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a very sad woman holds six masks, each one has a different expression

The Masks We Wear

As I sit here on Halloween night, staying inside instead of venturing out, I am left thinking about the wonderful variety of masks that are being worn right now. Not just tonight, but also the creative masks that people have been wearing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Now, I want to take this thought a step farther to the masks that we were wearing long before this year. Ones that we wear over not our faces, but ourselves. Be it to protect us from others, or to protect others from seeing who we are.

Why do we hide our emotions?

As social creatures, we sometimes hide who we are for the sake of those around us, just like stigma will force us to hide our statuses for the sake of blending in and avoiding persecution. Sometimes even advocates wear masks to help us better do our jobs. Some of us may be too intense or not intense enough, so we make changes through our masks to meet our audiences.

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No energy left

Further still, even I have had to wear a mask to hide what I am truly feeling when there is work to be done. Every time we have to do this, we use up more and more of what precious little energy we have left. Sometimes we are so drained from a day of meetings and workshops that we can barely function the next day.

Several times something has upset me at my very core, but I hid it deep down just to get through teaching a class or making a speech. It can sometimes be as exhausting as dialing up my fun and goofy personality just to cover up the fact that I’m so depressed that I feel like I’m dying inside. We do it because no matter what, we can’t stop working. We can’t stop working because what we do is important, and there is too much that needs to be done.

HIV, burnout, and self-care

We are always preaching self-care because it is critical for anyone living with HIV. Our lives take such a toll on us just to get through our day-to-day, mask after mask that we wear so others don’t worry about us. We know what happens when someone goes non-stop without taking a break. We’ve all stared burnout in the face. Yet, as great as we are at conveying the importance of self-care, we’re some of the worst at it.

I find myself frequently making the same excuses, and I know I’m not alone. That casual “I’m fine” when I’m really not. That “I’ll take time later” when I already know I probably won’t. That “I’m not tired” when I’m ready to fall out.

Support system

Fortunately, I have a loving support system that is ever vigilant in reminding me I need to take a break. I’m sure I will get a phone call or two once they read this. Honestly, I hope they do, because I know I need them.

To everyone out there that wears these masks every day, to everyone that wears them so much that it becomes hard to breathe: Remember to take off the masks and make time to be who YOU are, not who someone else needs you to be. No one in the world needs you more than you do.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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