Does my smile offend you?

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The wider discussion surrounding mental health has done a lot to diminish the stigma of suffering mental difficulties, leading more people to become open and share their stories. Hearing that others are going through the same struggles undoubtedly helps, but it has also brought about a secondary issue. Nowadays it is rare to scroll through social media without coming across posts on ‘how I overcame adversity’, ‘breaking free from stress’ or ‘finding the path to better mental wellbeing.’ Certain journeys of recovery may be helpful, but too often mental wellbeing is commercialised, flooding the internet with false promises, insincere messages and unrealistic goals. 

As someone that has suffered on and off with mental health issues for some time, it makes it difficult to know how to voice your journey. Do you celebrate the highs and ignore the lows? Do you remain uninvolved in an important conversation because you don’t feel you have the answers? Or do you risk revealing the reality, no matter how hopeless it may seem? 

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It’s been a tough old year for me which has ranged from feeling more hopeful on days, to not being able to get out of bed and convincing myself I’m a crazy person. Crazy, because I keep doing the same things and hoping that the outcome will somehow be different. Despite my love of all things active, I’ve lost the drive to exercise and instead thrown myself into my freelancing work to distract myself from life. My body is trying to tell me something as I’ve broken out in stress-induced psoriasis and I’ve abused it in return, turning to wine and junk food as we all do for comfort at times. 

I resisted help and medication for a long time, my perception being that I should be strong and resourceful enough to find my way out of these problems and that these drugs only served to dull your senses and numb you to life. Fortunately, this was not the case and I will remain ever grateful to my GP for convincing me to give them a go and for offering me free support during my worst times. 

 stress-induced psoriasis 

stress-induced psoriasis 

Shaped by social expectations, preconceptions and misgivings I’ve become someone I often don’t recognise, someone not willing to put their true emotions on display. I’ve become defensive, withdrawn and to many on first meeting me, cold and distant. I’ve struggled to share my story not because I feel mental health is stigmatised, but because there are so many people professing to have come through the other side, those with hope and confidence and I have neither to offer. I am not recovered (I’m not even sure such a thing exists), I’m just performing a constant balancing act. 

When I do open up, people are surprised that I should suffer from these difficulties. That because I am depressed I shouldn’t be confident and outgoing, shouldn’t post smiley photos on social media, because it all paints a false picture of what depression should look like. It was even suggested to me that if I wanted to find help and support I should try looking a bit sadder. The truth is that we still haven’t truly recognised the face of mental illness. Depressed people should look sad, anorexics shouldn’t be photographed with food and alcoholics belong on park benches, not sitting next to us in the office. 

 Happy times with my son

Happy times with my son

I’m an expert at putting on a mask, I wear one to work, when I box and often when I’m out with people I don’t know. Because people are more comfortable with the mask, thats what I think they want to see. For it to become easier for people to talk we need to be willing to listen to more varied stories on mental health, not just the bright happy ones, but the dark, sad and disturbing ones too.

So yes, my social media may be selective and represent the happier times in my life because these are the ones worth remembering. But don’t judge me for hiding my sadness behind a mask, just be conscious that even depression can wear a smile.