My True Self

jny published on
5 min, 902 words

When going into treatment, you're "assigned" several projects that you are supposed to complete. The first one that I did was called "Inside Out". I chose to do mine as plastic mask and filled the inside and outside with words describing just that: how people see me on the outside and what I feel (and hide) on the inside. And as I did it, I realized something about the way the projected reflected myself that really kind of wrecked my mind.

On the inside, I painted the mask black and wrote words such as:

  • Self Hate
  • Broken
  • Lonely
  • Hopeless
  • Awkward
  • Boring
  • Hurtful
  • Insecure
  • Flawed by Nature
  • Foolish

My inside-out: inside

The inside was incredibly easy to do; it's how I've viewed myself for years. Every single word rang true to my core and I hated each one of them.

The outside, however, was actually a little more disturbing. I painted it grey and wrote words like:

  • Nice
  • Normal
  • "Tired"
  • "Fine"
  • Open Minded
  • Self-sufficient
  • Polite
  • Selfless
  • Humble
  • Not ignorant

My inside-out: outside

What was disturbing is that as I looked at the outside I realized that I hated that part of me too. In a sense it wasn't even part of me; it was how I wanted to appear. Things like "nice", "normal", "selfless", and "humble" -which perhaps sound as though they were good and laudable- came not from who I really am, it came from an inner fear; of a strong desire to be accepted. Was I nice because it was part of who I am, or was it the result of being lonely and wanting connection so badly? Was I open minded, or just avoidant of all confrontation?

That's why the front of the mask was grey instead of white: it was not the opposite but rather another set of things I hated about myself. Because they didn't feel as though they were authentic, but instead they were a survival mechanism. Appear as a person that people would like and accept.

I hated both sides of that mask. I truly wondered if there was any part of me left other than what I secretly felt on the inside and the farce of a person I had built on the outside. If I take off the mask, is there a real face at all, or had it been torn away?

The project itself was horribly depressing to do. But doing it was extremely helpful for my recovery. On the inside, I was also able to write two words. Two words that were not part of the darkness: Love and Empathy. A romantic-then-platonic friendship from years ago taught me that yes, I am still capable of love. I've felt it firsthand. And -during treatment- I rediscovered a part of me from my past: my ability to be empathetic. To be there for people when they need someone to share in their emotions.

If I took off the mask, there was something left underneath, even if was just 2 words. There was something locked away inside me that was more than a front and more than the internal struggle. I didn't understand it; it felt like they came from somewhere else. But from where did they come? If I was merely the mask I'd made, hurting on the inside and fake on the outside, where did these words come from? And did it mean that there were still more to discover?

Those were the first 2 words. By the end of the treatment, I would find a few more. They felt different, like they weren't coming from the internal darkness, but they also were a front meant to avoid rejection. They were from somewhere else entirely. I call that somewhere my "true self".

It's a difficult notion to capture in words. It either sounds new-agey or like a shallow platitude. But to me it was something much more real. There's something buried, deep down. A part of me that did not die, it was just buried. In a way it was like meeting someone for the first time, being left with the feeling that I'd like to get to know them more.

As with nearly everything, I became less aware of this sense of self started to fade after treatment. But seeing myself change could not be undone. I knew there was more to uncover. For the first time in my adult life, I started to feel things that surfaced naturally. Organically. It wasn't something that my depression could just sweep away. I'd found bits here and there that made me feel.....alive. Human. A person.

It's still an ongoing process; much of my time is spent still hiding behind the mask. But I do know that there's something else there. And I'm still on the path to discovering it. I'm getting to know the real me. The other parts, the depression and anxiety and fear of rejection, they are part of me as well. But there is something driving me forward; something that keeps me from stopping completely. And that something is the someone that I aspire to be. I know I can be it because I felt even a glimps during treatment, and part of my path is to discover more about this person who has been hidden in the shadows for far too long.