My Masking Face

I’d meant to write a post about keeping balance in our lives, especially as writers, since many of us spend a lot of time sitting sequestered away in front of a computer. I was going to advise keeping a good exercise regime (I try to do 20-30 minutes every morning, plus walking or running through the day), a good eating schedule and habits (veggies and fruits are good and good for you!), and a regular sleep cycle (many of us ignore sleep in favor of work, studying, or even writing, when getting enough or even more sleep can actually help us do those things better). Then I had a horrendous work week that turned into two weeks – now approaching three – and I realized that I don’t even take my own advice. Instead, I put on a specific kind of mask: what folks at my institution call my PennFace.

“Pilot” by George Hodan; public domain image

Similar to the Stanford Duck, the image of which is a duck swimming placidly across the water while its legs kick furiously beneath the surface, PennFace is a term used to describe the mask some students wear to cover up their anxieties, fears, and stress. They walk around campus with smiles on their faces, saying, “I’m all good!” to their friends, and generally acting – on the outside – that everything is going swimmingly. On the inside, though, or behind the closed doors of their dorm room, they may sweat, cry, or curl into the fetal position while they wish for the world to leave them alone for a while. I have that closed-off feeling a lot, but I try to project myself as being confident and carefree.

Everybody has their own issues, and everyone deals with their issues differently. But nobody wants to burden anybody else with their problems. I certainly don’t. So, I put on my PennFace. And, that works. For a while. But we can only go so long before we have to stop running, stand up straight, and face our issues. The mask does no good then: when it’s only us and that which plagues us. The difficult part for me to admit is that that stop running bit isn’t so terrible when I finally do it. In fact, it’s very, very often a good thing, and what helps me get back on track with the rest of my life/job/whatever. Like the heroes about whom many of us write, we have to face our fears, and those moments of truth usually make us stronger.

We make the decision to stand up and confront our troubles alone. We don’t have to take the next step alone, though. Family, lovers, friends, coworkers, therapists, teachers, clergy – there are so many people out there willing to help. Asking is hard. But doing everything alone is so much harder.

Some people enjoy conflict and chaos: they thrive on it. Personally, I prefer control and routine. But, life by nature is chaotic, and how we deal with that chaos affects how we live. I still pull out and put on the mask, a lot more often than I probably should. I’m learning, though. And, I’m finding I like seeing my real face in the mirror a lot more than I like seeing my PennFace there.

How do you cope with your “PennFace?”

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12 thoughts on “My Masking Face

  1. :hugs: I hope that everything will work out eventually for you.

    I was a bit hung up on the part where you said that most of us don’t want to trouble others with our problems. While I can agree with that statement for myself, I’ve found that I’m the exact opposite, where I’m the one who ends up listening to people do all the talking, and they talk about anything and everything, including things that probably shouldn’t be shared with others so freely.

    To cope with the PennFace, I retreat into my room or just to a place where I can be alone and I talk it out. I take it to God, really, and just talk it out. I express my worries, my frustrations, Just talking it out helps me further understand things about others and myself, and it relieves a lot of stress. I think the two cactus plants on my window really benefit from it, too!

    As for going to others for help, I don’t really have anyone close enough to me whom I can confide in, or that I even feel comfortable with, which is why I just talk it out alone. That way, I don’t worry about being shut down or told to deal with whatever’s going on.

    :hugs: May you find peace amid all the troubles you’re going through!

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    • One reason you may feel like others are sharing (or over-sharing) with you is that those folks feel comfortable around you enough to let down their own masks. That’s kind of a good thing, though it does create the conundrum of being the sounding board all of the time. Good to hear you have ways of coping and finding time for yourself, to decompress.

      I understand that self-talk technique – I do it, too! Sometimes, that’s all I need, like a good cry. Professional therapy has been helpful for me over the years because it’s a non-judgmental listener, but that’s not for everybody. It’s been good to hear someone actually hear me, too.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. It’s so easy to put on the facade that we have everything under control; that we don’t need help. We’re taught that being vulnerable and honest is a weakness; that it shouldn’t be shared. But that’s further from the truth. I know, for myself, I struggle with the PennFace; I want people to know I know how to best discipline my children. The truth is, I have no control over them, and that’s good. They’re meant to test limits and explore. That’s what they do.

