Anything Other Than A Smile


As long as there is a smile on my face, is that enough? 

Does that please the masses?  

Does it convince you that all is well? 

Unfortunately in some quarters it seems to be the case…
that if I am smiling people who matter to me choose to ignore the rest. 

And that hurts like hell.

Someone who apparently knows me well, they have certainly been there to watch the journey I have been on for years.  I’d like to think that if they were me, if a friend of mine who I had known forever, if I had seen her go through massive up’s and down’s through many years… I’d like to think that I would know that there is so much more that lies behind the smile.

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

 Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

(Smile – Nat King Cole)

That’s what I’ve been told all my life.  To smile.  Apparently that’s what people want from me and even I can see that a smiley face is so much nicer to look at, and a smiling, laughing person is so much easier to bear than a depressed person. 

It’s a big dilemma because while I was told to smile I have since been taught to have my feelings as they are (through many years of treatment and therapy).  It’s no wonder that I struggled in the beginning of this journey to even know what a feeling was, let alone know what I felt.  I had no idea because I had spent so many years of my life being what I thought people wanted me to be. ‘Happy’.

At the weekend I was visiting family and was laughing with my 19 month old niece L (who I mentioned a few weeks ago in Child’s Play).  She is simply adorable when she laughs.  Actually she’s adorable all the time but her laugh is infectious.  She was laughing at me (and the Imagined Ugliness part of me was trying to ignore this fact because I wasn’t sure what I had done or how bad I might have looked).  The more she laughed, the more she made me laugh, and so it went on.  I don’t think either of us had much idea what we were laughing about but it was fun, and I loved that I was with her after an awful week of pain and distress.

Today I learnt that my laughter with L was taken by someone else in the room to mean that I was all better and that my pain and fatigue were gone.  I’m guessing that they also thought my mental illness was gone.  Sigh.  If only it were that easy. 

This is such a familiar place to be, that an ability to have a few moments fun is wrongly assumed to mean everything is fixed.  No problems.  I tried to explain that this wasn’t the case and that actually I had still been in a lot of pain, but that my pain was not something L would have understood or even known about.  The ability to have a little fun with L made my weekend.  She wouldn’t have connected with me quite like she did if I’d sat in the corner, being how I felt – sad, tired and sore.  She wouldn’t be interested in that kind of Aunty Cate.  And fair enough.  At her age, it is all about being in the moment – carpe diem perhaps.

And that’s okay for L.  She’s 19 months old.  But somehow I expect different from adults.

This has gone on for years, and I admit that my ability to put on an act doesn’t help.  For years I could put aside the outward display of depression when in the company of others, so that I could be what I thought they wanted of me.  They mostly couldn’t cope with my depression, despair or sadness and clearly most people didn’t want to hear about the tortured thoughts and feelings.  So for a while, I could be what they preferred.  I was told this was ‘the old Cate that we always loved and knew’.

I was very unhappy on the day of my wedding and even said to my father (outside the church) “don’t make me go in”.  We did go in, and I did get married.  For hours that day I smiled and looked like I was having a wonderful day as the bride.  Interestingly I don’t have any memories of the day (even shortly after).  I knew I said those words to Dad because it was unfortunately loud and clear as day on the video when we all watched it later.  (and yes, my new husband did ask a few awkward questions).  It was taken as me joking with Dad.  I must have been joking because I appeared so happy throughout the day.

I’ve spent my life putting on an act, so much so that at times it’s hard to know which is the real me.  Part of it comes from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  In a display of my distorted sense of self I adapt to my circumstances.  I know it works against me in the long run, but at the time it saves me.  It makes me fit into my environment when otherwise I would be at a compete loss.  Another part comes from me the Preacher’s Kid.  The expectations on Preacher’s Kids were then then quite hard.  We were expected to be nice, quiet and…   of course, happy.

Combine that with a general public inability to get their head around the fact that everyone does this play-acting to a certain extent.  We all know no one wants to see or hear all the time that we are in pain (physical and/or mental). 

And I can take it from L.  I don’t expect her to comprehend any of what I face each day but I do expect people who are adults, who know me well, who should have some understanding of pain to realise it doesn’t all go away, the moment there is a smile on my face.

A good ending…
It was so nice when my sister-in-law rang later and asked if I was okay that day.  She knew that me laughing with L for a few moments did not take everything else away.  She chose to see that there was more than the smile and laughter, and her acknowledgment of that made all the difference.  It helped me feel a little less invisible to the world.

“I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone,
fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am
invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

 – Ralph Ellison


7 thoughts on “Anything Other Than A Smile

  1. It always infuriates me when people think laughing or smiling means everything suddenly gone away. Just because we have issues doesn’t mean we can’t do those things sometimes!

  2. My smiling face ALWAYS makes people think I’m happy/cured/fixed/everything’s fine!! I wonder what would happen if I purposely chose to go about frowning — I don’t think I could do it, however, because I programmed at an early age to ALWAYS smile!!

    I wish I could hit “OH THIS IS SO TRUE” button!!

  3. Pingback: (At Least) 67 Seasons In One Day | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

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