By Melissa Whitaker

Posts tagged ‘Anxiety’

It’s All a Masquerade

Illustration of woman with Mask over her eyes.
“Masquerade” Digital Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Mardi Gras. A time of living it up before you have to live it down. My first visit to the Big Easy was this past weekend and I was taken in by the extravagance that was displayed. The people of Louisiana do not do things in small quantities and that includes dressing up or down, whatever the case may be. On Saturday, I attended my first Mardi Gras parade, the Krewe of Iris, which is considered the oldest and largest all-female Krewe in New Orleans. Iris members always wear white gloves and masks, as proper ladies are suppose to do according to traditional southern customs, and they did not disappoint.

As I watched the parade march down the street and the people reaching out for beads, doubloons, and other paraphernalia I was handed a mask to disguise myself with. It was as if the act of putting a mask on would make me a different person. A person that was accepted for their anonymity. This made me think about the masks we wear everyday in the attempts to fit it to society and what is expected of us.

When I was a child I attempted to be just like the others in order to be accepted in to a group. My sister, who was captain of the cheer leading squad, appeared to be popular to me, so I tried out for the cheer leading squad every year in the hopes of belonging. Never made it, I was too much of a klutz. I auditioned to be a baton twirler, because of the cute boots they wore, only to be hit on the head with the baton. (You would think that would have knocked some sense into me). Nothing I did seemed to work. I was destined to be a loner on the sideline.

“I think art comes from some sense of discomfort with the world, some sense of not quite fitting with it.” ~ Yann Martel

The only place that I ever felt I truly fit was in the art room. That was my safe place and the one place I felt accepted for who I was. I could enter into my own little world that I created. The only place I could honestly be me. I still joined clubs, made a few friends here and there, all in the vain hopes of belonging somewhere, only to realize that life is often better on the fringes of society.

The truth is we are all chameleons, we adapt to what is around us. We put on masks everyday to disguise our true selves, because when the masks come off, our biggest fear is we may be rejected for who we are Not. “I am not pretty enough. I am not skinny enough. I am not witty enough. My clothes are not the correct brand. I’m not popular enough. I’m not as good as they are. I’m not worthy.” A constant cadence under the mask.

What I have come to realize is there are some of us who do better standing on the fringes of society because we are NOT part of the krewe. We are the ones who take a different path. We are not afraid of the unknown, because we live there in our heads everyday. We are the ones who often set the trends that the others follow. We are the ones who see what needs to be changed and make the difference.


“I came to terms with not fitting in a long time ago. I never really fitted in. I don’t want to fit in. And now people are buying into that.” ~ Alexander McQueen

Everyone has a desire to “fit in” at some point in their lives. The desire comes and it goes, but we all have to take our masks off at some point and accept who we are and not be afraid of who we are not. We all have idiosyncrasies, that’s what makes us unique and interesting. I for one am a klutz and must endure a lot of bruising, but it has made me learn to laugh at myself. I am cute, curvaceous, a smart ass with several different sizes of clothes in her closet. I have a wide range of friends who I can count on to be there for me when needed and I am very much worthy of this life.

Now take your mask off. I double dog dare you.

Between Two Elephants

“Heebie Jeebies” Digital art by Melissa Whitaker

The above artwork is strange and bizarre, but an anxiety attack can be just as strange and bizarre. For as long as I can remember this particular vision would pop up out of nowhere. I say vision because it would happen while fully awake. I would be quietly sitting in math class and then, without any warning, I would be stuck between two elephants boxing. My heart would race and my head would throb with every punch that was thrown. As a child, I had no idea what was happening but I knew the elephants were not real, so I kept quiet about it. It was not real, so I did not have to address it.

The elephants would enter the arena with their satin robes draped over their massive shoulders. The crowd would start cheering and the first punch would be thrown POW!! The crowd would roar with excitement as I would cringe in fear of being trampled. WHAM!! my head would pound with the resonance of a timpani drum. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. My heart would march along to the rhythmic tempo and accelerate as the cheering would get louder. Meanwhile, those sitting around me casually went on with the math lesson not knowing of the battle going inside of me.

These attacks would strike at some of the oddest moments. I could never be sure when the elephants would appear, but the one place they never appeared was when I was drawing, so the art room became my sanctuary and comfort.

Art to me is extremely therapeutic. There is a zen-like quality to immersing oneself into a creative state of mind. Allowing the emotion to ebb through and come out on to the canvas, paper, tablet, or the pixels of digital art, is a release of the anxiety that can get bottled up within. When my life gets chaotic or stressful and I don’t make time for my creativity to flow, that is when the elephants make their appearance and can stampede through my mind. Exercising the inner muse is my way of calming the herd of judgment and self-doubt that can accompany the anxiety.

I have a friend who is always scolding me for putting others before myself. He sees the destruction that happens to my soul and ultimately my art when I neglect myself. The anxiety builds up to the point where I feel trapped between two boxing elephants. That is the time to stop, take a moment, breathe, and realize that I am in control and not the elephants. I have the choice of crouching in fear or standing up and proclaiming myself as the champion in the ring.

I choose.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18-54 have anxiety disorders. 54% woman and 46% of men experience anxiety in some form. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sites that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety.

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