You Think This is My Face

I’m not wearing this mask because I live with bipolar disorder. I wear it because you fear my real one.


Go to any costume store and you will see plenty of masks purporting to depict psychotics. If you are to believe the manufacturers, we are deformed and rabid creatures that are part animal, part alien, and part degenerate. People buy these with a mind to having a good drunken laugh at my expense and that of everyone who shares my affliction or has another related condition such as schizophrenia, borderline disorder and even depression!

Because of this, we wear another kind of facial covering — invisibility. Coupled with this is Silence. We do not talk about our illness much with outsiders — which can include our members of our own family — it is much too dangerous. You deny us jobs, decent housing, and even friendship because you fear an imaginary ax murderer lurking inside our skins.

You see a hockey mask instead of my real face. This is what it looks like:


Yes, you might have walked pass me, completely safe and blissful in your ignorance. I am a husband who has been married for 27 years, a photographer, a support group organizer, a blogger, and a volunteer at the only non-profit native seed farm in the West. You’ve run into me on hikes, chatted with me on the street while I was walking my dog, worked beside me at the Food Bank, and taken my money when I came to your store. As many as one out of 20 people you meet share my condition. I am one of millions.

My illness prohibits me from not knowing myself. I have spent years getting to know how my mind thinks, how it feels. I hold myself accountable for everything that I say and do. I take my meds out of love for my family. I discuss my feelings with others. I am a man who you can trust as a neighbor, cherish as an employee, honor as a friend. Yes, I’ve said and done some crazy things, but I own them. Can you say the same? Do you know your mind? What lurks inside your skin?

I’m taking the mask off. My name is Joel Sax and I live with bipolar disorder. It is just a disease.

Stigma is a hard habit to break, but I know you can do it.

Give me back my face.