“Why don’t you smile more?”
I have heard this comment more times than I care to remember. It seems like an easy thing to do, right? Two corners of your lips up, a couple of teeth showing and …. It’s a constant in my life – both the “Would you please smile?” and the pain that follows.
From a very young age, we are told by doting parents and grandparents that a smile tells the world who you are. REALLY??
What is this obsession we have with smiling? I know that I am not alone, that we are all told to hide the sadness, just like the sad clown whose tears come down when no one is around, or the song, “Smile, though your heart is breaking.” I am constantly told that I don’t look happy in pictures. There are things that no smile can cloak, and besides, who would ever want to see the ugliness inside me.
Invite me to your wedding or birthday party, and you run the risk of having a non-smiler, or worse, a fake smiler show up in your picture album. Even my best attempts at showing my pearly whites get tied up with the synapses in my brain that tell me that I am not worthy, that it’s my fault that I allowed my body to be used as a playground by the worst kind of predator. Guilty as charged in the silence that was as loud as any scream I could possibly make. Didn’t I have a choice to say, “ENOUGH?”
The way people stare tells me that I am broken, and that medication is the only possible way I can live in my own skin without wanting to slice some of that skin off. Smile, Mike, because people might think you are angry. Coupled with my bodybuilder physique, they might think that I am some crazy lunatic whom people cross over to the other side of the street to avoid.
My earliest recollections of my depression came at the hands of my best friend’s mom. Every time she saw me she asked her son, my friend, Bill, “Why is he so quiet all the time? Something not right in the head with him.” When speaking to me, she would talk louder, the way one would do when speaking to someone who is slow. Just to piss her off, I would never answer or start to drool. I pulled off a great Quasi Moto, while Bill would laugh in the background.
I learned to navigate depression without the benefit of a copy of Depression 101 for Dummies. Doctors threw all kinds of pills at me, but they made me tired.
“Why so serious?”
I could no longer lie out on the grass of my big back yard and stare up at the cotton ball puffs taking shape and floating by, buffered this way and that by wind that caressed my face, while I imagined that this was all a parade for my eyes only.
My sky was torn down. A big ugly tear that mom would never be able to sew back together. With my world asunder, a smile, any smile was a lie. I grew to love books with dark blue and purple skies lost in the darkness.
At the 4th grade school outing, perhaps because it was a day away from being sent to the principal’s office, I felt ballsy enough to jump into the picture that my teacher, Mr. Schreck took of a couple of the girls in my class at the park. Looking annoyed that he was distracted from his precious little angels, he bellowed, “No one wants you in the picture, Sherry.” A smile and a laugh and a leap of faith fooled no one, least of all good, old Mr. Schreck. He could feel my self- loathing. I felt like they all did.
It took a trip to Disney World with my wife and younger child to finally wipe that false grin off and replace it with a smile of one getting a chance to relive his childhood. I saw the joy and wonderment in my six year old son’s eyes. It was ok to laugh and smile and act goofy. There is no better anti-depressant out there then to see your child smile and be happy. I practice my smile now, because I am many years behind in smiling.
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Michael Sherry is a writer and certified personal trainer, living in his hometown of New York City with his wife and their two boys. He has also worked in television, programming and publishing. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Training for Life: Confessions of a Recovering Personal Trainer, a collection of stories about his life as a bodybuilder recovering from PTSD.
Michael can be reached by Email
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What a very brave exploration. So glad that you are smiling now.