The Masquerade of Disclosure

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Media and Arts Mental Health Advocate, Richard Bell considers the risky dance of disclosing a mental health issue – when is the right time to disclose in both professional and personal settings?

Sign with a poem on it

Gold Droplets by Richard Bell

In the masquerade of acceptance, sometimes I must judge the situations, before disclosing my mental illness. When is the right time to take off the mask in a relationship? Should we play the game of a masquerade in the workplace in fear of a lack of understanding?

In the ballroom I have found little communities, where likeminded people, dance to the same rhythm, and they can take their masks off. Judging the situation of their level of exposure to mental illness, sometimes we should leave the mask on. Although I have found acceptance where I didn’t have to wear the mask at all, in the ballroom of arts advocacy.

Dealing with rejection, after taking off the mask, when trying for a relationship has left me wondering, Why did I take the mask off in the first place?” But when is the right time to reveal? There have been occasions where I want to be accepted right from the start. But of course, it hasn’t always ended well, leaving me holding my mask with tears running down my face.

The incident led to a fear of rejection, meaning I leave the mask on for longer. In these instances, will they feel lied too? The wondering of acceptance, is left longer, as the masquerade continues throughout the relationship.

There was one relationship, where a mutual transparency was established, where in an intense couple of days, we both took the masks off, on several topics. It worked well on many levels and the worry of “What will occur when I remove my mask?” wasn’t there. It must be one of the more successful attempts in acceptance throughout this masquerade.

Underwater photograph with poem overlaid

Tides of Future Thoughts Poetical Photo by Richard Bell

While studying a hospitality management course, I was a little uneducated to attitudes that existed towards people with a mental illness and decided to take my mask off. After telling them that I had schizophrenia, I realised their level of exposure to mental health wasn’t an understanding one, which made me wish I had played the game of the masquerade. I was ridiculed by being called ‘crazy’, ‘psycho’ and ‘weirdo’ and didn’t find acceptance within those who I called friends.

But while I studied a course in community services, everyone took off their masks to some degree in the introduction on the first day. A lot of the people there had mental health problems too, while studying to work in the industry. But I was still afraid to remove the mask, due to past experiences in educational situations.

There have been times I tried for mainstream arts practice, only to realise that my mental health advocacy wasn’t suited to their views.

In my experience in the search for acceptance, throughout the mainstream media, some of the people hold a perspective of prejudice and lacking understanding of the statistics. When I entered a not-for-profit media organisation as a young mental health advocate, I had to remove my mask as it was dealing with social issues.

I found I had to constantly explain that statistically people are more likely to self-harm than harm other people. Given the media’s reach, it is irresponsible to portray people with mental health problems as dangerous or harmful. In Australia, for example, one in every four will experience mental illness in a life time. 10% will self-harm, whereas 0.005% will harm others.

But from there I ventured into the disability arts sector, where I could remove my mask and speak freely, without prejudice or attitudes being imposed on me. It was there I could find people with similar experiences. We all had masks to wear, but in giving out acceptance to people who have had trials, quite like my own, I found acceptance within the community. There were others with a range of impairments who were accepting in the ballroom of disclosure, because we had all danced the masquerade of trying to fit into society’s standards of acceptance.

These moments, where you can take the mask off and find acceptance with people with similar interests and experiences, are the times you value most. In this masquerade of disclosure, we wear a mask on the occasions we must. But I would rather take the mask of completely, so I can feel comfortable.

Black and white photograph of a seascape with poem overlaid

‘Invention of Grey’ .Poetical Photo by Richard Bell