“I’m going to the supermarket,” I called out. “To the nearest one. Won’t be long,” I called out to nobody in particular, scooped up my purse and walked towards my car. Our local store was a hazardous place at the best of times as the aisles were built to accommodate only one and a half trolleys at any given time. All four wheels seldom worked in unison; three going in one direction while the fourth ran in the opposite direction. For a change, I’d found everything on my list easily and stood in line amongst a multitude of shoppers at the checkout counter wondering whether my son would ever feel happy again.
I realized that no one knew what I was really thinking as I’d become an expert at changing my facial expressions for different occasions. I had become an expert at changing masks. I had a work expression, another for social occasions, a fixed, non-committal expression for psychiatrists and another when with my son, David.
My thoughts were rudely interrupted when a young woman standing in line in another checkout line further along, waved at me; “Hi there. Remember me?” she shouted in a raucous voice. “I – er, remember your face but not your name,” I mumbled, not sure whether she could hear my response or not. “I’m Janie, you know – Janie from the closed ward,” she yelled. I blushed as I looked about to see who had heard her as I was sure that everyone in the store must have been aware of what she’d said. And there I was, wearing my noncommittal mask, looking around suspiciously the same way David did nowadays. “Say Hi to David, Janie yelled.” I nodded, paid and fled.
A perfectly normal moment?
This incident occurred years ago, long before I had learned how to speak out; before I’d learned to ignore the stigma and cope.