Anyway, in my mind, I have always pictured these balls as a type of amalgam of "Phantom" and Poe's "The Masque of Red Death." I suppose that is because underneath all the gaiety and fun of adults in fancy dress dancing the night away, there always seemed something slightly sinister about the whole idea. Some would call that the romance of the idea, I guess--not really knowing absolutely who anyone is. Modern recreations of the masquerade ball have tended to lose a bit of the complete anonymity that they used to bring. Everyone was masked, and no one was supposed to remove his mask until the proper time, usually midnight. Costumes were closely-guarded secrets that, often, only one or two people in one's own party knew. And, of course, if you have read very much classic mystery fiction (thank you, Agatha Christie), you are aware how often the change or replication of a costume was used as a plot device to carry out some evil deed. Someone could carry out a heist or even murder someone without being missed or recognized, or all suspicion could be laid on someone else in an identical costume.
What is my point, you ask?
Today, we are often told that we need to be authentic and real with the people around us, but as someone who has spent her entire adult life struggling with depression, I can personally attest to how difficult this is. Some days, it just seems easier to smile and say everything is fine, to keep working when you want to crawl away and hide, to pretend than risk rejection or misunderstanding. As a freshman in high school, I was having a very difficult time fitting in and feeling like I belonged--in the school and church and social circle I had grown up in. I was intrigued by acting and begged my mom to let me join the church drama team. Now, I am well aware of the bad rap that church drama has given itself over the years, and how poorly the concept has adjusted to a changing culture. However, for me, in the 1990s, it was a life-saver. I, ironically, found myself by being other people. It may have been that I had simply finally found something I was good at, but I was a different person on stage and in character. Unfortunately, my difficulty came from being unable to translate that to real life. I only knew who I was when I was acting.
When I went away to college, I lost this aspect of my life--and, I might add, it just about broke me. I had no outlet for the emotions and frustrations I had formerly been venting through my other characterizations. I desperately longed to get involved in theater at school, but I was paralyzed by auditioning. You see, I didn't practice well with others because I didn't know how to moderate my performance for rehearsal. I scared people because I was the girl who was constantly injured or bleeding from throwing herself in a role, even during practice. On stage, I was just as intense. I didn't act the role; I became that character. It was my only release, my sanity.
All the stress finally came to a head in my senior year, when I finally began to realize what was wrong with me. It had never occurred to me that I might have inherited the familial tendency for depression; I just thought I was stupid and lazy and a big fat failure. I asked my mom, who has the same problem--I know, another indication we missed, right?--to get me an appointment with her doctor when I came home for Christmas that year. I will never forget that day--December 18, 2003; it was truly a turning point in my life. I began taking antidepressants that day.
The doctor told me it could take up to 2 weeks to know if they were going to work, but it only took 3 days. In three days, my whole life changed. I could get ready for class without feeling like I was dragging a 2-ton weight out the door. I could talk to other people without being terrified. I could be around my family without dissolving into fights every 5 minutes. I could make friends, go to work, teach. Basically, I could live. My college friends were shocked at the complete change in me, and people who had known me my whole life were almost suspicious at the sudden turn-around.
You are probably wondering what this has to do with masquerade balls. Well, my whole life had become like one big masquerade. I had to spend so much energy just trying to function and get through the days that I didn't have anything left for self-discovery or development. So, I had discovered it was simpler to be the person that the situation needed. No one ever saw the real me because that was too difficult to deal with. I had my standard go-to identities I pulled out as needed: student, friend, employee, church kid... I had worn masks for so long that I couldn't remember what was real anymore. I was 23 years old, and had absolutely no idea who I was. I had one real friend, my family, and a stranger looking back from the mirror.
The past 10 years have taught me a lot about myself: I'm insanely stubborn; I am fiercely independent; I love to learn (mostly because I just like being smart); I'm creative; I still have difficulty making friends; I'm still clueless about guys (arent' we all, though?); etc. I've learned many things I am not. But mostly, I have learned how to recognize when I start fitting a mask on. Do I always choose authenticity? I wish I could say I do, but I'm still human; and humans have a long history of hiding. But, I am learning, and getting better, and discovering more each day.
I don't often re-post poems on here, but this one was simply too appropriate.
One by one,
We take our places,
Twirling and bending,
Dancing around the room,
Safe behind our masks.
Slowly, we weave
Across the floor,
Moving toward discovery,
You enter the floor,
We stare at Your beauty.
The chimes ring: