I recently read an article “When Smiling Hurts: 10 Reasons People with Depression Feign Happiness” and it definitely resonated with me. The reasons they mention for why people fake happiness are:
Feeling they may be letting others down if they aren’t doing well
Not wanting to alarm or cause others to worry about him/her
Fearing disclosure of depression conveys weakness, personal flaw, or vulnerability
Feeling if they act the part of “being happy” they will be happy
Feeling like they are alone in their unhappiness, e.g., others will not understand
Feeling they need to live up to other people’s expectations of who they are
Intense need or desire to make other people happy, although, they do not feel happy
He/she is ashamed of being depressed
He/she doesn’t recognize they are clinically depressed but hide behind a façade of normalcy
He/she is concerned about what others may think of them or view them, e.g. personal image.
As someone who has put on a happy face for most of my life, I can say all of these were reasons I faked being happy at one point or another. In my professional life, my personal image was definitely the main reason I pretended to be fine. I didn’t want anyone I worked with to think I was incapable of doing my job. If they saw me in the midst of a panic attack or when tears snuck out for no reason, I felt they would lose confidence in my ability as an employee. In my personal life, I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want my family to worry about me and I didn’t want the few friends I had to desert me because I was a downer. Secretly, I always hoped that if I pretended to be happy for long enough, it would come true.
The article goes on to discuss “reasons why wearing a mask doesn’t work.” Those reasons include:
You have to force yourself to convey a feeling/emotion you do not feel genuinely
You have to put it on and take it off often, it does not stay in place
Wearing a mask becomes more difficult to wear over time
The reasons behind the need to wear the mask still exist
Putting on the mask becomes increasingly exhausting
The only person we are fooling are ourselves
Whatever we are trying to hide will eventually come to light
“Wearing a mask becomes more difficult over time” hits the nail on the head for me. After wearing my own mask for 20+ years, it gets harder to keep up the act. In fact, I don’t do it as well as I used to. My threshold for stress is lower and my anxiety and depression is triggered much easier than it used to be. I realized how true this is when I began working part-time in addition to my freelance work. Although the part-time work was “flexible”, it’s not as flexible as being you own boss completely like I am with my other clients. For a part-time job I’m expected to be there on certain days and certain times. As I went through medication changes over the last few months, my brain didn’t cooperate with these new demands. It was really hard to put on my mask and pretend I was fine as I sat at work.
My work experiment has made me realize that I do have limitations and instead of faking being fine, I need to be honest with myself. I can work and I work very hard for my clients, but I do not work well in a traditional setting. The stress that accompanies the demands of a “real” job is too much. It triggers anxiety and agitation that I don’t need in life. My freelance work is just as real as when I go into an office; it’s just different and on my own terms.
I definitely think you come to a point where you are forced to face the truth, whether you want to or not. Nobody can hide behind a smile forever. The sooner you do what you need to do to take care of yourself, the sooner a genuine smile will shine through.