The piano man was delightful, really. He was singing popular songs but changing the lyrics so that they were often funny and upbeat. The brewery was full of lively, tipsy people singing along and laughing. The mood in the brewery was upbeat and full of life. I didn't feel full of life, I felt sad and wanted to be still and quiet.
One thing that I usually like about small, neighborhood type bars is that people relax, have a few drinks and often have conversations about serious things. As an introvert and empath, I loathe small talk and long to dive deep under the surface and talk about the dark things that swim where they can't be seen. Yet, last night the mood was different and I felt an expectation to put on my face of false cheer, the face that I am often required to wear when I wonder outsides the confines of the walls of my home. It is exhausting to constantly be someone else.
There was one moment of the night were I sat at the corner of the bar and had a talk with someone about how suicide had impacted our lives and what we wanted to do to help prevent it from impacting others. That, oddly, was the time of the night that felt most real and true to me. All of the small talk and giggling over silly songs felt false. I just wanted to talk on a real and true level with someone instead of skirting over our pain without acknowledging it. It made me feel even more sad to realize how alone I felt in this feeling with people around me in celebration and that I only felt "at home" when talking about such serious things.
I often feel overwhelming sadness. I always have. As a young child, I would cry whenever a classmate was sad or hurt. I became very familiar with my parents or teachers telling me to "stop being so sensitive" or to "stop crying". I learned to wear a mask that would belie the pain that was constant under the surface.
When I was a teenager girl, in the months following my rape and in the midst of multiple suicide attempts, I dropped the mask. I was too swallowed by the blackness to care what people thought of me. I became awash in my emotions, blasting out sadness and anger at anyone in my path. Years of pain were coming to the surface and was far too tired to hide it.
Even though I was drowning in the black beast of depression and would nearly succeed in taking my own life, there was a freedom in no longer hiding the pain. I wore all black, as if in mourning of the girl that I used to be and took to chain-smoking and drinking cheap vodka straight from the bottle out of a paper bag and had a death-stare that warned all around me to not come near. It finally felt as though my outsides matched my insides.
In the months after my final suicide attempt, I was in a day treatment program at a local hospital. Yes, in the psych ward. What shocked me most there was that this place was not full of society's rejects. It was full of straight A students, a star football player, a quiet young girl that was a genius and was on track to go to college at a very early age...they were like me. The ward was full of kids whose bodies and minds were full of extraordinary pain but felt burned to appear perfect always on the outside. We were the best actors and actresses of all, but our veneer had finally cracked open. Our darkness was exposed to the world. We were terrified and thrilled for the world to see what we really were underneath.
Over the past twenty years I admit that I've begun to hide under the happy veneer again, especially after having children. I wanted to be the kind of mother that my kids would be proud of and, at times, have tried nearly desperately to fit in with the other moms, which meant wearing a mask of sunshine and happiness. Of course, its not always a mask and I have found happiness in my life. However, I have and always will have a shadow side. I am a highly sensitive person that feels the pain of others acutely. It is a blessing and a sickness. It hurts profoundly and yet it also makes me a better mother, nurse, writer and friend. It makes me who I am.
So for Halloween this year I will watch those around me parade around in costumes to hide who they are and pretend to be someone else for one night. I will do something different. I will take off the heavy mask of false cheer that I carry around all year long. This Halloween, I will go out into the world as someone new-- as myself, happy and yet always a bit melancholy. It's who I am, underneath the false mask of perpetual happiness. And, it feels damn good to strip it off for a day.