Essay from Rubina Akter

When The Mask Falls

Most days it is so easy to fake happiness. You get used to the act when that’s all you’ve known. People tend to react better towards those that are happy and just a little melancholy. I think it reassures them that I am brave for not turning into a crying mess whenever my depression and PTSD go on overdrive. Almost all of my therapists say that while I have serious problems, I am remarkably normal compared to others. And I guess that is a compliment. I work very hard to create this image of a brave, sarcastic girl who does not have the time to care about most things.

But the mask does come off. And in those times, the stark difference in my personality surprises even me. It is hardest for me to appear normal during those anniversaries of trauma. Sometimes I can pull it off, at least during the day. Today is one such day, and instead of using my usual piece of glass to carve out some notches on my skin, I am trying to write about it.

Nights are always the worst. During the day I can lose myself in the crowds at school and in Netflix. If it gets really bad, I can find a quiet place to sit and cry and/or adorn myself with some new scars. But when I go to bed, the nightmares return. I see all my problems in the clear crystal ball that are my memories. And sometimes I cry for a few hours, and then there are the chest pains from purging food all day. I remember all the things I have lost, all the times I could have killed myself and probably should have.

I am going nowhere in school, and most days I can barely make it to class. When I am there, I feel like an observer peering into a different world I cannot have. On the days I attend, I sit far from everyone because the problems in my mind create an invisible barrier.

Today, I remember how this is the week, one year ago, I went through an especially traumatic experience. It turned me into someone I don’t even recognize. I can’t talk to anyone without feeling a sense of shame and self-hatred. I could never tell my own family.  I will not reach out to other women for acceptance.  And often, I cannot even remember the things that happen during these trigger times, as though I am not really there either. Sometimes my more observant friends ask what’s going on but I usually don’t have an answer. I am afraid to freak them out, and we don’t have that kind of connection.

I think about how I push everyone away because I just don’t know what normal people talk about or do.  How can I invite you to my house when it is a war zone? How can I talk to you via phone when my parents check it even though I am an adult? How can I connect with you when you have no idea who I really am or how I really feel? How do I explain the emptiness in my heart, the aching that is always there? How do I explain that every time I try to get close to someone, I seem to need too much, and then the relationship ends? How can I tell you that when I’m on my own, I am either cutting myself to feel any kind of emotion, or I am throwing up until my insides hurt because I can’t stand the sight of myself anymore? After all, my body is the only thing I have any power over and the only way I have to punish myself for my sins, or what I perceive are sins.

What words can I use to explain how much I don’t want to go home at the end of the day? To this silent prison where everyone walks on eggshells and tries to avoid another argument about money. Where no one can speak from their hearts or feel known. No one would even recognize the person I am at home. I don’t talk, I don’t interact with anyone, I don’t get out of bed. The poet, foodie, and explorer my friends see in person and on Instagram disappears. I have had a thousand reasons to die. I don’t want to live with myself, but then who would help run the family.  I am already the parent of my own parents and my younger siblings. I have already fallen in what I thought was love, have a good job, and have the opportunity to go to college.  Aren’t these the milestones people want to reach? Will there be more for me? I am tired of faking an identity.  I have become my own identity thief, but I don’t want to burden people, don’t want them to feel responsible or abandon me when they don’t know how to help. 


This article is only to share what happens behind the veil and not to blame anyone. I wish I could say that things will get easier and that time heals all wounds, but I don’t work for Hallmark. That kind of wishful thinking may be true; however, what I take away from my pain is the fact that at the end of the day, no one comes to save you. I will always be my own savior. I must keep learning to save myself. And after everything I have been through, I am finally okay with that. I still have bad days but I know those days wont hold me back forever. Maybe all I need is a little bit of understanding and to feel less alone when things get too hard.

Rubina Akter is an undergraduate student at Temple University. She has loved writing since elementary school when she was chosen to write a book for the Young Authors Conference. She is a writer and poet whose poems were published first by the literary magazine Synchronized Chaos.