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Hiding Behind a Mask
Hiding Behind a Mask
All the world is a stage, and we are but it's players." When William Shakespeare wrote that line in Hamlet he wasn't being poetic, he was stating nothing more than the profound truth. As people go through their lives they are always acting, always pretending, and the people around them are always deciphering their motives and interpreting their actions. A theater audience watches characters on-stage and are taken in by their stories, similar to the way society views a particular person and his/her motives and actions. One of the best places to see this real-life theater in action is in a typical American high-school - where everyone looks to be having the time of their lives and yet most are desperately unhappy. Television shows, books, and entire movies are based on the fact that the most normal, cheerful, and wonderful teenagers are often hiding deep emotional problems.
Despite the fact that many of these teens lead healthy and normal lifestyles, problems in high school can often seem desperate and traumatic. In contrast, other teenagers around the world are in more desperate lights, sometimes fighting for their lives. American teens often seem petty and shallow in comparison, but their feelings about their own problems can run as desperately and as deep as a person in a much worse situation. Anorexia, bulimia, and depression are all integral hidden vices of today's teens, buried beneath prom queen smiles and cheerful faces. Before entering the "real world" teenagers run a gauntlet of emotional roller-coasters, and some of them don't come out on the other side. Often when a teenager gives in to depression or anxiety, the words on the lips of the people closest to them are: "I would never have guessed that they would've done that.". The cheerful faces of suicide cases.
Although teenagers often look and act happy and carefree, their negative emotions are running high and are often amplified by hormones, insecurities, and stress. High school is considered time to prepare for college, to get ready for the real world, and to decide what one wants to do for the rest of one's life. It is also a time of change, cliques, isolation, social and physical insecurity, and rejection. Entry into high school often means the loss of childhood friends, the beginning of dating, and the beginning of competition based on looks and popularity. Homecoming Queens and Kings, Prom Queens and Kings, Student Council; it's all one big popularity contest, and to be popular one must always be beautiful, friendly, cheerful and involved. Stress piles upon stress as grades start to matter more, the future is fast approaching, and social lives become a whirlwind of activities; there isn't enough time in a day to be a teenager.
The pressures of high school can be overwhelming, even for those who are not heavily involved in extra-curriculars. Take for example my friend Heidi. Not a member of the popular crowd, she was still someone that everyone knew and liked, her shy smile and listening ear a comfort for many of her burdened friends and acquaintances. She'd been my friend since elementary school when we'd been in girl scouts together, and we had gone through both middle and high school together. Every time I saw her I'd shout out the same greeting, "Heidy-ho Heidi!", my personal spin on her name, and she would smile at me and shake her head, rolling her eyes because I was being so silly. Heidi was the kind of person who was always there to help other people, always giving of herself, taking the time to get to know them and hear their problems. My friend Malcolm was head over heels in love with her, and although she didn't seem interested, she was never harsh to him. In 10th grade she took 99 sleeping pills before going to bed, while her parents were having a party, when they went to wake her the next morning she was dead. The entire school was in shock, my classmates were horrified, and her friends were traumatized, including me. None of us could imagine why that sweet girl would do something like that, it was like a bolt of lightening out of a clear sky. No one will ever know why she felt the need to take such drastic measures because she didn't leave a note, just a lot of broken hearts.
This is a scene played out every day across America, and bright, cheerful, happy children who suddenly can't take it anymore and they kill themselves. The people around them are shocked, horrified and at a complete loss, wondering what they could have done to deterred such tragic action. Despite Heidi's example, despite the pain that her death put us through, I had a total of six friends end up in the hospital for attempting suicide the next year. Two of them had known Heidi and had sat in the office crying with us as we all mourned, they felt the same guilt and anger at her that we all had and yet the memory of what that had been like didn't stop them from trying to put us through it again. Every time, I was shocked to find out that another friend was in the hospital, getting his or her stomach pumped.
Many teenagers will state, "I want to die." or "I want to kill myself."; many of them ones who actually attempt or succeed at it don't give a warning like that first. All of my friends were in honors classes, involved in theater, sports, choir, etc., had boyfriends or girlfriends - or had just gotten out of a relationship, but they were all at school every day with a smile on their face. Sure, they had problems, who doesn't in high school? But not one of them seemed to have the type of problems that would lead to a suicide attempt. If anyone had asked any of us, their friends, if they were in danger of being depressed enough to attempt suicide, we would've all sworn up and down that these were some of the most emotionally stable people anyone could know. These people were happy, smart, with good families, involved in lots of fun activities, and had tons of friends to support them.
People's faces become masks, hiding their true emotions and instabilities, conversations become staged lines, smiles become costumes to be worn on a daily basis. Eyes are the windows to the soul, but often those windows are kept tightly shuttered so that the only thing presented to the world is the actor's theatrical mask.