You post photos of yourself at work, out with friends having the time of your life. But inside your struggling, fighting a war no one knows about. And it feels like your losing.
It has taken me some time to finally sit down and write this, but I feel like it’s a story that needs to be shared. Coming to terms with anxiety and depression have been tough. Years ago I developed PPD after giving birth to my daughter, which only intensified after having two miscarriages a few years later.
Dealing with a divorce, becoming a single parent, living with her parents and numerous other stresses in my life have hit me head on, often in ways, I would have never imagined. Since I’ve never been one to vent my true personal feelings to others or even relay the message of “I’m hurting”, I did what I always do: I smiled.
Depression can take on many forms, my depression is hidden behind a smile.
The mask is very simple
But yet the thickest
Of all the masks
It is rarely removed
I learned how to hide my depression behind a smile many years ago. In fact, working at Walt Disney World you learn how to behave “on stage” and “off stage”. I began applying these methods originally meant for working in customer service to my everyday life.
Have you ever thought to imagine the number of people you pass on a daily basis who are smiling, upbeat, and joyful? Meanwhile internally they’re falling apart, trying to fight this rage that’s deep within them. When we speak of depression, depressive folks are often depicted as constantly crying, lying in bed 24 hrs, unkempt hair, unable to move and unable to do the simplest of tasks. But as a parent, I know that this is not possible. And as a single parent, it’s damn near 100% impossible to do for me to do even half of that. Not having the ability to let your guard down and remaining strong for yourself and your children is a struggle for many single parents. With so much to worry about, it’s no wonder depression and anxiety are at all-time highs.
Not everyone experiences depression in the same way. Some may be chipper and happy, others may be moody and angry. Still, others may just cut themselves off from the world altogether. Depression does not have a certain look it, does not gravitate towards a certain type of person, or any type of situation. You can have everything in the world but still be unhappy. It’s not because you’re hard to please or you’re just never satisfied. Depression does not discriminate.
The truth that remains
That were scared to admit
So we hide in plain sight
With a collection of masks
The ones we wear
To make someone elses day
The hallmark of smiling depression is smiling. For years I have used my smile and external does facade as a defense mechanism. Never Letting on to the fact that I am really truly hurt and unable to cope with a situation and things that are going on with me daily.
You can consider my smile as a mask. We all wear masks daily and my smile is just in one of my mask used to hide how I truly feel.
Underneath this mask is sadness, anger, low self-esteem, panic attacks and insomnia.
We all wear masks
One way or another
Even if we think we dont
They are used to cover our flaws.
The ones we dont want others
To know about
The secrets we hide
Which continue to break
Our heart every day
The ability to leave no hint that your world is secretly falling apart while projecting constant happiness is a constant struggle. Often leaving me completely exhausted by the end of the day, that’s when the real struggles come. When my mood has decreased and my frustrations increased, and I am unable to cope with even the simplest of things, this is when I have my nightly breakdowns. After the kids are gone to bed and the house has quieted down, alone with the lights down, the TV on mute: I sit and cry.
I am one of those who initially considered getting help as a sign of weakness. I was strong. Everyone is always commenting on my strength. My ability to handle situations without breaking a sweat. But I now realize this is just one of the repercussions of my smiling depression. I succeeded with my mask. I won. I projected such an image of happiness and stability that no one knew what was really going on inside. They didn’t know that my ability to cope with every little thing was a lie when in reality I am just like everyone else in need of help.
No one ever knows
What hurts the mask-carrier
All the time.
Its just one word
You Have People Who Love You And Want Help You
As a perfectionist, I often set very high expectations for myself. Ambitious high achieving types are usually those most at risk for smiling depression. For years I’ve lived with the impression that it’s better to project an image of calm and well put together, than that of “crazy” or “unstable”. Divulging my struggles to close friends and family was not an option. Opening myself in a way that could lead to my vulnerability scared me. I just wasn’t ready.
Sometimes I forget those closest to me would be happy for me to open up to them in the same way they would for me. Feeling like a burden to those around you is a common feeling for depressed individuals, but it is often time rooted in falsehoods.
And Then You Have People That Don’t Want To Hear It
It messes me up knowing black girls and women must live life as magicians, wonder women, always digging deep to deal with everyday aggressions from white people, black men, state institutions, religious bodies, jobs, and so much else.
Have you ever tried to divulge those feelings but it fell flat? I’ve opened myself up in the past and my feelings were promptly brushed off because “well at least your not….” or “be happy it’s not…”
Worse yet, divulging those feelings and being told you need to pray about it instead. In the black community, we are raised to believe you can overcome anything with prayer. Insisting that someone is suffering because they don’t have a relationship with God is not only insulting but at the moment it could mean a matter of life or death and your choosing to focus (nitpick) on the details.
The stigma that “black people don’t have these problems” have become harmful over the years to the black community. Now more than ever we have young black girls and boys not seeing any other way out of situations because they have no on to talk to.
Social Media Silencers
When it comes to social media and sharing I’m never going to be one to tell people don’t share your feelings. Take a look at your friends’ list, you can spot the people that are constantly negative and downplaying others struggles. Do yourself a favor and get rid of those folks. They aren’t worth your time or energy.
Despite your efforts to be positive, there will always be someone that has a problem with what you say. The problem will always be with them not you. If posting motivational quotes on your Facebook page is what helps get you through the day, then do it!!
When people get comfortable silencing others and telling them how to voice or deal with their frustrations it becomes dangerous and you are putting someone’s life at risk. Not everyone has close friends or family to talk to, some can’t afford quality care, so should we discourage them from speaking out altogether because it makes you uncomfortable or annoyed?
As I’ve gotten older, I start to look at things in a different way. What was not so obvious as a child or even young adult, becomes more in your face as you grow and mature. Maybe it’s because I have my own children now, but I would never want them to feel like they have to go through life faking a smile just to make others comfortable.
THIS IS ME
I have smiling depression. I’m not ashamed of it and I never will be. I have learned that being open about what hurts you most is the only way to heal. For those of you that are struggling and afraid to let others see your vulnerable side, it’s never too late to open up your heart and try.
Your not a burden.
You are loved.
You are needed.
Your ideas matter.
Your voice matters.
“Learning to speak from the depths of your heart will take you into a miraculous new territory. Give yourself a little grace every now and then.”-Nicole Caudle
Mask and Smile by Nicole Caudle
Community by Rupi Kaur from The Sun and Her Flowers
Water, melanin, bones, blood. In route to death, while I’m here, might as well get shit accomplished.
Photographer, fitness enthusiast, blogger, and mother of two.