This poem by Melanie Rogers comes from 'Same Boat? Poems on poverty and lockdown', an anthology to be published by Church Action on Poverty on 15 October 2020.
My mask keeps me safe.
It stops others asking if I’m OK.
It stops me having to lie
and prevents tears from coming.
My mask protects me.
It stops others seeing the real me,
the me that hurts so much,
that’s shattered inside, held together on the outside.
My mask keeps me shielded.
It saves me from feeling vulnerable.
It saves me from being hurt,
from history being repeated.
My mask is a lie.
I’m not OK.
The tears are there, they’re just hidden.
The pain is there, it’s excruciating.
Not many people recognise my mask.
Not many people know me well enough;
I don’t let them.
Those that do terrify me.
I can’t bear to be hurt again.
I’ve worn my mask since I was a teenager. I’ve used it to hide the internal pain and distress I’ve carried with me since then, from those around me, be it family, friends, colleagues or professionals caring for me. I wear it well and I’m able to hide how distressed and/or ill I am, there are very few who can see past my mask. Just before lockdown I began to consciously let my mask slip in front of my therapist but as lockdown unfolded, so did a traumatic, personal life event and I had to stay strong, so my mask one again became fixed. But, I also began to recognise how my mask protected me and this led to me writing my first poem in years, ‘My Mask’.