It’s the Presence of Reality That Helps You Heal.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” ~ Oscar Wilde
This quotation has kept me company during the past couple of weeks. Weeks I predominantly spent in bed, with broken bones and a wandering mind. The words fascinate me because they seem to ring true and untrue in equal measure.
It is easy to identify cases in modern society of individuals who, cloaked in anonymity, dare to speak out in ways that might otherwise be considered immoral or unpopular. Freed from the glaring eyes of the public, it feels safer to shun societal standards. Hidden from public scrutiny, it feels easier to challenge the status quo. It is, after all, more difficult to shoot a masked messenger.
Artists, similarly, can invent characters to express things they themselves may have thought but would not say out loud. Protagonists with admirable convictions or unspeakable notions. On a blank canvas, it is possible to express whatever haunts the mind because no one will ever be able to unravel which part of the fiction is the truth an author holds on to.
But it is also easier to lie when disguised. Inner darkness can be filtered out. Vulnerabilities can be covered up. You can arm yourself against the insecurities that threaten to pour out of your soul at any moment. Wearing a mask, you can be what you are not, but what you think you ought to be. With every step, that armor grows tighter and tighter, until it locks you in with no room to spare.
With every step, the iron suit strangles you a bit further, until you have no choice but to stop feeling. The numb front you present then is no more than a façade. A deception that you may grow to believe is the truth.
During my recovery, I caught myself enhancing reality to make the experience more tolerable. When I passed out in the hospital hallway and had to be hoisted back into bed, I saw myself as an actress in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. When I tentatively started moving, the initial disconnect between my mind, nerves and muscles felt logical because that’s simply how cyborgs function.
Later, I found myself locked in a state of limbo. No one there, just myself and a series of projections created by my mind to help me through. The surreal landscape in which I dwelled offered me warmth, security and courage. A pretty powerful display of deceit that convinced me to stay strong.
Yet, no matter how successfully enhanced a situation, illusions never last. As they fade away, lethargy takes over, and with that comes the inescapable feeling that it was all a lie.
Projections will never be real. Whatever is said anonymously can never fully feel true, because what is the point of a truth when it cannot be linked to reality? Masks can provide temporary protection or relief, but they have the capacity to destroy when used too liberally. And when they dissolve, you are left alone in isolation.
Masks are a trick. Treacherous tools to help you for some time. What they project can help tame deliria, but it’s the presence of reality that helps you heal.
The visits of people that care, the messages of friends from everywhere. The meals cooked with love to help you get going. The arms that hug you tightly when you feel broken and defeated even though you don’t have the courage to say that out loud. Words that help you remember that you are so much more than the scars you wear, that you are loved even when the pain and isolation make you feel insecure.
It has been this reality that helped me heal.
Elisabeth ten Cate is a 20-something-year-old writer. Five years ago, she moved across the pond to cross three things off her bucket list: living in London, studying philosophy, and truly mastering a foreign language. Today she finds herself at work in the screen industry whilst trying to chase her greatest dream of all: to be a published novelist. She’s a keen cook and regular host of dinners. She enjoys yoga, live music, salsa and bachata. You could contact her via her website.