “mask” – I decided that I would be candid about my struggles, my stressors, my failures and my successes. The motivation for this came about as I was witness to more and more of my colleagues – high achieving, intelligent, compassionate and energetic people – finding themselves in the depths of depression, paralysed by a state of mind that they couldn’t share for fear of being seen as weak or a failure. How could they be managing so “poorly” when all around were thriving and had it together?
What happens when we continue to wear our mask, when we continue to perpetuate the myth that we can have it all – we can be fabulous at all things all the time? I think when this happens, we fail to allow ourselves and others to be real, to be courageous, to face our own frailties and uncertainties and to seek the help that we need. I have talked before of the psychologist I saw many years ago – she tells this story. She was the mum of 2 very active little children, she was trying to establish a psychology business, mother her children and support her partner. On a particularly hard day, when the most she could do was get herself and the children out of bed and dressed, she rang a friend for support. The friend immediately invited her around, without hesitation. On arriving, she found her friend beautifully attired and made up, the children well dressed, a craft table set up, ready to go and a spotless house. Her response – I’m sorry, I can’t possibly be your friend anymore – I can’t reach this standard – I am falling apart, and you are living an insta-perfect life. At this point, the mask came off, and the host revealed that on receiving the phone call and the impending visit, she raced around the house with a clothes basket, piled all the toys, dirty clothes, dirty dishes and other miscellaneous items that were littering the house into the basket, placed it in the spare room and shut the door. Her insta-perfect home was a ruse. They laughed together and made a pact not to wear their masks with each other anymore.
I wonder, if like me, when you heard this story, your first thought was – now there’s an idea – the laundry basket! I think we continue to be guilty of wearing our masks, presenting the insta-perfect life, without the beauty of a life well lived with all its frailties. When we fail to be authentic with those around us, and reveal our struggles and frailties, we continue to perpetuate the myth that these truly shaping, life experiences are somehow failure, shameful and a sign that we are not capable or competent. Does this require us to expose ourselves in an unsafe manner, no – not at all. But we need to surround ourselves with those we can trust to be real with us, so that we can be real with them. In doing this, we will slowly chip away at the stigma and myths that are perpetuated with regards to the very real struggles that many of us experience.
Are you willing to be part of the big reveal – to find those people with whom you can be the most authentic version of yourself? That is my challenge for you in the coming weeks.
If you are impacted by the fires and disasters currently gripping our land, or you are needing support to manage in your current season, please reach out to someone who can help. Remember that your workplace will have a confidential counselling service, the ACEM provides a confidential referral system to support and the RACP provides similar services.
Need help right now?
beyondblue - 1300 224 636
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Lifeline – 13 11 14
National mental health & addictions helpline - 1737
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
You can contact the ACEM Membership and Wellbeing unit via email@example.com or +61 3 8679 8860.
If you are a member of RACP, access their health and wellbeing page at https://www.racp.edu.au/fellows/physician-health-and-wellbeing
Dr Faye Jordan
Dr Danielle Scarfe