confessions of a mask


The girl that I fell in love with used to cut herself.

After I noticed the characteristic lines, I implored her to tell me what happened. As if feigned ignorance would make them go away, she shied away from acknowledging her pain to me. “I know they’re there, love… Please, please tell me about it, let me help?” I guess she saw the understanding in my eyes, as my pleas eventually got through. I am eternally thankful that she took the leap and decided to trust me.

She took a deep breath, held my hands, her lips moving softly as her unspoken words struggled to find traction on her tongue. Exhaling, the words tumbled out. We both cried as she spoke.

I listened to how her father had left in a fit of anger, how she was relentlessly mocked for her boyish appearance, how her closest friend had tried to kill herself a year ago and how culpable she felt for that.

Friends of mine had cut themselves before — and I’d tried to help, spending long nights on the phone with them, or texting my support — but it had never affected me like it did when I saw such pain in person. I thought that I had empathized before, but that was only because I had yet to learn what true empathy felt like. Texting someone about their problems and giving comfort and care by proxy could never have prepared me for the shock of knowing that sort of pain intimately. As my girlfriend spoke, I was hit by the years of suppressed hopelessness and worthlessness that she felt. The faint scars running up her thigh hurt me as if they were cut into mine.

Her words trailed off as she spoke of having dreamt about leaping off a bridge. I was taken aback, my brain a mush. It took a while until I could formulate a coherent thought. Knowing her pain, I begin to speak slowly, as I tried to explain what I had once felt like, so that she knew how I had gotten past my sadness. I hoped with every ounce of my being that my story might help her begin feeling better.

“I felt like this,” I told her as I began my own depression story. My depression had stemmed from resentment for my often abusive father, and eventually became so overwhelming that I went to speak to a very good priest friend of mine about it. Without warning or hesitation, he in turn told me about his own long-dead cruel father with incredible honesty and openness. He bared his most secret of secrets to me, for the sole reason that he thought it would help me come to terms with my own troubles.

It is a really jarring thing to see a priest cry. Gone are the vestments and the symbolism they carry, gone is the priest as a distant and revered icon. Underneath all of that I saw, was a very wonderful and very human man. A man who told me in all honesty that he “realised that [his] father never loved” him. A man who introduced me to the word catharsis, and encouraged me to cry or kick or scream or do whatever I needed to do to let go of all my pent-up emotion. In showing me his humanity, he was trying to help me find peace.

If only I could have done that with my girlfriend as readily as he did with me. He trusted me, and found his own resolution through that moment. Still, I couldn’t let go of the whole magnitude of mine and open up to him like he had to me — or how my girlfriend had. Instead of immediately trusting him, who I now consider the kindest man I’ve ever met, I let my problems stew and fester, and pretended they weren’t there.

I would spend a lot of my time sitting alone, late at night, a slave to the emotions which I would unwittingly hide under a nihilistic mask. It was better for me to feel nothing than to feel pain, so I shrouded myself in a psychological comfort blanket of emptiness in lieu of life and vibrancy. I was naïve enough to think that I could remove myself from emotion, the very criterion of my humanity. I wrote poetry which often mirrored my emptiness to give voice to my thoughts. Lacking the trust to confess myself to my priest friend or to others, I confessed it to myself through writing. Confessions of a Mask would be an apt title for all the work which came out of that time of my life.

Sitting immobile

Flashing by life’s perfection.

Stagnant transience.

Through the milky black

Million soft suns weakly glow

More darkness than light.

Introspection paints

The lorn face of the rider;

Surrounded, alone.

Stepping out and off;

Into sordid existence

Bleakness incarnate.

That emptiness spilled over into my life more and more, to the extent that the emptiness became me. I wrote assignments for English class about “the banality of human existence,” and my friends would occasionally remark (though never with genuine concern, but rather flippant observation) that I perpetually looked melancholy and distant. To them, it was an anomaly, nothing to be worried about. To me, it was my life. I lacked anything to believe in, any raison d’être. Without anything to believe in, I was nothing but a shell of myself.

That monotone blandness of life all changed though, when I told my girlfriend about my mental health. Having someone who not only heard me and empathized with me, but also felt my pain,  as her own pain gave me the emotional release I’d previously only heard of. Just by being herself and listening to me, she made me realize that life can have beauty. Gone was the bleakness, back was the vibrancy — and not only when I was with her. Knowing that true empathy and care existed was all that I needed to come back to happiness.

I had finally trusted someone enough to feel good again.

The knowledge that other people can truly care is everything to me. It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing, being able to share your deepest fears and pains and troubles with someone else. No longer is that complete and total trust my priest gifted to me something that I cannot afford to others. I no longer have to hide my emotions and flaws.

Nor should anyone, ever.

In the same manner that she’d helped me simply by listening to my story, she stopped her thinking about herself so negatively by my simply conveying how much I care for her.

She helped me come to terms with my relationship with my father; I helped her come to terms with herself. She is seeing a psychologist now, and doing much better. It’s been nearly a year since I found out, and she hasn’t harmed herself since.

My girlfriend — and countless others thereafter — proved to me that there are truly wonderful people in this world. There are people — even beyond my girlfriend who initially cared for me — who loved and still do love me, even in my weakest and saddest moments. I am not the exception, nor the abnormal lucky case; I believe that there are compassionate and caring people for everyone. There are too many good people casting their soft beacons of hope and kindness amid the swaths of not-so-nice people for anyone to ever have to go without help or support.

I care about you, random stranger who’s now reading this essay. I care, not because I know who you are or because we’ve been friends, but because we share something: our humanity. So do hundreds of other students across the college communities, especially those who’ve made the commitment to joining any of the numerous mental health organisations across campuses. There are people who would consider it an honor to care for you.

Soon after that initial release, my girlfriend gave me the razor blade which she used to use to cut herself. It sits inside a locked box in my room now, never to be used again, a reminder of the pain which tenderness can vanquish.

The author is a college student.


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