    As far as writing goes, I believe we cannot achieve anything alone in the writing world. If we are to be better writers,โ€“and that should be our goalโ€“we need others to be brutally honest with us. Tell us what works and what doesn’t. We need people to hold us accountable for the progress we strive for.

    In life, no one can do anything on their own. We have to lift the veil and let people see the vulnerability. I think people will respect us more when we do.

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    • That’s a lot of good stuff to think about, George, especially being honest with ourselves, as parents and adults, writers, and humans.

      Thanks for reading!

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  3. I don’t have anyone I can confide in Mayumi, so I just keep on keeping on. Life just… is what it is. I’m glad you have family and friends you can talk to and be with who will help you. I hope everything is okay.

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    • I think the reaching out is the hardest part, Neeks. There’s a lot we keep under wraps. Some people might not have other individuals to reach out to. thespooneytoaster mentioned prayer, though, which can be a saving grace. I have a friend who draws out his anxieties; another one uses her music. And, some folks are just stronger and more independent than others; they can cope better with what comes their way.

      Thanks for giving me something more to think about. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. I’m a true introvert, and while we’re great listeners and provide amazing support for others, we’re usually terrible at discussing our own problems with others. And so on goes my version of “PennFace” when I could really use a sympathetic ear. Ultimately, I sometimes knock people for a loop when I can’t keep my thoughts inside any longer.

    Luckily, when I do finally open up, my husband is there with a comforting shoulder.

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    • Ah, yes, the popping bubble of anxiety. I’m well familiar with that one, JM, as I’m guessing most introverts are, since we need that alone time to recharge. And, when we take that necessary time to step back, we also close off those around us. Good to hear you’ve got someone who’s got your back, though. It gets tiring acting like everything’s all right all of the time!

      Thanks for stopping by. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope your busy-ness is under control and that you’re doing all right!

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  5. Eh, sleep is overrated anyways. But it sure does feel nice sometimes…

    I can understand feeling closed off while having to put forward the engaged persona. There are a lot of times that I find myself detaching from the moment and just trying to ride the wave. Otherwise, I start to feel like a knight whose armor has just become too heavy to wear anymore, and then bad things can happen real quick… So, in the end, I just try and keep up with the tides so I don’t drown in them.

    Still, you are quite right that we have to face the troubles eventually, because they rarely just go away. Even if the moment passes, there’s still the memory and the consequences to deal with.

    Hope this week is going smoother for you!

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    • New parents often disregard this advice, but sleep when the baby sleeps. There’s the desire to get stuff done while little one is snoozing, but you just need to adjust to their non-schedule for a while. Everybody will be happier, that way. ๐Ÿ˜€

      The last two months have been pretty hectic, but, like you said, following the flow helps. Fighting the current is often just plain not worth it. Play helps, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Hope you are doing well! Thanks for stopping by, shade! Sending happy, helpful, hopeful thoughts your way. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Hope things get better at work. Usually when I’m under stress I tend to hide away. I don’t tell anyone, I just am “too busy” to hang out. Then eventually I text my closest friends that I’m really freaking out and worried about x,y, and z. I think we all have different coping mechanisms. We revert to what gets us through a tough time. Even if it isn’t the healthiest or best way, it’s familiar and trusted. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thanks, Kourtney. The semester is relaxing a bit, I’m happy to say. Mostly so I can enjoy a regular schedule again!

      I wonder if our anxiety and stress levels are worse with the addition of technology, or better. In one way, we’re connected with other people much more fluidly and with a lot more convenience, but there’s also that concern that we’re staring at screens for extended periods of time. I feel like I can cope much better with my own stress when I’m free to move, run, work out, but the deadlines keep me locked to my desk. Glad to hear you have people to turn to. That kind of support network – even if it’s only a quick text reply that says, “It’s okay, deep breaths” – can help a lot to get us through the roughest times.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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