I saw a meme floating around Facebook this morning that sort of gut-punched me. It said “Pretending to be happy when you’re in pain is just an example of how strong you are as a person.”
People. I’m about to get a little ranty. Hold on to your hats.
As someone who has battled both depression and anxiety on recurring occasions throughout her life, I can’t begin to tell you what a damaging statement that is.
It says pain is weak. Suffering is weak. It says only weak people hurt. It says that those of us who lie to the world about how we’re feeling are stronger than those of us who don’t. Or can’t.
Well, I call bullshit.
Sure, there are moments when we have to keep trudging along through the sludge of depression when what we’d really like to do is just curl up in bed for a decade and sleep all of our I-don’t-cares away. There are bills to pay and ice creams to be purchased. Sometimes we have to fake it ’til we make it.
But some people can’t fake it. Nor should any of us have to.
For some people, the pain of depression is so debilitating it can’t be shoved aside, and no amount of pretending to be happy will make that pain go away.
I’ve been there. It’s terrible. To feel like you’re going through the motions in your own life, completing tasks but not really living. Unfortunately, there’s not a switch that can be flipped to make a person suddenly feel better. If there were such a switch, I’m pretty sure we’d all have ours locked in the “on” position forever and ever amen.
No one wants to be depressed.
What people who are hurting need to hear isn’t “Oh, just be happy!” What they need is help.
The bootstraps mentality hurts more people than it helps, and quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing it spoken to people who need better help than to be made to feel even more broken than they already feel.
Bootstrapping negates valid emotions, and the emotions that come along with depression are still emotions, even if depression is an asshole that seeps into your brain and makes you think things that aren’t true. By saying that if people just chin up, they’re better, stronger than those who can’t, we’re causing more hurt than we’re healing.
And actually, I think the reverse is true.
I think the people who are open enough to say that they’re battling depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder, or even just a broken heart, are stronger than those who try to hide behind a façade of happiness.
Those are the people brave enough to face the challenges of depression head on. They are aware of their illness, and acknowledging that there’s a problem is the first step toward recovering.
When we admit that some of our places are broken, we can heal them. We can grow stronger in those places.
So, this is me, giving all of you permission to feel how you’re feeling. You don’t really need my permission, but I’m giving it. If you’re happy, that’s awesome. If you’re not happy, don’t pretend to be happy for my sake, or for anyone else’s.
Reach out. Seek help. But don’t ignore your pain and think that if you do it will go away. No more bootstraps, okay?