by Kelly Harrigan
Is this you? When someone is asked to describe you, they say you are an active, happy, outgoing person. Your friends say you’re a great cheerleader and a huge support to them. Co-workers are amazed at how efficient you are at your job. Your house always looks wonderful. Your typical response is “Everything’s great!”
Yet inside, you feel alone, sad, exhausted beyond words. You suffer from a lack of self-confidence. You do not enjoy your hobbies as much as you once did.
You may be someone who suffers from “smiling depression.”
You present a façade to the world because you think that others are worse off, so why complain? Maybe you feel you are placing a burden on your loved ones if you express your true emotions or that you would be perceived as a “weak” individual. The phrase “I’m fine” gets harder to say every time you’re asked how you are.
The Glitz and the Glamour
We live in an age where almost two-thirds of Americans are on social media and people are inundated with pictures of how seemingly great everyone else’s life is. You follow all your favorite celebrities’ handles and your friends always post their best moments. You may feel that everyone else is living their fairy tale so why didn’t yours come true?
That is a misperception. Most people don’t want to express to the world on social media sites that they aren’t living their best life every minute for fear of being rejected, being told to try harder, or to buck up and get on with it. To quote Rufus Sewell’s character in “A Knight’s Tale,” “You have been weighed. You have been measured. You have absolutely been found wanting.” No one wants to be judged, feel as though a stigma is attached to them, or that they’ve been labeled a “problem.” This constant presentation of people’s best sides on social media creates a void of realness and paves the way for high-functioning individuals to smile as they silently suffer.
Great expectations may also increase your risk of smiling depression. Perhaps you are a perfectionist. You feel you ought to live up to the expectations of your family, friends, and co-workers. Or maybe after scrolling through your social media feed, you feel pressured to be bigger and better at everything. Perceptions of what others desire of you, or the impossibly high standards you set for yourself, can lead to an increased risk of smiling depression.
I don’t have any depressive symptoms.
The WHO (World Health Organization) has presented research showing that people suffering from smiling depression often present conflicting depressive symptoms to that of classic depression, which may complicate a diagnosis. Maybe you think it is easier to cheer up your friends than yourself. You laugh along yet inside there is an emptiness. You tell yourself everything is fine although it’s exhausting to present that façade to everyone. That sense of loneliness is pervasive because you think no one would understand you. You cannot self-validate and use self-deprecating humor to cover your true feelings. You cry when you are alone. You’ve built this fortress around your heart with walls that extend a mile high. You don’t want to be a burden because you have to be strong for others. You experience physical symptoms related to depression which doctors may incorrectly diagnose as a physical ailment. You deserve an Academy Award for Best Actor/Actress in a starring role from the feature film “Your Life.” These statements present the picture of how smiling depression manifests itself.
Treatments include medication, psychotherapy and, of course, lifestyle changes. It could be the hardest thing for you to do, but it may be the most important step you can take for yourself: Talk to someone. Let us see your genuine smile.