The Mask

I’ve had a turbulent few nights, tossing and turning, nightmares, waking in the middle of the night with my head spinning, my to-do list rolling ad nauseam through my sleep-deprived brain. Wide awake at 3:30, death warmed over at 6am when it’s time to rise and shine. The nightmares had gone away for awhile, but perhaps the stress of preparing for classes has stirred the pot yet again.

Last night the dream was bizarre but possibly telling; in it, I applied some thick cream all over my face, and when I looked in the mirror I appeared to be airbrushed. My features were perfect, my wrinkles gone, skin flawless. I received countless compliments and had the strangest sensation of observing it all from above my body. I was watching myself perform in some sort of masque, my true self hidden behind the mask of cream or make-up, or whatever the substance was. At first it was empowering, but then I felt empty.

The more I thought about this dream the more it made me take a deeper look inside. Even now at fifty-five, even after so many years of working to better myself, even after fifteen years of very happy marriage, even after so many wonderful things have happened in my life and my career, I feel like an imposter waiting for the other shoe to drop. I feel like the fraud who is waiting for the crowd to realize that I have no clue what I’m doing. Perhaps it’s also that I don’t feel I deserve the good things that have come my way. Such an incredibly frustrating feeling.

Sometimes dreams are just dreams, but sometimes I see them as tools that help us work through things that we find difficult to face while awake. I’m not quite sure what last night’s dream meant, except perhaps for me to realize that the feelings I have aren’t real. I’m not an imposter; I am simply a gloriously flawed woman who tries her best in everything she does; far from perfect, but authentic if nothing else.

Maybe one day I will embrace that flawed woman fully and let the good things wash over me with only gratitude and not the niggling fear of some reprisal by the Fates. Meanwhile I will keep doing my best to grow, making mistakes along the way, and dreaming of shedding whatever mask of fear I keep trying to hide behind. As always, love is the answer, and loving myself is a very good place to start.

6 thoughts on “The Mask

  1. I feel in the West, we have a burden of the idea of the fixed self. For women , as we go through the transformation of menopause , this can truly feel like an empty mask to try to be the same fixed self we’ve always been , for we are so different , so fluid. Especially when still active professionally , it’s a challenge to move through the world without the fixed-self mask. I find it’s a bit invisible to be without the mask, but I’m beginning to relish the freedom of invisibility ! (Of course , I’m no longer teaching full-time . My full-time job is behind the scenes behind a desk where it’s quite fine to bask in my invisibility ! )

  2. So many women and academics, especially perfectionists, are susceptible to Impostor Syndrome. I hope you realize that your talent and hard work have brought you to this place of competence and success. You are amazing. No matter what your struggles are – you have earned your position. You deserve the perks and the recognition and the admiration of your students!!

  3. You have gained your place in the world through the assessments of your work and output made by other people. they had definite output from you on which to base their assessments. Know that you are perfect as you are.

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