The Tragedy Mask(ed)

I saw her for the first time the morning after my brother died. I had known for some time that she would reveal herself eventually. I felt her presence for too long, standing just behind my bedroom door while I slept, stalking me a short distance behind as I walked to the office, or sitting at the next table while I dined with friends. Perhaps I would have seen her sooner if I’d actually tried to look in her direction, but truth be told I was too afraid. I did everything in my power to ignore her gaze. I filled my days with work, my nights with cheap alcohol. If I felt her walking behind me I broke into a jog, if I sensed her standing behind my sofa I reached for another bottle and turned up the TV. I did everything I could to avoid her, deny her existence, maybe if I hid long enough and kept myself busy enough she would lose interest and fade into the distance, maybe go and taunt another poor soul. But not me, like a child hiding under the sheets, I did not see her and therefore she could not harm me.

Even as I told myself this I knew it was a lie. She grew stronger in my neglect. With each passing day she came closer, walked in my shadow, shared a chair at my table, reached for the knob of my bedroom door. Now she’s here. Standing in the corner of my room she eyes me with a deathly gaze, black beads bore into me as I look back with glassy dilated pupils. I feel brittle. As though at any moment her stare is going to force a fracture across my eye. A fracture that will deepen and splinter, crack and rupture until the goo encased within these glass balls oozes onto the bed sheets and leaves me with sockets as dark and empty as hers. She grins at me as if sensing my discomfort. A thick caricature of a grin which warps her taught pale skin into a theatrical comedy mask. The forehead wrinkles, empty eye sockets crescent and the mouth extends inhumanely wide. There is no joy behind that smile, it is a desperate veneer thinly plastered over a crippled canvas. It is the painted grin of the tragic clown, the makeup brushed thick onto the bulimic model, the suicidal photographer hiding behind his lens. I know this. It is the same smile I wear. I know I could reach out with the palm of my hand, grasp that distended sneer and erase it like chalk on a chalkboard, there is a bleak truth buried skin deep underneath, too terrifying to witness.

I could feel the night warp around her. Stood as she was, motionless by the dresser in the shadow coated corner of my room, the darkness quivered. It grew thick like a viscous black tar, hot sticky energy bled from the shroud around her hobbled frame. I realised the first time I saw her that it was this dirty and defiled vigour which had always alerted me to her existence. The air was full of eyes. I could feel them upon me, judging me, criticising, mocking. The shadows were protruding fingers, probing, picking, scraping, lashing at my face when I least expected it and tearing chunks of papery skin from my daytime face. The silence was deafening, alight with the droll murmurs of days past, reverberating against hollow walls until I could almost feel my ears bleed. This is what she is. The eyes hidden in privacy, the claws in solitude, the voice in the silence.

I saw her every night after that first meeting. Every night I went to sleep hoping tonight would be different and every night I woke up to those hollow eyes on me. With each passing moon she grew a little closer. I never once saw her move, but I knew each time I saw her she would be a few steps nearer. Slowly crossing the room night by night, closer and closer. Her haunting grin never faltered, her black sockets never left my gaze. The air grew thicker. I sank deeper into my mattress as each morning grew longer. I felt my limbs growing stiff, the ooze she spat was seeping into my muscles, clogging my pores and clotting my veins. Getting out of bed was proving increasingly difficult.

The days ticked by in much the same way they always had. The daylight made it easier for me to ignore her, though she was still there, she thrived in darkness. I busied myself with work, pulling extra shifts when possible and even offering to stay after hours to help others with their projects. I socialised frequently, dinner’s, drink’s, date’s, I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Staying long after I had worn my welcome thin and always encouraging friends to stay for ‘just one more beer’, ‘one more story’. They joked that I must hate my home and I laughed along with them, it was just a joke. They didn’t really see. They didn’t see, every time I laughed my grin grew wider and more grotesque. They didn’t see, each time someone looked me directly in the eyes, a tiny crack fractured and grew larger.

She stands at the foot of my bed now. I look at her now with an extended smile and dull eyes. It’s only a matter of time now. One day soon she will reach out a bony claw and peel back the comedy mask I wear, to unveil my true face.

If you are currently suffering with, or have ever had depression then you know all too well what it can feel like. Often it’s like a physical presence, staring, clawing and shouting at us. The nights and early morning are often the worst, when all you want to do is sink into your mattress and forget the world. It’s as if the very air is weighing you down. And even when you are doing well and feel like you’re on the mend, you know that darkness could be waiting around the corner at any moment.

By giving physicality to our feelings, in ascribing words to the dark, shadowy form of depression and mental illness, we engage in a battle with our inner demons. We declare emphatically that we will strive to understand you and in doing so we will learn to defeat you. We must write, share and talk about our darker thoughts, you can not exorcise a monster by ignoring it. Stay strong.

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