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Depression Wears a Smile When It Has No Other Choice

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Is it any wonder depression is so high and hides behind a smile when we live in a culture that ignores, misunderstands trauma and silences feelings? It silences struggles or feelings it deems unacceptable, yet are natural and need to be felt and processed. Suppressing them only hinders healing and causes more struggling. We’re in a culture obsessed with toxic positivity because it’s uncomfortable with the natural human experience of feelings. Examples are children being told not to cry, that “big boys don’t cry,” girls praised when smiling through the pain, children conditioned to believe not crying when they feel or are hurt is a badge of honor.

Working with children, I see this when they see a peer crying and, from a young age, announce they fell and didn’t cry. When adults tell children, “You’re OK! It’s nothing! Stop crying! That’s enough!” It is any wonder feelings we have learned are seen by others as scary and “wrong” get bottled up or expressed through maladaptive ways of self-soothing through self-harm or addictions and manifests in depression? After all, depress means to push down, and that’s exactly what the message is.

It is any wonder when we live in a world that isn’t meeting our needs? The need to be understood, to be seen, to be heard. The need to feel and be safe. How can depression not manifest with social inequalities? When poverty is an issue, long working hours exploit people, lack of housing and unaffordable houses, flats, etc. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism and all other forms of oppression. It’s not enough to tell people to talk or reach out, we should be reaching out to one another.

Also, what’s the point in talking when many times others may silence us or dismiss, invalidate and minimize our experience and pain? When waiting lists for help are so long or we are not offered support if we are suicidal? When we fear being hospitalized and when this can increase greater distress if not met with the respect and support we deserve. When many still see those who are suicidal or attempt suicide or have lost lives to suicide as selfish, cowards, weak and “just mentally ill?”

Natural responses to trauma and adversity labeled a disease rather than a dis-ease, depression is a wound and is emotional as much as biological. Our minds and bodies are not separate from one another. Our emotions are held in our bodies and emotional pain can manifest in many diseases or bodily ailments. It deserves attention not stigmatization. Even the way we see emotional pain is problematic, someone struggling is expected to look a certain way or else their pain is either missed or dismissed.

Of course, we are going to smile to hide the pain when that pain is negatively perceived or received. Of course, we can still be functional and we need to be to survive and pay the bills even. Of course, we are going to put on a mask, in fear of being judged, not seen as brave, feeling we must be incompetent instead of feeling normal because it’s normal to bleed if we get injured, even emotionally.

It’s OK not to be OK; this has nothing to do with our character. How can we not feel or become depressed when we cannot be our authentic selves, when society doesn’t accept us for who we are? It tells us we are worthy only on conditions of worth. We need to be a certain way, look, act a certain way, be perfect, be who society wants us to be to feel accepted and right and feel we belong, or else we are ostracized. When we live in a superficial and judgmental world.

What is really being done to prevent and support mental health? We need to kill the stigma that kills so many struggling with depression. We need to heal the traumatized world we live in. We need to create a safe and equal environment free from oppression, a world based on empathy and respect. A world where authenticity, individuality and diversity is embraced, a world that doesn’t silence emotions and understands all our emotions are messengers, part of our humanity, that we can learn to manage them, that we have a right to them and to process them. That struggling is part of being human and we need to feel free to express it, we need our pain acknowledged and heard.

Being dismissed and unsupported or living in a traumatized world will cause suffering and greater suffering. I’m tired of smiling when changes need to happen, I’m tired of smiling because it’s “easier” than being hurt by dismissive comments, I’m tired of smiling to make others comfortable or because I’m told to. I’m tired of people believing depression doesn’t look a certain way and I’m tired of the world being easily fooled by a smile because it wants to see everything but my emotional pain.

Getty image by luisrsphoto

Originally published: April 17, 2021
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