Back-to-Brave Series: Removing the Mask- Why It's Okay Not to Feel Okay

back to brave okay to say you are not okay
The psalmist is brutally honest about the explosive joy that he’s feeling and the deep sorrow or confusion...
— Bono, U2

There are moments in life when nothing seems okay. Everything goes wrong at the same time, wreaking havoc on our present and future plans. The last thing we feel like doing is smiling, especially while struggling with long nights and dreary mornings.

We’re far from okay, but we still pull out our mask. The one we wear when we’re determined to keep a smile plastered across our face despite the hurt and disappointment. “Everything’s fine,” we tell people, although the internal screams constantly remind us that everything is far from alright. We rock the mask as if it’s our favorite accessory. We don’t leave home without the garment that helps us conceal how we truly feel – even when our concealment leads to a disillusioned reality or loneliness.

And we eventually learn that a mask can hide the pain from others, but it’s hard to find freedom in the hiding.  

 

It’s okay to say you’re not okay.

As believers, sometimes we’re quick to mask our hardships to create the illusion that all is well. God is good all the time, so we feel a need to portray that life is always good.  How else can we heal the world if we are broken? Who can we minister to if we are in pain? How can we show the power of Christ if our lives are not where we want them to be? We need to be in a good place before God can use our story to help others. Right??

Wrong! There’s a misconception that God’s power and the work He is doing in us and through us is only evident and impactful during the high times. The beautiful moments. “I got a promotion. Look at God” sounds more like a testimony than “I got laid off and my bank account is sitting real low.” When the turbulent times come, we opt to pull out the mask. We pretend we are “okay” when we’re drowning. We suffer in silence because we are uncomfortable with sharing delicate pieces of ourselves with others.

People wear their mask for different reasons. Some want things to appear “fine” while others prefer to keep things bottled in, unsure if sharing their story will cause them more harm than good.  

As a private, overanalytical introvert, I’ve worn my mask throughout the course of my life during trying times. I process things internally and share my thoughts and feelings when I’m ready. I like to handle things on my own. I’m also not one to express my emotions freely unless it’s through writing. However, after losing my mom a couple years ago, I’ve learned how to reach out to say, “I’m not doing okay” instead of assuming that people should know my emotional wellbeing. Although reaching out isn't easy for me, I discovered I couldn’t do it alone, nor did I need to.

 

It’s okay to reach out for help.

I wasn’t okay, and I had zero energy to pretend, especially not with depression looming overhead, lurking around every corner and nipping at my heels. Waiting to lure me into a dark hole that would undoubtedly drag me under. When a friend referred me to her therapist for grief counseling, I didn’t hesitate to make the call. Before my loss, I never considered sharing my feelings with a complete stranger through counseling. However, I was not too prideful or too spiritual to schedule an appointment. Yes, we have prayer and Jesus and the church. But God also gave us mental health professionals and counselors to assist us with our mental wellbeing, in the same way we have personal trainers, doctors, and nutritionists to keep our physical bodies healthy.

In addition to individual counseling sessions, I also joined a grief support group and a grief recovery class. At one point, all three counseling programs overlapped. It may seem like overkill, but I did whatever I needed to do to fight off the depression that chased after me every day. I remained in counseling for a full year. I started off with weekly appointments, which then moved to biweekly sessions until I eventually only needed monthly appointments. I can honestly say that grief counseling was one of the best investments I made for myself during a time I needed it. Because I spend a lot of time in my head, those counseling sessions helped me tremendously as I processed my grief. Counseling and support groups don't work for everyone, but they were beneficial to me. 

There’s no shame in saying you need help, whether it’s from a friend, family member, or a professional counselor. Getting the help you need is more important than suffering in pain behind a smile because you don’t want anyone to know what you’re going through or you think others don't understand your pain. Some people will never understand what you’ve been through simply because they’ve never walked in your shoes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be there for you.

Give people the option to help. It’s not about letting everyone in your business or sharing your struggles with the entire world. It’s about being mindful of your own emotional and mental wellness and surrounding yourself with trustworthy people who will support you. Avoid suffocating under the mask because you fear reaching out for help.

Trust me, I get it. I am extremely selective about who I share my struggles with, because you can’t confide in everyone. But I also know from personal experience that God will send the right people into your life during the times you need help.

It’s okay to create in the mess

We don't need to wait until we're 100 percent okay before we can help others. Regardless of the mask, none of us have it all the way together. We're all constantly growing and working on something. I’ve encountered people during my grief journey who needed encouragement, and I shared my story to uplift them in the midst of my own struggle. Maybe you’ve broken down 20 times today, but your resilience to keep going through your tears will minister to someone who can’t bring himself or herself to get out of bed.

People like to hear stories from those who’ve clawed their way out of adversities and made it to the other side, but they’re also inspired by those who are going through the struggle with them. Share your story as you work through the process. You don’t need to wait until it’s all cleaned up.

Not long ago, I stumbled across Fuller Studio's documentary, "The Psalms", in which Bono expressed his desire to see real and authentic art from Christians…the kind that requires us to peel off the mask and create art that depicts the good times and shines a light on the raw and ugliest part of life to connect our human experiences.

Even when I wanted to give up on my dreams during my grief journey, I pushed through, and my pen became an instrumental part of my healing. Intertwine your work into your healing process. Don’t stop writing or creating. Use your pain, hurt, fears, and frustration to tell your story. The work you create in the dark will become a light for someone else. Give people the raw and honest truth. Let them see how you shine and survive even in the mess.

How much more of an impact would our stories have if we forgo the facade? We don’t have to wait until the struggle is over to show people God’s grace, love, and comfort. Removing the mask allows others to see His work through our strength, courage, and resilience.

Pulling off the mask takes courage. It's easier to pretend things are fine, but silent suffering eventually takes a toll on us mentally, spiritually, and physically. Thankfully, we have options to get us through difficult moments.

We can reach out to others when we need to. We can choose to tell our stories while wearing a mask or we can rid our disguise, and use our creativity to show how beauty arises from the ashes. And we can look in the mirror without any guilt and shame and tell ourselves, I’m not okay today. But I will be okay again.

 

KYM Writes

Check out more posts from the Back-to-Brave Series below!