Behind the Smile

When I came out about my traumatic upbringing and emotional struggles as a child and teenager, I was frequently met with disbelief by many people who knew me back then. “You were always such a happy child!” and “You had the biggest smile!”

How could it be that someone who smiled so broadly and always seemed so cheery struggled with anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD? It’s a valid question.

I have a theory that informs how I see people – if your smile is bigger than average, you probably have more mental health struggles than average. That’s my personal premise.

I may be wrong, but erring on the side of assuming that the someone who seems fine, isn’t, is a better assumption than the other way around.

A followup question to this, of course, is why?

Why this seemingly strange correlation. I’ve come up with a few answers.

Firstly, I believe that the sensitive people of the world experience a wider range of emotions – sort of a sampling of bi-polar-ness. So when we are happy, we are happier. But when we’re sad, we’re sadder.

Personally, I’ve always been aware of the basic goodness of each person I encounter. My operating premise is that people are nice and well intentioned, to the point of naivete. At the same time, I’m well aware of the suffering that rages through the world, and through my insides.

So we smile broadly and we cry harder.

That’s one theory. Another one that was proposed to me is that it’s part of masking. In an attempt to hide how much pain we feel, to try to stop wearing our heart on our sleeve, to protect us from endless superficial advice to ‘just cheer up’ and ‘it’ll be alright’, we out-happy the happy people.

You want a smile? I’ll give you smile. You want cheery? Ain’t nobody cheerier than I.

All this to say. I see your smile, and I raise you existential questions about life, the universe, and everything.

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