Men juggle different identities through life, and it gets tiring. Joe Rutland knows all too well about the struggle while, and the triumph beyond, wearing masks.
Let me see here. Just a second, please. I want to look in the mirror and see what mask I am wearing while writing this column.
OK, got it. Whew. Thanks.
Do you know my crime-busting friends pictured above? I’m sure you do. “The Green Hornet” was a popular radio series, created by George Trendle and Fran Striker in 1936, featuring young, dashing newspaper publisher Britt Reid and his alter-ego The Green Hornet and his confidant Kato facing off against evildoers week in and week out. In 1966, “The Green Hornet” came to TV in a series starring actor Van Williams as Reid/The Green Hornet and (the real star, in many people’s minds) martial arts master Bruce Lee as Kato. Much like many other crime-fighting heroes and heroines, both wore masks to cover up their dual identities.
I could go on and on about how much I really dig the show despite it being on ABC just one season. My point here is that they are wearing masks. They are looking to protect their real-life selves.
So that got me thinking: How many masks do and have I worn in my life? The list, for this man and I presume many others, could go on and on.
People like lists, right? Well, here’s a list of seven types of masks that have covered my emotional face:
The Mask of Perfection – This one is filled with effort. The internal messages: “I have to get this right. I have to make sure this picture and this story line up perfectly as I layout this newspaper front page. It cannot be off a half-inch because the proofer will point out my mistake. I can’t make mistakes. I have to make sure the family bills are all paid on time. I have to get everything just right. No mistakes. No errors. No excuses.” This mask has driven me to drink in my life. While the drink is in the past, that asshole perfectionism still pops up.
The Mask of Fear – What, pray tell, does this do any good wearing? The internal messages: “I’ll never have enough money. I have to work hard all the time. I have to keep going and going. I must work 70 hours a week because if I don’t, then I won’t be able to take care of myself. I’ll never have a lover. I’m not good enough. I’m afraid to be vulnerable. If a woman really saw me as I am, then she’d run away from me. I’m afraid to be real and authentic. Nobody likes that.” Fear is emotional constipation at its finest. Pass the Pepto Bismol, please.
The Mask of Isolation – Now this one fits great. Nobody is riding my butt to get anything done and I can just be to myself. Yeah. The internal messages: “Look, I can do this, that and the other because I’m entitled to it. It doesn’t matter that I’m cutting myself off from real people. This isolation protects me. It worked when I was a kid and it works now … that I’m in my 40s. Sure! Isolation rocks!” This mask totally sucks, too. Next!
The Mask of Guilt – Oh, I did something bad. The internal messages: “I upset someone. I made somebody feel uncomfortable because I spoke my truth. I feel bad about unconsciously hurting someone that I love and care about. I didn’t know better. I’m such a worthless man. This mask feels really good to wear. I think I’ll just wear it all the time.” Pretty soon, this mask turns into The Mask of Shame, its sort-of kissin’ cousin. There is a difference, though. The Mask of Guilt’s big message is “I feel bad.” The Mask of Shame’s big message is “I am bad.” Two different and conflicting thoughts.
The Mask of Addiction – What? You think this doesn’t apply to you? OK. Here’s how this mask rolls. The internal messages: “Wow, I really love that Budweiser. Man, let me just have about 8-9 every night and I’m good. Oh look, there’s some online adult sexual content. Can’t have enough of that! Hey baby, how about the ‘real thing’ with you? Come on over to my place after a few drinks here at the bar. ‘Do I do this every night?’ you ask me. Well, I love the adrenaline rush … just like I love you, baby. Hey man, look at all that food. More food, please! Work, work, work … twerkin’ and workin’. How many more hours can I get to work? More work, please!” Yep, this mask is really good shit.
The Mask of Being Right – This mask snugly suits those with “big” egos. “Healthy” does not equal “big.” The internal messages: “I’m right and you are wrong. I know every answer to every question. I had to be right for other people. They asked me for help and I had to be right. Being wrong or making a mistake is not an option. I’m always right. I have the right answers for my life, for your life and your friends’ lives. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference if you say that I don’t know what is best for them. I do! I tell you, just have them do A, B and C like I have always laid it out before you and they won’t have any problems. See, I’m right. All the time, and you can check my record against that one.”
The Mask of Depression – I’m turning my anger toward the world inward. The mask I wear may let you see that everything is just fine. The internal messages: “Yeah, I’m fine. See, I’m laughing, singing, dancing, writing, creating and living the good life. I’m in so much pain. God, I feel so much fear, anger and sadness in me that it’s eating me up inside. I don’t have a life. There is no reason to live. I give and give of myself and my energy to so many things, and I get nothing in return. I feel so sad. Doesn’t anybody love me? I guess not. Where, oh where, can I find some relief for my depression? This is so painful, and nobody knows or cares.” One caveat: Depression is a real issue. People do suffer with depression, face it and deal with it every day. Some cases are worse than others. I’m not slighting depression. It is a mask that I’ve worn, and it’s caused more harm than good.
Wow, that list cheered me up like a bottle of warm spit.
Those masks … filled with false comfort, lost lives and more pain that any man, woman or child could ever have in their lives.
What happens when the masks don’t work anymore? Dude, there’s just one mask left.
I call it The Mask of Authenticity. The internal messages: “I’m loved and love others unconditionally. I feel good about my life. I love my partner so much. Being vulnerable does not scare me. I find it freeing and soothing to my soul. It just feels good to feel my emotions and know that I don’t have to react all the time. I breathe easier and sleep better. My whole life is aligned really well. My words and actions match, both publicly and privately. People love me for who I am and that gives me hope for today, tomorrow and the future.”
This is the goal for anyone seeking a healthy, whole life. Showing the authentic person that you are to the world can be scary at first, but it gets better and better. There is no reason to put on one of those masks (or others that I may have missed). Every person may have his or her own list of masks that fit. Some people don’t have any masks. They are who they are and comfortable in their own skin.
Let’s strive this week to let go of some of those masks. Take them off. Let people see the “real” you. Look fear in the face and tell it to go fuck itself. Tell shame the same thing, too.
You and I are worth it.
P.S. – Did you really think that I was going to talk about “The Green Hornet” and not give you a scene with Kato kicking ass? Ha! “And now, to protect the rights and lives of decent citizens, rides The Green Hornet!”