On the movie Platoon, when one of the men is injured and crying out in agony, Sargent Barnes (excellently played by Tom Berenger) puts his hand over the man’s mouth and says, “Take the pain! Shut up and take the pain!”
So the soldier puts on his brave mask and stops screaming, hiding the hurt and the fear he is no doubt experiencing.
It’s been said all of us wear masks at times. I tend to agree with this, as it doesn’t just apply to our habit of masking emotional and physical pain.
My daughter is a nurse in the cancer ward of a hospital, and has to mask her feelings at times. She’s one of those people who can walk the line between tragedy and responsibility, remaining professional at all times and doing her job, no matter the heartache and anguish swirling around her.
She masks her feelings of sadness and pity, which is an amazing feat. This mask of professionalism not only gives the patient strength, but helps her retain her sanity in the midst of a sea of tragedy.
On the lighter side, a mask parents have to wear is when a child breaks a rule in some type of hilarious way. Kids push our buttons and drive us crazy at times, but it gives us some great stories! We have to keep our mask of parental control on while we deal with them, however, so we can teach them right from wrong, only to take it off later and laugh about the whole thing.
But other masks are not so healthy or humorous, like the one we don every morning to hide our chronic pain…
You get the point. I’ve said it before and I’ll said it again: we can’t walk around with our heart on our sleeve 24/7, weeping and wailing about our pain to everyone within earshot. It is imperative, though, we find at least one person who will allow us to take off the mask and reveal our true feelings.
If we don’t remove the mask, these emotions keep getting pushed down further and further, eventually driving us crazy. I know what I’m talking about here.
A dear lady in our family, who passed away a few years ago, had nobody to whom she could vent, and thus, swallowed all the pain caused by her husband’s verbal abuse. For decades he yelled at her, chipping away at her self-worth, calling her “stupid,” throwing plates full of food across the room and saying her cooking wasn’t “fit for a pig.”
On and on and on, yet this dear woman just took it. She’d put on her mask, clean up the mess and keep going, never fighting back or saying one word against her husband.
Then one day her mind began to slip. Her nerves got the best of her, and she turned into a panicky, nervous wreck. Eventually she was put into a nursing home, slowly forgetting the identities of her family and friends, until one night she just quietly slipped away.
What a tragedy. For those of us left behind, it’s pointless to speculate whether she should’ve fought back, walked out, or, at the very least, found someone to talk to about the daily horrors she lived out during her time on Earth.
Now she’s cradled in the arms of Jesus, safe from all harm.
But there are many lessons to be learned from her life.
Regarding living with chronic pain, I know many of you can relate to the “I’m fine” mask.
“How ya doin’, Rob?”
“I’m fine, how’re you?”
There’s some comfort to be found in this mask I wear, as I don’t want to be a burden on those who love me. I also wish not to appear soft to those around me, crying and whining about the weight of my misery.
But late at night, when all the kids and grandkids are in bed, and my wife and I are finally alone, I take off my mask.
I put my head in her lap and just vent. “I hurt, baby. I’ve been so angry today, just because of my pain. You know how some days the pain causes me to be depressed? Well, today I’m just freaking TICKED OFF. I’m tired of it!”
She just lets me talk, knowing she can’t take away the physical agony. But her BEING there for me is the best thing she can do for me. I know she can’t fix the pain, so me being able to pour my heart out to her gets me through.
I know these masks provide a sense of security for us. We’re afraid of people finding out who we really are, right?
“What if they find out I’m eaten up with anxiety? I’ll appear so WEAK to them!”
“What will people do if they discover I’m so depressed I wanna die? They’ll think me some kind of freak!”
It’s time we remove the mask and talk about our true feelings. People are DYING! Many are choosing suicide over revealing the depression and pain, hiding just below the surface of their smile.
It may not feel like it, but millions and millions of us fight mental, spiritual, physical and emotional battles every day. Writing this blog the last two years has been a humbling experience for me, as I’ve felt the Lord usher me to be brutally honest more times than I’m comfortable with, but people can RELATE to that.
What we CAN’T relate to are those on social media who post nothing but filtered pics of them on the beach, or at their children’s college graduation or their second honeymoon, all smiles and mai tai’s.
YES, my life is amazing. I have a good job, a great church and an AMAZING family, but I still have pain and struggles.
I feel myself compelled to share the darkness through which I trod, hoping that, together, you and I can press on toward the light of spiritual and emotional health and recovery.
It’s exhausting wearing these masks, and I believe it’s almost impossible to discover our full potential until we ditch them. Sometimes they’re necessary, as I’ve discussed, but they can also kill you.
I implore you to discover the relief which can be found in ditching the mask.
Love you guys, I really do, and am praying for everyone reading this.