It was about 10:40pm, and my co-worker and I had just clocked out after a long shift and were changing out of our uniforms when someone else from our department entered the locker room.
I greeted her and attempted to start a conversation, but soon realized that she seemed immensely out of it. Upon further prying, she shared that she was battling an awful migraine and was feeling nauseous and dizzy.
My co-worker offered some pain medicine, and soon she felt well enough to make her way out to the employee parking lot about three blocks away. We walked with her, ensuring she was safe.
I offered several times to give her a ride home, but she refused every time and said she should be okay driving the 30 minutes back home.
I was a little nervous, but eventually, we split off to our cars and left. On my drive back I prayed that the Lord would be with her and help her get home safely.
The next day, I was immensely relieved when that same co-worker entered the office for our pre-shift meeting. I approached her, gave her a hug and told her how relieved I was to see she had made it home safely the night prior. She thanked me and apologized for forgetting to text me that she had made it.
I let her know that I had prayed for her on my way home. She hugged me and thanked me, and what she said next really shook me.
“Seriously, if you want to keep me in mind when you pray, that would be great. My mental health is a disaster right now.”
I told her that I would definitely keep her in my prayers and we agreed to hang out when we were both free to continue that discussion.
We broke off and went to work, but for the rest of the day, she stayed in my mind.
I had only known this co-worker for about a month, but in that month she had been nothing but light. She was one of the first people to welcome me to the hotel and make me feel seen and appreciated. She always came into work with a bright smile and greeted everyone individually. It was her idea to do a department-wide valentine exchange, and she even spent the extra time to make everyone their own valentine bag. She went out of her way to make people feel seen, and I appreciated that about her so much.
Had she not mentioned her mental health struggle to me, I might have never noticed. I might have just assumed she was a positive, peppy, outgoing person like myself and never gave it a second thought.
But she did mention it. To me, specifically. And whether she knows it or not, I know that was a cry for help.
We all have a mask that we wear every day. A version of ourselves that hides whatever we’re struggling with. Sometimes that mask can last all day. Sometimes that mask falls off in the middle of a conversation, or falls and breaks in a stressful moment.
This mask is not a bad thing. But it’s important to periodically take off the mask and be vulnerable, like what my co-worker did. It’s important for us to be honest with the right people about what we are struggling with. Most of the time, simply getting it out helps relieve the tension.
I realize not everyone is a verbal processor like myself. I understand that some of you may prefer to think through things or seclude yourself when wrestling something.
But if that mask stays on, no one gets to see the real you.
Not even you.
I need to work on taking off the mask more frequently. I have a bad habit of keeping the mask on in moments where I should remove it. When friends ask how I’m doing, I tend to reply “I’m fine!” and tighten the mask.
But those are safe situations in which I should remove the mask and let myself be completely me and completely vulnerable.
So let’s tag-team this. Let’s both work on finding time to remove the mask, and watching for the moments when others do.
Have you been in a situation where you could have removed the mask but chose not to?
What benefits are there from taking off the mask and being vulnerable with a safe crowd?