Shattering The Mask: What’s It Like To Be Young And Disillusioned In 2017?

In an age of social media and awareness, you could be forgiven for thinking that we are more connected as a society than previous generations.

However, the declining mental health resources, political unrest and constant exposure to all the failings of our social system via the internet means people are in fact at risk of feeling more disillusioned and isolated than ever before.

man-1868320_960_720Christian Walker, 27, spoke to BAM about the masks we all wear in our daily lives and what it’s like to be a young Northern Irish person suffering from anxiety and depression in 2017.

Hi Christian. Tell us what it was like for you as young person growing up in Northern Ireland.

Anxiety, depression, and being unable to connect to people are things I have suffered from from an early age.

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I was sheltered from the divisions in our society. Then, just before my teens, I was thrust into a loyalist estate where it began for me.

I watched my siblings integrate with the other kids without sharing there ideologies of the people in the area. While they seemed fine, I just couldn’t. I felt a strong sense of displacement and couldn’t fit in no matter how hard I tried and it lead to plenty of fights and confrontations. The depression lasted into my early twenties and I felt I had to hide my true self from the world to fit in and avoid feeling weird and alone.

Social media, celebrity culture, the education system, capitalism and corruption have all made society extremely image-conscious which has put ridiculous pressure on young people to conform in every aspect of their lives.

What effect has wearing a ‘mask’ had on you?

Looking back now on my 27 years I’ve developed social awkwardness and it always became routine to hide most of my personality. I knew that it was wrong and I was wearing a mask for the approval of people, many of whom wore their own masks.

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The thing I regret the most is not seeing from an early age that refusing to embrace uniqueness and allow your weirdness to shine through is perhaps the greatest crime you can commit to yourself.

In later years I’ve met people whose unique personality shined bright with no fear of rejection. They experienced freedom by letting their true selves never be bounded or shut down in a world that tries to conform and pushes everyone into certain groups from an early age. To stand alone and be yourself is seen as odd or, the term I hate most, “not normal”.

dancing-2081158_960_720How have your experiences changed the way you view others?

Through displacement I’ve felt I have become observant of people. You can always see, especially in groups, an individual hiding who they really are just to fit in while their friends might be oblivious to the fact.

Worst of all, if it goes on long enough their true selves become squashed and they come to believe the mask they wear.

Many use it out of routine, others who don’t fit in perfectly with society convince themselves that they are wrong on the inside and the mask is who they should be. And in doing so they lose a vital part of themselves.

“We all wear masks and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” – Andrè Berthiaume

What do you think can be done to end this repression of individuality?

The best advice I have found is to let it all go as much as you can, take time for reflection, get back in touch with yourself and create a buffer between you and the false messages society sends out.

Surround yourself with people who have no fear of being themselves. Because you never know when someone will see your amazing, quirky, outlandish self. You are showing them that it’s okay to drop their own mask.

You never know if that moment your beautiful individuality could inspire another person to shed their shackles and unleash their true inner self, and in turn find their own real happiness.shadows-1957396_960_720

What inspires you and keeps you motivated when things become difficult?

I have met some truly amazing people on my journey, along with one amazing woman who still tries to get me to break my concrete mask of fitting in. I have come along way because of their shining individuality. Another beautiful soul reawakened the creative side in me without even knowing it which has led me to share this.

But at my lowest there was a man who I never met but whose true unique self was so bright he affected millions of people throughout his life.

Actor Robin Williams is no longer with us but his life was something to be admired and his outlook a goal to strive towards. His message about being true to yourself and bringing joy to others is one that should pierce everyone’s heart.

What message do you want to share with others who may be struggling with feelings of isolation, disillusion or not being true to themselves?

The message I hope people take with them is to never hide your beautiful unique soul. Because you never know who you might inspire to take off their mask and shine, it’s the best gift you can give someone .
To the people who inspire me every day, those who encouraged me to write this and to BAM Mag for publishing it, you have my greatest thanks.

“Oh me! Oh life! Of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish, of myself forever reproaching myself (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly carve the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renewed, of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me, of the empty and useless years of rest, with the rest me intertwined, the question, oh me! Oh life !
Answer — that you are here.. that life exists and identity, that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” – Walt Whitman

About the Author

Abby Williams
Belfast based author/writer specialising in entertainment, mental health and human interest.