Hiding Behind a Smile
A smile -
People put it on when they're happy or nervous.
Others put it on to be polite.
Some smile to acknowledge a person's presence.
And some people smile to hide the pain. That is me.
I never learned the term “smiling depression” until about five years ago, but it totally describes how I have dealt with depression over the years. “People suffering from smiling depression may offer no hint of their problem to the outside world. They often maintain a full-time job, run a family household, participate in sports, and have a fairly active social life. With their mask on, everything looks great, even at times perfect. However, underneath the mask they are suffering from sadness, panic attacks, low self-esteem, insomnia, and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.”
I always described it as living a double life. I put on my makeup in the morning, walk out the door and put a smile on my face. I did this for so many years that it became second nature. I became really good at it; people actually believed I was happy and calm. I even had people say things like “I wish I was as easy-going as you.” I just smiled because I knew that I was just the opposite of that. Little did they know I was anxious, miserable and hopeless when I wasn’t in public.
I never had any plans to stop hiding behind my smile, but as the years passed and my illness progressed, it got increasingly difficult to smile through the pain. When I was going through multiple medication adjustments after my diagnosis, I was having daily panic attacks, sometimes multiple in a day. I always tried to get out of the panic attack before anyone noticed, but one day I got one so bad that I found myself in a co-worker’s office crying and totally convinced I was having a heart attack. I could not catch my breath and felt like I was really dying that time. There was no smiling through that.
This "coping technique" is physically and mentally exhausting. Keeping up the facade takes a lot of brain power, planning and constant fighting against your feelings. When you finally let your real self come out at the end of the day, you feel absolutely drained. Not to mention, it's very lonely. You know you aren't being your authentic self and although you know you aren't the only one going through these things, you feel totally alone. I lived in New York City, surrounded by millions of people, but no matter how many were around me, I felt like I didn't have anyone to turn to.
Depression is good at convincing you that you are a burden to those who love you. I knew I didn't want to put my problems on anyone, so I always tried to smile through it and just be fine. I figured I'd fake it til I made it. There is some science behind that theory; when you smile, even when you don't feel like it, it helps you feel a little better. But, I don't think that is going to pull anyone out of clinical depression.
I found this poem I wrote to my depression when I was going through old computer files. This was written ten or more years ago. What I have learned since then is I will never be totally free from depression on my own. The fact is, I will always need help in the form of medication and therapy. This doesn't make me weak. Instead, it allows me to take control back and break free from that prison I described.
You have held me close
With your controlling ways
You have strangled me
And have robbed me of precious time
You have made me shake and made me cry
Made my stomach flip and
You have choked me
And taken my breath from me
You have locked me inside a prison
With invisible bars
I refuse to let you control my life
You don’t have the power that my
Subconscious believes you do
I have more control than I have exercised
I am cutting the strings that you have tied
Around my body and spirit
I am breaking through the bars you’ve put up
I may need help right now to escape your grip
But someday, I will be free of you with my own power