This title is a little ironic in the current circumstances, but I assure you this mask has nothing to do with the pandemic. Although, I would say that the time alone during it has given me ample time to think about this topic…
When I was a kid, I loved playing dress-up. If there was an opportunity to go through a big trunk of costumes and clothing, I wanted to take advantage of it. I suppose it is no surprise that from this I grew into an actress, a performer, and a person that loves the stage – somewhat thrives in the spotlight.
Little did I know though, as I grew up, the stage just wasn’t in the theatre anymore. The stage had become my life. I was putting on a mask for just about everything. Of course, in our teens, I think we all put on a bit of a mask. We are trying to adapt to the world, ‘belong’ and find ‘our people.’ Back then, I put on the mask of a band geek. Not popular, but not ‘a loser’. I fit somewhere in the middle. It probably wasn’t all I wanted to be or could have been, but I always thought it was a decent place.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the masks. Then I wore the mask of the popular girl. A party girl. An independent woman. The career-crazy overbearing woman. A moral-less person. I put on the mask in almost every element of my life. So much so, that my friends back in University joked that there was “Hometown Erica” and “University Erica.” At the time, I thought this was funny. In reality, it should have been a wakeup call.
Fast forward through University and the mask that I continued to wear was a power-hungry, career-driven, “I don’t need no man” woman. In those days, I became somewhat cold and removed from relationships and the concept of love. I had boyfriends and I rolled with the normalcies of life, but something was missing.
Time To Find The Missing Piece…
What was missing was whoever Erica is without a mask. Without a stage and without an audience – who was I? Was I that band geek from the early 2000s? That uncontrollable partier? The girl who just “didn’t give a shit what people thought?” All of the masks felt uncomfortable, unusual, and just downright NOT ME.
And, don’t get me wrong, it took me a LONG time to get here. A couple of bad, unhealthy relationships. A few wakeup calls from friends who had their lives together. I needed to get kicked – from my attitude and straying from my morals/values, to loving and losing in ways I never thought I’d experience. It was then that I took off the mask.
It happens when you’re backstage. You need to be alone. Removing my mask(s) was an uncomfortable experience; probably one of my most uncomfortable experiences to date. To a certain extent, it actually felt like I was losing everything about myself as I struggled out of the costume closet and into the light.
I sat and pondered, and I had therapy appointments. My therapist gave me worksheets to visit my values and she encouraged me to, “think about YOUR values. Not the ones you think you should have, not the ones your parents told you to have, but the things that you actually do or want to live by.” I got curious about life and myself. Those who surrounded me. What I actually WANTED to invest time and energy into – Where did I see my life going now that I am mask-less?
Let’s Take Off the Mask
Well, let me tell you. Funny enough, by removing my mask I think I ultimately found my inner child. The little girl I needed to find – the playful, curious, openminded kid playing dress-up. She needed to be told, again and for real this time, that she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up.
In alone time, with my journal and meditation, I was able to rediscover how important emotional connection is to me. That your actions need to match your words in order to be in my life. I also realized I was much too disposable with relationships. My ability to cut people from my life was somewhat unreal. However, it stemmed from how quickly I let people in. The key? Boundaries. People need to take more time to get to know me, and my deepest, soul-bearing self is reserved for those closest to me. Recognize your boundaries, set your boundaries, and LIVE by your boundaries.
Lastly, as I toss all my metaphorical masks into the fire (not my real ones though, I need them for the grocery store), I realized that mask-less Erica was even more awesome than any of the masks. The reason? Because this Erica is authentic Erica. Hobbies change, interests change, and people will continue to come in and out of my life, but the core of my being – my values, my morals, who I truly AM – will remain the same.
Get curious, get personal, and think – who are you without the mask?