It is an art form I have perfected over many years and it isn't just a defence mechanism either, it is to protect others as much as to protect myself. I wish I was able to keep my mask on 24/7 because then I could protect the person in my life who means the very most to me, Colleen is generally the only person who gets to glimpse the real me and the fact she is still by my side says so very much about the type of person she is.
Some people make a career out of acting, they become famous for it and get paid very well, but like any other job it is something they don't have to do all the time. I on the other hand keep up the facade of a happy cheeky chappy, somewhat like I used to be, before that version of me died. I don't really have the option to just drop the mask like an actor does though, if I did then I very much doubt I would have any friends left at all, or a job to get out of bed for.
Why am I writing about this though? There are a couple of reasons why I feel the need to express my thoughts on this subject. First, it is bloody exhausting wearing a mask each and every day and I am talking about the mental exhaustion that you feel at the 70-mile point in a bike ride or when you have just finished a night shift that got extended by 5 hrs due to a mortar attack, imagine that but alongside the fact that I am physically exhausted because I may have only slept 2 hours in the last 24 and you start to understand that there must be a really good reason why I put so much effort into keeping that mask in place.
Second, I often hear the term 'Not all disabilities are visible', those five words are so very true, how many people do you think actually understand them though? I have had many personal experiences of people not understanding at all. I have a blue badge and even typing that makes me feel uncomfortable, why? Because when I use it I get looks, I have even had looks from friends, the kind of looks that make you feel uncomfortable. People even question why I have one and use it. I do blame myself to an extent because I have perfected my mask so much why would they understand? It doesn't stop me from getting angry though, I sometimes wish they could spend just 5 minutes in my shoes, even though I wouldn't want that for them, as I have said in the past I would not wish this on even my worst enemy, but maybe that's what it would take for some people to finally understand?
Having a blue badge issued for a hidden disability is no easy feat, they don't just hand them out because you wrote a nice letter asking for one, for me personally it required me to write war & peace and also have my psychiatrist confirm everything. It was a real struggle for me to even make the request because I knew how it would look to the uninitiated out there, but in the end, I decided to do it because it has allowed me to have some semblance of a life. I need to be close to where we are going, It allows me to get to where I need to be without having to deal with getting through crowds of people, knowing exactly where the car is located allows me to know we can get back to it quickly if I am triggered and start to panic. It allows Colleen a level of comfort to know that if she needs to deal with a 15 stone bloke who is panicking and needs to get away from a situation, she wont have far to take me.
There are times when the mask can slip and people will get a small glimpse of the real me, I physically dread these situations because all people see is a large angry bloke kicking off, or crumpling to the floor suddenly, with none of the context surrounding it. There are no words to properly describe what happens when your brain takes complete control over you and your actions, when you observe yourself as if watching a movie and question immediately why you are doing the things you are doing or saying the things you are saying. The most innocent sound, a child crying having a huge and immediate wave of emotion crashing through you, the sound of children playing happily, causing your brain to immediately start showing you the most horrific of imagery and all you want to do is immediately run to your safe place. This is the sanitised version of my life and also the life that Colleen has had handed to her, I don't want to write anymore detail than I have because I sit here a wreck just doing so, but if it helps to inform some of the people out there then it has been worth it.
If after reading this post you are still a person that doesn't understand the 5 important words from earlier, maybe that says more about you than me.
As I have said many times before, be kind because you never know what someone may be dealing with or going through at any point in time and also never judge a book by its cover.