I caught up with an old schoolfriend recently, from a few lifetimes ago. We’ve not sat down with each other to talk for a long while, I’ve seen her about and she always smiles and says hi and we do the “we really must catch up and get a date in the diary” conversation. But when we did meet she told me she’d had breast cancer. I was shocked. VERY shocked, worried, scared for her, upset and eventually after we’d talked about it I was reassured. She’d caught it early, things were far from OK, but certainly more OK than they could so easily have been.
That’s not what this post is about though, it’s about what that revelation made me realise. I’d had absolutely no idea she’d been ill. She’d seen me on a number of occasions around and about town and you do the standard “how are you, how’s tricks” line and you say “great, can’t complain” and you carry on on your journey. But of course she wasn’t fine, and she probably felt like complaining a hell of a lot. But she hadn’t. She’d put on her “brave” face. She’d put up her guard and I couldn’t help recalling all the times I’d done the same.
On Thursday I had to go into work and stay overnight, which meant I was leaving my little boy at home and he timed throwing up all over the house and its entire contents to perfection. However I got it together, I have a wonderful husband who bears the same burden as I and he took over and my boy was fine. But you see, I wasn’t. I went to work and I attended my meetings today and I wore my smile, I had my corporate face on, but every time my concentration waned, my thoughts turned with full force to my little boy. But my face did not betray this and nor did my words, he wasn’t mentioned at work.
This weekend I will get tons of time with him, we’ll do fun things, we’ll build towers of bricks and probably blow up a few hunderd balloons, just so we can pop them. And I’ll take him to see my parents. But when I get there, they’ll see the contented mum-that’s the face I’ll be wearing tomorrow, happy and together, they won’t see my exhaustion, they won’t see my fatigue, the guilt that’s currently weighing me down like a leaden coat. They won’t see it, because I won’t let them, it’s not their problem, I don’t want them to worry and I want to have a peaceful weekend.
And tomorrow evening, I’ll get time with my husband, the one person who I do take my faces off for. The one person who doesn’t mind particularly which face I wear, so long as it’s the real one in that moment. I’m so fortunate to have a person I can do that with. It’s more than just ”being myself”, somehow that doesn’t hold the weight it should. To be able to unburden the baggage of a week full of days “play acting” is vitally important.
My heart breaks for those women who aren’t able to do this, those women who feel they have to be “on” and always wearing a face. When I was in my most unhealthy relationship, with a controlling, unkind man-that’s how I was. ALWAYS wearing a face that I thought he wanted to see, because the one I actually had I was certain would never meet the expectations he’d set. To be free of that, if only for the couple of hours I can switch off? It makes me truly blessed.