happy face

all the cliches describe it as something that, with the right tools and craftsmanship, can be fixed. just like that. we’ve all seen them, the images of the person in her pajamas, slumped on the couch, with a blank gaze fixed on nothing in particular. the doll in constant need of being wound up in order to keep moving. the sullen expression on a mother’s face as her kid pleads for attention. the man who can hardly walk his dog, much less toss a frisbee for it to retrieve. these images are weak echoes of the reality. they don’t speak to the smothering feeling of inertia that grips your core. depression makes you feel like your every move, every thought, every task, is one so close to impossible the distinction is easily missed. it’s like being in a hole that only burrows deeper with each effort to tread above sea level. a feeling of stuck-ness that wraps itself around your limbs like a shirt two sizes too small. depression is tuberculosis of the mind. it consumes each cell of your existence until you feel too weak to do anything more than just let it take over. eat you alive.

what those images on television don’t depict are the people who “look” happy but really aren’t. for some of us, we are masters of presenting the appearance that we have it together; my mantra has always been to look better than i feel. so i can do my makeup, and iron my clothes–with great effort, be mindful– and present an otherwise “normal” facade. i’ve mastered the “happy face” and the ability to look ready for anything the day may bring even as i’m ready to hide under the covers.

not everyone who is depressed “looks the part.” many of us spend what little energy we have keeping the appearance of strength because we have too much pride to let people in on the reality that we are in fact in a rut. i don’t even know if you can call it a rut after so many years. but the point is that perception is nine-tenths of reality. most people don’t see the sadness that frames my eyes; they see the mascara i’ve carefully applied to open them up. most people don’t notice the forced smile because it’s so practiced it appears natural. most people don’t think i could fathom the consumptive existence of depression, because i simply don’t look like someone who feels like shit. i’m good at that. if nothing else, i’m good at not looking how i feel. a master of the stage. thing is, i don’t know how to redirect that energy toward actually feeling better; i don’t know how not to put so much effort into looking the part in order to have energy to pick myself up. and the road to faking it doesn’t necessarily fork into making it.

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