When You Feel Pressure to Lie About Being Happy
I do everything possible to make the people around me happy. My children get my hugs, kisses and constant reassurances of my love for them. My friends, the ones I used to have, could always count on me. In fact, I used to take phone calls at all hours of the night to those in distress. Call me anytime. Let me help you. I’ll be there for you.
As a teacher, my students can believe I will never give up on them. As a wife, my husband knows, at least I hope he does, I love him.
Ask me if I’m happy, if I am OK, and I’ll tell you I’m fine. Yes, I’ve recovered from my surgery. No, I don’t feel sad. At church, people ask me how I’m doing, and I’ll provide the biggest smile I can muster and lie right to their faces. Of course, I’m fine. In reality, I lie a lot. Yep, I’m a big fat liar.
Recently, I asked some people on Facebook, “How often do you feel happy and fulfilled? What frequency of happiness do you think is acceptable?”
Here are some of the responses I got:
- “I never thought of happiness as quantifiable. One happy moment to brighten a day can make all the difference.”
- “Can one be happy while not feeling completely fulfilled? And vice versa?”
- “I feel happy most of the time. To me, happiness is what is going on at the time. I try to stay with happy people. I feel [fulfilled] with the fact that I have very few regrets. My age has a lot to do with my answers. Another way to put it is happiness is a mood you are in. I have joy in my heart that stays there. I never understood the difference [between] happiness and joy.
Then, I thought about these responses. Additionally, I thought about the lack of responses. With 298 friends on Facebook, you would think more people would have something to say about happiness. However, I recognize the truth of the situation. First of all, I don’t really have 298 friends. If I really think about it, the only tangible friend I have is my husband.
Who checks in on me when I’m not at church? Who offers to take my phone calls any time I need them? Who really wants to hear how I’m doing? No one wants to talk to someone who is unhappy. It makes them feel bad. The last bulleted response indicates this truth. “I try to stay with happy people.” If I wanted to, then I could point out this means there are severely depressed people out there who feel alone, for exactly this reason. So, I lie.
Yes, I am a liar.
I did a Google search about depression and loneliness. To my surprise, Google has this nifty feature where questions are conveniently answered without going to a specific page. One of these questions was, “Can you really die of loneliness?” Answer: Yes. Yes, you can die of loneliness. In fact, in elderly people, the increased mortality risk is comparable to smoking. Actually, loneliness and social isolation kill more people than obesity.
I realized a long time ago if I wanted anyone to be near me, then I had to feign happiness. No matter how I feel, I am smart enough to know when people ask how you are, you are supposed to tell them you’re OK. In fact, you’re great! Oh yeah, life is copacetic! Let me tell you all the great things I’ve got going on!
Are we all liars?
Of course, I’m not suggesting no one is happy, but if I look at my Facebook feed, then I would swear to the fact that just about everyone is on top of the world. Why would I rock the boat? The real question I should ask is, “How many people lie about being happy?” Although, honestly, no one would answer that question either. Heck, if no one wants to talk about what amount of happiness is acceptable, why would they discuss sadness?
If you aren’t a liar and you’re happy, I am happy for you. Really, I am. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing another human being suffering. I suppose that’s why I want to make sure everyone around me feels good, cared for and loved. Unfortunately, I also know other people lie just like I do. Other people out there silently have depression and tell no one because it’s just not a popular topic.
When I’m in church, I will ask for prayers for people who are sick, who have loved ones dying or who are about to go through medical interventions. Rarely do I stand up and say, “I’m asking for you to pray for me because I’m so depressed that I cry almost every day.” That’s private. I’d rather be a liar than “selfishly” ask for prayers for my mental health. It seems needy and attention-seeking. But is it?
Who wants to suffer alone?
As I sit there and tell people I’m OK, inside I’m screaming for help. Inside, I’m wishing someone would notice I’m hiding a pain no one recognizes. Even more, I want to feel less sh*ty about being depressed. I’ve written about this before. I write as if I am actually not feeling guilty about being sad, but I am. I touched on it some when I spoke about pretending to be happy. Yet, I lied again. The more I lie about the happiness I pretend to experience, the more skilled a liar I become. None of this helps me, and even on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, things just don’t feel right.
What kind of happy person ponders suicide and then shakes it off like a dog shaking off water from a bath it didn’t want? Above all, the loneliness and isolation, paired with the enormous stressors in my life, make me wonder often not only if I would be better off not existing, but if the people who are close to me would benefit from my absence. Do you know the symptoms of depression?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a person with major depression may have one or all of these symptoms “most of the day, nearly every day.”
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Changes in appetite, often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
To me, the bolded symptoms cause incredible feelings of guilt when I think about the people close to me who actually see them. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about myself, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Despite this, I hate who I am most of the time.
When I snap at my husband for what seems to him (and to me) like nothing, I hate myself. When I get irritated with my son for repeating himself over and over, I hate myself. When I get frustrated with my youngest for complaining about his brother, I hate myself. When I look around my house and see all the things I haven’t done, yet feel too overwhelmed to even begin doing anything about it, I hate myself.
What can I do?
Listen, I’ve been through this major depression stuff enough times to know when I need help. I do. I have sought help. I spent hours waiting to see a psychiatrist the other day and then another hour going through all of this with him. To most people, I come off as an incredibly strong person. I get told all the time how strong I am. I’m superwoman. I can do anything. But what if I can’t? What if I fail? What if I just can’t hack it as a wife, a mom, a teacher, a grad school student or a human being?
People suffer from depression all the time, but no one really talks about it in person. Still, to this day, even though famous people like Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Kobain, Jonathan Brandis, Jovan Belcher, Alexander McQueen, Johnny Lewis, Chris Benoit, Ernest Hemingway, Simone Battle, Sylvia Plath and countless others have died by suicide. Depression is an ugly word no one likes to talk about.
So what can I do about this nagging feeling? First of all, I can talk about it or at least, I can write about it. I can inform the public about it. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health has a booklet about depression for those of you who have no idea what you should know about it or how you can help. I still don’t know how to erase the feelings of worthlessness and guilt that come with depression, but I do take my medications. When things get really bad, I make sure I get in to see a doctor right away.
This post originally appeared on Embracing the Spectrum.