Friday, July 23, 2010

Wearing a grin. Friday, July 23, 2010.

“Fake it ‘till you make it.” –AA slogan

Sometimes when someone commits suicide, they leave dozens of clues ahead of time. They are obviously depressed and release their pain to anyone who will listen. They may even announce their intentions, whether they are taken seriously or not.

Others leave their loved ones shocked and bewildered. “He seemed so happy all the time,” they’ll say. “We had no idea he was depressed.”

Some of us can hide feelings better than others. Personally, I suck at it. I’ve never been able to feign happiness or laughter convincingly, and trying to act happy when I’m not just leaves me feeling more depressed. It becomes even harder when I WANT to appear happy because I don’t want to upset or worry people (or bring them down).

And yet any therapist will tell you that depression only begats more depression. That’s because when we’re depressed, we do depressing things. And we don’t listen to the suggestions of well-wishers who urge us to do “happy” things to cheer us up. Told to go out with friends, we isolate at home. Told to read a book on positive thinking, we re-read the saddest novel we know. Told to go out in the sun, we stay inside with the drapes drawn, watching infomercials and eating Doritos.

Someone who has never been clinically depressed really can’t understand why we don’t just “snap out of it” (a topic for another day). Because they assume that when they feel a bit blue, it feels the same as our attacks of depression, they assume these happy little diversions will do the trick.

But there is a grain of truth to what they are saying. We might not be able to “get happy,” but we can prevent ourselves from becoming even more depressed. Let me ask an honest question: if you are a “cutter” (and you have plenty of company), which will make you feel better – an afternoon of cutting followed by frantic attempts to stop the bleeding, or a couple of hours volunteering at an animal shelter feeding happy dogs?

Controlling our behavior during a depressive episode does not mean hiding our feelings or pretending to be happy. But it can help to prevent one’s feelings from going from bad to worse. Isn’t it worth a try? Aren’t you worth it?

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