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Taking Off the Mask When Things Aren’t ‘OK’

How removing the mask can soothe your soul

by Alisha Tillery, November 29, 2016

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In everyday conversation, you’ll often be asked, “How are things?” The common response is “Fine” or “OK,” a quick, safe answer that in many instances just isn’t true. The masks we wear for colleagues, associates and even friends and family can become hard to remove, but the sooner we divulge what’s happening in our lives, the sooner the healing process can begin.

Admitting that things are not going well validates our feelings and empowers us. “Declaring and being transparent in that is a protest of one,” explains Lanada Williams, a Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist and radio host. “It’s something that you can do every day to announce you’re humanly present, and that you’re a spiritual being and connecting yourself to your higher power.”

Why is it so difficult to remove our masks? By adulthood, we’ve been conditioned to hide our truths, so the stakes are presumably higher if we open up. “When we say what really is the matter, we appear to not be psychologically stable or sound, or we’re viewed as being weak, unprofessional or lacking confidence,” Williams explains.

Admitting your vulnerabilities, however, is healthy, especially for African-Americans during this time of unrest in the nation. Blacks are more likely to have feelings of sadness, worthlessness and hopelessness than Whites, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. African-Americans also exhibit alternate coping mechanisms because of the belief in the stigma related to mental health and seeking help, according to a study published in the journal Nursing Research. In addition, Black women, particularly beholden to the “strong Black woman” syndrome, still find it hard to admit they need help. Williams says those women are either not acknowledging their stress levels or they “let the bottom fall out,” having worn the mask for too long.

We also keep our struggles to ourselves to protect our loved ones, but sharing your story can help them, too. When you keep the members of your support system in the loop, you give them an opportunity to feel included and stand in the gap for you. “You can’t expect your feelings to be validated when you’re not offering them,” Williams reveals. Transparency also builds trust and lets others know they are not alone if they, too, are in an unpleasant place in life.

Check in with yourself each day about how you’re feeling to prevent an emotional overload, which your confidants might not be ready for. “We don’t want to just dump and unload on someone unexpectedly,” Williams says, “but we can also brace him or her and say, ‘You know what? I’m not OK.’”

Next, track the process to increase your gratitude quotient. When you express that things are going wrong, it provides a chance to reflect on what’s going right. Keep a journal to record your blessings, and reflect on them during your challenging days for encouragement.

Last, if you’ve confided in a loved one and still need help, don’t stop there. Follow up with a professional to monitor your mental and spiritual health. “You wouldn’t ask a bus driver for relationship advice,” Williams says. “Disrupt this dominant narrative of always being OK. And when you’re not OK, you still matter.”

Alisha Tillery is a freelance writer from Memphis, Tenn., who writes on the topics of mental health, self-care and lifestyle. Connect with her on social @Alisha8151.

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