The Dark Smile. It sounds like something you’d see on a psychopath or in a horror movie. But the horror is real, and not from some movie villain. It is part of the disguise relied on by those struggling with mental health issues. And it was relied on by me this past weekend.
I found myself in the midst of a depressive episode while also being in the midst of a large family gathering. Ironically the depression kept the anxiety I’d normally feel in a large gathering from being an issue because my depression is a lack of energy and an apathy that is all consuming. And not wanting to ruin the weekend for anyone else I put on my dark smile, something I’m well practiced with, and pushed myself through the weekend as well as I could.
It was exhausting, and I know the smile cracked at times, but I made it through.
Some might ask, why don’t I just remove myself from that situation? And the answer is simple. Then the mental illness would win. It is hard sometimes because of my mental illnesses, but I am not my mental illnesses. When the depression lifts, as it started to yesterday, I’d still be left with the memory of time spent with family members who I love and who I enjoy spending time with.
I’ll say it again, I am not my mental illness. And if you are struggling with mental health issues, neither are you. Sometimes I need to I use the dark smile to hide my pain and be around others. That way when the darkness leaves and I re-emerge, the real me, I’ll be left with good memories.
I’m not saying this is right thing for everyone. It is what I do because as much as it costs me to wear that dark smile in the moment, the memories I make are shining stars that can lead me through the next bout of darkness I’ll inevitably have to face.
I know that I am not the only one who uses the dark smile, and if it works for you for similar reasons know that you aren’t alone as well. Maybe someday the darkness will leave us and we’ll be able to leave our dark smile on the trash heap as well. Until then it is the disguise we use when us and our darkness need to be in the world.