themighty logo

When Your Automatic Smiles Hide the Depression Underneath

I had someone tell me today that they appreciated how I was always smiling. Their day had been difficult and they were cheered by my smiles and laughter. Knowing they meant very well but caught off guard, I nervously laughed and said, “Well, I try.” But their comment stuck with me for the rest of the day. Looking back, what I thought was, “Yes I am always smiling. Because smiling is easier than telling the truth.”

For many people, mental illness means they can’t function during attacks. Mine has never been like that. When my depression or anxiety hits, it is relatively unnoticeable to other people. I smile, laugh, talk and act very normally even if my thoughts are screaming at me. My “autopilot function” is very well-programmed. In fact, I tend to smile more to take the attention away from any small offsetting differences.

Honesty and transparency get hard when mental illness strikes. Even if I want to be honest and open up to people, it’s hard. There are many reasons behind this.

Many times it is because my autopilot function makes me respond certain ways without even considering it. For example, when someone asks how I am, I automatically say I’m good or tired (which is not unusual or someone in school). Anything beyond that takes a lot more brainpower than I usually have in those moments.

Sometimes it feels like nobody understands what you are going through, so why bother. Their lives seem perfect, beautiful and easy, so they probably have no idea what intense anxiety feels like. Yes, I know it’s irrational, but it happens.

Alternatively, I feel like my struggles are small and insignificant compared to the things others are going through. I hate to feel like I’m just whining when other people are going through severe illness or grief. Certainly, they don’t want to hear about something as small as how my brain hates me.

Most often though, it’s because I don’t understand what I’m going through. I can’t explain what an anxiety attack feels like, nor what depression’s lack of feeling causes, and least of all what triggers these episodes. They just happen. It’s like explaining what something tastes like to a person who has never tried said food. You can use some adjectives or compare it to how something else tastes, but in the end, all you can say is “It’s just… good.” They won’t know how it truly tastes until they’ve tasted it themselves. Mental illness can be like that. I don’t understand any of this crap, so how can I make someone else understand?

Smiles are the best mask a person could ever wear. They hide loneliness, grief, fear, doubt and pain better than anything else because they represent happiness. Because obviously someone who is smiling could never be in pain.

Smiles are like diamonds. Genuine ones are virtually unbreakable and can withstand much pressure. However, they are also very rare. Fake ones, made of glass, imitate these precious jewels but are fragile and only a small impact can shatter them. To someone who cannot tell the difference, either makes them happy. But someone who studies gems. just like people, can often tell the difference. Sometimes the glass needs to break.

Look behind the smile. Every person has their own struggles. The best actors hold many secrets. Don’t be afraid to shatter the glass.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Halfpoint