theater-masks1For years I pretended to be someone I wasn’t, on a daily basis. It was like a Trick or Treat or Hide and Seek all the time. There were several reasons for this: fear, shame, and guilt chief of them. A little over a decade ago, I said “no more.” I was determined to be myself, at all times.

But staying true in a world that encourages hypocrisy and putting on a good face is hard, and I slipped backward into making sure everyone around me was comfortable. We’ve all done it. Then five years ago, I renewed my vow to be true to myself. And for a long while, I was. But recently, I’ve slipped backward again. So this year for Halloween, I’m taking off the mask, rather than putting one on. Call it a resolution if you will.

Fear. I try to be a giving guy, concerned for the well-being of others, often at the cost of my own. Part of that is genuine kindness, but another part is fear that standing up for myself will offend others. Born out of the fear of being unpopular, or perceived as a jerk, this holds me back from sometimes just saying “no, this is my time.” Twice recently this has risen to the fore, causing resentment from me, and even comment from others.

As of today the mask comes off. No more fear. There will come times I will simply say “this is MY time.” Sometimes my mental health, and what is going on in my life is indeed more important than helping others. A tough balance, not one I manage well. I vow to do better.

Shame. There is a certain amount of shame attached to caring for oneself. The problem is, often taking time for this so I can continue to care for others is something I perceive as selfish, producing a feeling of shame. I fall back into self-neglect just to avoid that feeling. It’s stupid and illogical, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

So starting this November, I will not be ashamed of taking care of myself. The mask that says everything is okay will be removed. I have important work to do, and it matters.

Guilt. Guilt is an expression of fear and shame. In this case often unwarranted. And there are those in my life who attempt to make me feel both. All too often I let them. If you are one of those people, be warned. I’m going to call you on your actions, let you know their effect on me, and if needed I may walk away for a time.

I’m determined. No more masks, fear, guilt or shame. This year for Halloween, I’m taking off the disguise. Here I am, the real me. Sometimes hurting, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes just in need of some time alone, or time with those few who truly understand.

Don’t be offended. Though I often appear strong, I have needs as well. It’s time to meet those, so I don’t fall apart.

Happy Halloween!