What It Feels Like To Slap On A Smile

By Regan Penn // As Told to Grace Bouker


Gracie Bouker

It hasn’t always been this way. I mean it has, but not like this, not always.

Sometimes it’s like walking around in a hundred pound suit all day, it’s like a constant weight that you have to overcome in order to move forward, in order to function.

Other times, it’s seeing things far differently than how anyone else sees them. It’s a distorted perception of their reality, but it’s my reality. It’s finding little details that no one else would notice, and using them as weapons against myself.

It’s an uphill battle, it’s a war that nobody can see; it’s lethal. But, there’s always the light at the end of the tunnel.

People usually only get a two dimensional look at me. They note my accomplishments, like choir or theatre, but that doesn’t mean that my life is going perfectly… at all. Other times, they’ll see that I don’t smile a lot, which is partially because of my resting face, but then they think that I’m just a breathing mascot for depression, and that’s not accurate either.

A shadow of truth may ring in this though, because since middle school I’ve had major depressive disorder.

Most times, it is extremely difficult to find the motivation to do my work, especially in school. I would rather stay in bed and sleep the exhaustion away, but it doesn’t exactly work like that. I have to come to school, and if I don’t have the motivation, I have to find it. A lot of times when I’m feeling particularly down, I’ll force myself to talk to someone and make a joke, because even telling a joke to someone else and making them crack a smile can help.

Smiling helps a lot.

The devil and the angel on both of my shoulders: that’s the daily battle. If you were to give depression a voice, it would say, “You’re worthless. You’re not good enough.” But then, there’s a part of me, tugging, arguing, lashing against depression, and it’s telling me to keep fighting, to do something, anything, to make myself better. I need to feel as okay as I say I am.

Thankfully, I have a really strong support group. Parents, brothers, best friends, therapists, they all pull me out when I can’t do it alone. Sometimes my parents will make me do my homework when I just want to sleep all day, and other times my brothers will invite me to play Rock Band with them. After that, I feel a little better.

I also have two anxiety disorders. These are vastly different than depression. Instead of lethargic and blue, anxiety is a purple and green slinky whizzing in front of my eyes and tangling my muscles. For generalized anxiety, I could have a panic attack and there could be no cause. Not a cause that anyone else could see, anyway. It comes on suddenly, without warning. Before you know it, black spots are spinning in front of your face because your brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen because you aren’t breathing because you can’t breathe. And you can’t breathe because your brain is so preoccupied with thoughts that it forgets to tell your body to breathe. And the little power you have left to digest the idea that you aren’t breathing is shrouded out with fear, immense fear, because your chest is tight and your muscles are numb and you can’t find the way out. You’re in a maze, you’re in the fear simulation from Divergent, and you can’t get out. It’s quite the predicament, actually.

Social anxiety is different. It’s more of me worrying way too much about things like what if I wear the wrong shirt or what if they realize that I’m doing this wrong? It’s more of me doing my best to reject the poisonous thoughts in my mind. At the same time, it’s still hard to hang out with people I don’t know super well or even go to practice. It’s less of a panic and more of a general dread.

Sometimes, I can’t focus.

I can’t focus.

I can’t focus enough to talk to anyone right now.

I can’t focus enough to do my work right now.

I can’t.

And when it gets like this, it’s like I’m walking around in a fog for undetermined amounts of time, while simultaneously fighting a war against myself in the background. No one else can see it, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful, any less destructive.

But despite the harmful nature of depression and anxiety, there’s always a way to make it easier, if you look hard enough. For me, it’s simply surrounding myself with people who care about me and want to see me succeed, and most importantly, want to see me smile. At the end of the day, the most important anchor to grab onto is a smile, and everything else will come after.