“She was drowning, but nobody saw her struggle”
I’m working on a presentation on Smiling Depression/High Functioning Depression. This is when someone appears to have it all together but they are imploding and at high risk for suicide and self-harm. In preparation, I was reminded of a young woman I shared time with in my late teens early twenties. I’ve since lost touch with this woman.
She came from what she called the “perfect” family and her mother told her from the time she was born that she was perfect. She would tell me about how her mother would tell her how perfect she was and compare her to other members of her family that didn’t have it all together. She dated the perfect man and she was going to get the perfect job. She talked about having the perfect wedding and the perfect house. It was all going to be perfect. I remember feeling really uneasy with all this talk of perfection. It could be that no one ever told me I was perfect combined with how perfectionism makes me incredibly anxious.
This goal of perfectionism left her devastated at the perception of failure. She was unable to have real lasting friendships or deep meaningful relationships because there was always something that needed to be done or worked on. She was always worried about being overweight and never missed a workout or ate an ounce of fat. She looked on in judgement as people went on adventures and tried new things. She would talk about how reckless they were. It was obvious that she was speaking through jealousy and pain.
At the time, I admired her strength and motivation but now I see that she was a beautiful bird caged in false perfectionism. She could see the world but she could never be part of the world. There was too much danger and risk of failure if she left the cage. She desperately feared disappointing her family; particularly, her mother. Because, she was the perfect daughter.
As I read about smiling depression, I hope she was able to break free of that horrible cage. It’s lonely and desperate in there. I hope she was able to accept that she would never be perfect but she could be magnificent. It scares me when people call their children, partners, and parents perfect. Setting the goal of perfect is like chewing on razor blades.
If you think you might struggle with smiling depression, please talk to someone. The association between this type of depression and suicidal ideation is dangerously high.
“I’m the type of girl who smiles to make everyone’s day. Even though I’m dying on the inside.”