As a mother to two teenage sons, owner of a thriving business, and a happily married wife, Anya, 43, is the very definition of success. She carves out time for yoga, journals every day, keeps a meticulous home, and has a shoe collection your nearest Instagram influencer would drool over.
Anya also keeps a very small circle of friends – all of whom live in other cities. She doesn’t go out much, telling everyone she’s too busy keeping up 70-hour work weeks, which she does. She admittedly overthinks, overanalyzes, and has so much empathy for the world around her that she cries when others cry.
“I always thought I was an HSP – a highly sensitive person,” says Anya. “I’ve thought that since I was a little girl.
“I connected mental health disorders to people who weren’t functional, who weren’t ‘normal,’ whatever that means,” she continues. “Someone like me, someone with a family and a great job and a career and a sense of humor… who would ever think I was depressed? You look at me and I’m the very opposite of what depressed looks like, for a lot of people. Even me.”
Even though smiling depression isn’t officially listed in the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, it’s not imaginary. Many professionals will use the term for a depressed or anxious person who looks quite happy, externally.
The person with smiling depression, like Anya, looks just fine – they move and walk and work about their day with vigor and fire and joy, or so it seems. This makes it very hard for loved ones and friends to ever detect anything is wrong, and even the person with depression can feel challenged to admit there’s anything going on.
Many ambitious, highly motivated people who suffer from depression are more likely to have smiling depression, because they’re so focused on keeping up appearances and getting on as if everything was well. Some say that smiling depression can look like the manic phase of manic depression – the laughter and smiling can look almost overdone. Work doesn’t get in the way of the depression, so to speak, and the depression doesn’t get in the way of work.
It just doesn’t feel real, but because the individual with smiling depression has kept it up for so long, they may feel as though they have no choice but to keep the façade up and running.
But the danger to smiling depression is that the smile hides the very real problem, from others and from the individual themselves. In “standard” depression, the depressed person, and the people around them, notice the low mood, the sadness, the tears, the lack of energy, But in smiling depression, all those things are disguised, masked, hidden.
The scariest part of smiling depression? Those with smiling depression may have the energy to plan out a suicide – and actually follow through.
But there is always hope.
Smiling depression is no less treatable than any other disorder. If you feel as though you may have smiling depression, seek assistance right away, and be as transparent as possible with your therapist, so you can get the help you need as quickly as possible. Before, during and after your treatment, you can do other things to help yourself too, like exercising, making sure you’re eating nutritious meals, going back to do the things you love, and making time for yourself that’s just for you, not for anyone or anything else.
For Anya, it has been an ongoing journey.
“I’ve been told there’s no cure for depression, but that there is recovery, and that’s where I am, for the most part,” she shares. “But still… sometimes I hit a brick wall of melancholy, and all I think about is having to deal with the sadness of my kids moving out, or my parents passing away, or my dogs getting old.
“I can be really buried in the saddest thoughts in the world, and I stay there, but when a customer walks through the door, I snap out of it with a smile and no one would be the wiser.
“And then I go home and I’m alone and I’m just with my thoughts, and it really hurts.
“But that’s when I recognize that I need to pick up the phone and get professional guidance. This isn’t something that you can just ‘snap out of,’ like I say so casually,” she continues with a smile. “People like me, people who are extremely driven and typically get it done… we have to be reminded this is the one thing we can’t ‘get done,’ not alone.”