Removing the Mask: Why It's Okay Not to Feel Okay

Written by: Kendra Y. Mims-Applewhite

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. We tell people we’re fine, although the internal screams remind us everything is far from alright. We rock the mask as if it’s our favorite accessory or everyday concealer. We don’t leave home without the cover-up that helps us conceal how we truly feel – even when our camouflage takes a toll on us mentally, spiritually, and physically. We opt to suffer in silence because we are uncomfortable with sharing delicate pieces of ourselves with others.

And we eventually learn it’s hard to find freedom in the hiding.

IT’S OKAY TO SAY YOU’RE NOT OKAY

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. There’s a misconception we need to be further along before God can use our story to help others as if God’s power and the work He is doing in us and through us can only impact others during life’s good times.

As a private, over analytical introvert, I’ve worn my mask throughout the course of my life during trying times. However, after losing my mom a couple years ago, I’ve learned the importance of reaching out to say, “I’m not doing okay.” I discovered I couldn’t do it alone, nor did I need to.

IT’S OKAY TO REACH OUT FOR HELP

I had zero energy to pretend everything was copacetic, 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 counseling. However, I was not too prideful or too spiritual to schedule an appointment. Yes, we have prayer, Jesus, and the church. But God also gave us mental health professionals and counselors to assist us with our mental wellbeing, similar to how we can call personal trainers, doctors, and nutritionists to help us with our physical health.

In addition to individual counseling sessions, I also joined a grief support group and a grief recovery class. It may seem like overkill, but I did whatever I needed to do to fight off the depression that chased after me every day. As someone who processes things internally, counseling helped me work through my grief and provided support during the hardest time in my life.

There’s no shame in saying you need help, whether it’s from a friend, family member, or a professional counselor. Be mindful of your emotional and mental wellness, and surround yourself with trustworthy people who will support you.

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. 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. Maybe you’ve broken down 20 times today, but your resilience to keep going through your tears will encourage someone who can’t bring herself to get out of bed.

Even when I struggled with pursuing my dreams while grieving, 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.

Pulling off the mask takes courage. 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. We can forgo the façade and share our stories to impact others. 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.


Kendra Y. Mims-Applewhite

Kendra Y. Mims-Applewhite is a writer in the Chicagoland area. She graduated with a BA in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago and has more than a decade of editorial experience. Her work has appeared in Avalon Literary Review, Permission to Write, Ebony magazine, She Knows Media and award-winning healthcare publications. Kendra writes for a nonprofit in Illinois. She is currently working on her debut novel and short story collection. When Kendra is not writing, she can be found with her head in a good book, trying new restaurants with her hubby, working out or unleashing her inner movie buff.