The Irrational Mind

Hiding Behind Smiles

I had lunch with a good friend the other week. He’s the only person I’ve consistently maintained contact with since high school; we just get each other.

We chatted about various parts of our lives in a cozy little booth at a Panera Bread. I watched him tear away at his bread bowl while I munched on a less-than-vegetarian salad and sandwich. We laughed and gossiped and complained. Since I’m recently married, he asked if Matt and I were planning on having children any time soon.

“Not for a few years,” I said between mouthfuls. “I’m still trying to get myself together right now. Have you seen Silver Linings Playbook?”

For those unfamiliar, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence that portrays daily life for people struggling with mental illnesses–bipolar disorder and depression (maybe BPD?), respectively, along with other ticks. Robert DeNiro plays Cooper’s father in a somewhat stereotypical OCD role.

Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for best actress for her role in the film. In one scene, she talks about how her husband wanted children:

Some of that is just me, some of it was he wanted me to have kids and I have a hard enough time taking care of myself. I don’t think that makes me a criminal.

That quote really registered with me. While I’ll never be 100% perfect, I want to be in a better place before I have to go off my medicinal cocktail to have children.

Back in the world of lunch, my friend was watching me. He looked thoughtful.

“It’s really interesting, you know. I never had any idea in high school that you had issues. You always seemed so happy; you were always smiling.” He laughed, “Well, I guess you’re still smiling.”

Smiling has always been a bit of a coping mechanism for me. I learned at a young age that even my normal resting face (although not quite at the level of “chronic bitchface“) garnered choruses of “what’s wrong?” from family and friends. I have a very expressive face and I’m often thinking or processing something; teachers and others would and still do call me out if my face seems to suggest I don’t understand something. (Goodness. Just give me a second to think.)

When you’re smiling, people assume you are happy. For some reason, no one ever asks “what’s right?” to people that are smiling. I learned that if I could maintain a smile, I could think without being interrupted. People would stop asking “what’s wrong?” and move on to ignoring me. I liked that option a lot more.

While fake smiling is not the worst of my coping mechanisms (that would be binge eating), it still has its downfalls. It inspires comments like “you don’t look depressed” or “how are you so happy?” I’m not. I’m just smiling. It’s a form of lying through body language.

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