The notion of “fake it ’til you make it” makes me sick to my stomach. The saying, intended to encourage one to persevere in times of discouragement, also implies another notion altogether:
Those of us that are depressed often are told that, in order to fight our depression, we should crack a smile. Magic smile juice will then course through our veins, and eventually, smiling will become a habit. And then, little by little, our depression will fade, and we will be cured. Normal. Happy.
Or, at least, people will think we are.
See, that’s the thing. When I was a teen, surrounded by my happy, inside-joking peers, I tried to laugh along with their jokes. I tried to laugh when they did, at all the “right” times. But every time, I felt fake.
It was not even a matter of being excluded from anything, because I went to a tiny private school where we were all well-acquainted with one another. And it’s funny. When I look back at pictures from that time, or at my yearbook… I see myself smiling. I looked happy.
Was I even sad back then? Or did I make the whole thing up?
I guess it’s mixed. I was depressed. Terribly so. But there were good times too, mostly due to the school’s curriculum. I benefitted from tons of art classes, using all sorts of medium, from stone-carving to stained-glass. Then there was a kind-hearted music teacher, who eventually encouraged me to study classical music performance at the college level. And even though I hated gym class, I still remember the beauty of the outdoor grounds of the school. The green-grassed soccer field. The red rubber track around it. The baseball field, tucked in a corner surrounded by trees. And an intricate, beloved tree by the elementary school, perfect for climbing.
I touch on a lot of memories here, seemingly scattered. But no matter.
When I was in high school, I always felt like everyone knew I was depressed. In my mind, my mental pain was so intertwined with my sense of self, that I was convinced that I had “mental illness” written on my forehead. But now that I reflect back, fifteen years later… I realize that no one knew. I had been hospitalized in ninth grade for depression, which everyone knew about at the time. But then it was forgotten. No one cared.
Or rather, people chose to focus on more positive things. Like joking, being friends, etc. I must repeat that my school was a nurturing place, and not toxic. But still… I felt alone.
In harsher social climates, such as in your average public school, faking it till you make it can be a death sentence. I read so many cases of teenage suicide plastered on the internet. Perhaps… a pretty-faced girl, academically accomplished and engaged in several extra-curriculars. Bullied online on Ask.fm, anonymous tormenters telling her she is ugly and that she should die. This terrible crime, happening in her own home. A place where one should feel safe.
Every day at school, she carried this weight on her shoulders. Far heavier than her AP class textbooks. She smiled. Went through the motions. “Faking it.” But then… poof. Gone. She never made it.
I ask you: what if this world were compassionate enough, so that precious, beautiful souls suffering from depression… were freely encouraged to share their pain with others, instead of bottling them up inside? What if we lived in a world where stigma was considered as evil as murder itself?
Like murder, stigma leads to death.