SMILEY SADNESS

The truest sentence that I know, is that a smile can conceal great sadness.

Speaking from my own experience, I don’t only cry when I’m sad and only smile when I’m happy. It just isn’t that simple.

I have perfected the art of smiling sadness. I suppose you could say it’s a semi-conscious process. I have to put some effort into it, but the effort is instinctive and done by me more or less on auto-pilot.

As a child I’d feel sad, but be told “don’t be sad, be happy” and the way I demonstrated to them that I’d ‘learned my lesson’ and conformed to what they expected, was to smile.

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A smile is the universal non-verbal sign for happiness, approval, social attunement.

So used to smiling when unhappy am I, (due to this parental indoctrination & brainwashing), that I still now often automatically smile when I feel sad, even when I’m absolutely alone. I don’t need any audience present to compel me to smile when unhappy, I just do it. End of. And they lived happily ever after. etc.

I caught myself doing this a few minutes ago when lying alone in my outdoorsy bed shed (so called because it’s a shed in my garden, with a bed in it!- my sanctuary away from the world.  And I thought, why the actual fuck am I smiling?? I’m feeling bloody AWFUL here. Vulnerable. Low. Empty. Frustrated. Needy. Insecure. Why on earth smile about it?! But then I reasoned, I am not smiling with unbridled enjoyment at my current state of melancholic moodology. I am really just smiling to conceal exactly how sad I really feel, at a time when no fucker can see my face. How does that work? Why summer!? Why!?

I am so good at smiling when I’m unhappy that I spend a lot of my time doing just that-smiling whilst inwardly wilting and sinking and drowning and frowning. I like to think I’m not a fake person. I like to think I am authentic and share my emotions readily and openly and honestly with others- and verbally, I very much do. I am extremely honest and I usually always tell people how I’m really feeling, BUT, I can say all that crap feelingy stuff with a grateful smile plastered all over my face, and that totally does not resonate with what is going on underneath. I say the honest stuff, but in a non-verbal way that communicates the polar opposite of that.

‘Incongruence’ is the posh word for it. My face is incongruent (mis-matched) with my mood.

People say they don’t find me too draining, because (paraphrasing) I’m a ‘cheerful sort of depressive’ and see the humour in my state of mental mis-wiring .

I do actively like to be a non-draining friend to my friends. That’s important to me as I don’t want to drive my friends away, so I suppose I do try and put my best foot forward and not linger too long on the shit stuff, but actually physically smiling to myself when I’m totally alone and unwatched and inwardly feeling terrible IN A GARDEN SHED no less, is just bonkers, isn’t it?

I find the line between sadness and smiles to be paper thin, as is the line between happiness and it’s supposed opposite, pain.

Surges of happiness and euphoria and gratitude, [which to me are experienced particularly intensely due to my BPD], invariably invoke stabbings of pain and sadness- the sad yang to my happy yin.

What they should have taught me at home and at school though, is that life is far more than just discrete categorisations of happy and sad. A sense of one can be coloured and polluted by the sense of an other.

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You can cry happy tears, and/or you can smile the fuck out your sadness. I’ve had to learn all that over the last 36 years on this strange planet.

There is usually some sadness tucked behind my smile, and often a freeing sense of release (that brings accompanying euphoric feelings) when I am acknowledging and sitting with my feelings of sadness, so the confused emotional mix is there, ready to make you smile when alone in garden sheds when you’re feeling shit.

Smiling when you’re sad might well be about (learned) social concealment of genuine emotion to enhance relationships with other humans- it might alternatively be a subconscious attempt to change your mood by manipulating your facial expressions. Smiling when you’re sad is (one of the) key skills of emotional regulation in DBT Skills, a psychological treatment for people with BPD, as it physiologically tricks the brain into thinking we are happy and secure, when we’re actually in pain and feeling threatened. Facial expressions give feedback to the brain about what is happening in the outside environment, so maybe smiling when we feel shit is a good way of diffusing all that internal crap-ness. Or maybe, it is just that emotion is so damn complex that many conflicting emotions can simultaneously be firing off in your brain all at once so you can’t help but smile, no matter what might be happening to you psychologically.

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Whatever the reason, maybe next time I catch myself smiling when feeling sad in the shed, I’ll experiment with allowing my natural emotion to etch-a-sketch its way onto my face, and see what happens to my mood state then.

I shall report back. But until then I shall end this post with a genuine smile, at my enjoyment of my mental health blogging, and how it can make sense of the senseless (or I might just cry about that too) :P

summerSHINES©

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15 thoughts on “SMILEY SADNESS

  1. I can’t believe in DBT they teach you to smile when you are sad! Especially when it is about validating your emotions. My partner does this all the time and it makes him so hard to read. An interesting blog post. All the best, Amy Belle x

  2. ah yes I relate to this, all too well smiling when I am sad it comes natural to me nowadays so used to doing it for the last 37 years. sad really. but hey I want a shed like yours! to escape to! xo

  3. Well there’s something to look forward to :-) I’m sure everyone will be soothed by your posh northern drawl. Haha. It is nice to get those opportunities where you can just feel what you feel with absolutely no pretence. It’s rare people can or do get in touch with their genuine emotions these days. Everyone’s too busy saying ‘I’m okay’ when asked how they are.

  4. Aw that’s a lovely thoughtful comment Paul. Thanks 😊I’m used to concealing my distress in front of the kids that’s right, also sometimes I can’t help but let my true feelings leak out. I was genuinely smiling yesterday when I found out I’m doing a speech at a national Mind drinks reception. Good practise for my bucket list TED talk. 😂😂

  5. So much of this reminds me of a post I did a couple of months ago that talked about optimists and how their fake smiles are actually repressing probable depression inducing shit. This is obviously a much more personal and sinister account of your fake smile. I think we all paint on an upside-down frown, mainly to fool other people more than ourselves. In yours (and mine I guess) the smile is necessity because there are children involved and we need not only to be strong, but to be seen to be strong also. Luckily for me, my son brings me out in natural smiles anyway because he’s amazing :-) All I can say to you is to appreciate the real smiles when they come. Really feel them and don’t just allow the happy moment to pass so easily.

  6. Brilliant post again Summer, the kind I would try and write myself if I were so eloquent :) Hiding behind that smile is an artform, so much so that people who know me were devastated when I revealed why I was really so “over the top” happy. It was easier to smile, say everything was OK, protect myself and then no-one asks any questions. Anyway, enjoyed the post and wishing you a lovely weekend.

  7. I can relate this putting on a smile, when inside you are totally different. I am not as bad doing it now as I was, but I still do it.

    When I did it regular, I did it because it was easier to do this then talk about why I was sad, especially when in the past i have ‘chin up,’ or some sort of negative comment as to why I should not be feeling as I am. So I clam up and smile and say i am fine.

    Now i have a couple of people I can talk to and say how I feel, baring my vulnerability, but writing about it is a lot easier than saying or showing it. i sometimes down want to worry people and so I keep quiet. Hence putting on the odd smile I perfected, saying I am fine. x

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