Put On a Happy Face

“Doctor, you have to help me! I’m feeling sad and depressed and I don’t know what to do!”

“Well, there’s not a magic pill to fix that, but I do have a suggestion.”

“Anything, Doctor! Anything will help!”

“You’re in luck! The greatest clown in the world is performing tonight. I suggest you go see Pagliacci at the opera house. He will cheer you up and everything will be OK.”

“…but Doctor…I am Pagliacci!”

Everybody gets sad sometimes. Usually it’s a short-term thing that we work through, and life goes on. Hills and valleys, good feelings followed by bad feelings followed by good feelings again and the cycle continues. Occasionally, many people get stuck in a valley and merely being sad is beyond their wildest dreams. I don’t think I’m depressed, but I’m definitely feeling sad right now. It may be SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder—that’s getting me down, but the valleys lately have been more frequent and lasting longer as the darkness has descended on the northern hemisphere.

I am Pagliacci!

In my life, I feel I’m often cast in the role of the famous clown. Not in the sense that I’m supposed to be funny or entertaining, but more in the sense that I’m the tentpole that keeps the whole circus from collapsing in on itself. The even keel that keeps the boat from tipping. The normalizing filter on the audio track that keeps the waveform smooth. And all the other metaphors that mean the same thing. To be clear, nobody is putting me in this role besides myself. It’s part of my sheepdog nature to always try and keep the flock together and headed in the right direction (whatever direction that may be, it had better be orderly). Even though the pressure comes from within, I still feel it. Something for me to work on.

Keeping with the theme, I’ve been thinking about how we all wear masks; there are smarter people than myself that have expounded on this idea. Everyone puts on a different face to the world than they have inside their head. Some would argue that if you don’t have a different face which you present to the world, then you are, in fact, a sociopath. I don’t think I’m a sociopath, so I change and modify my mask to fit the situation that I’m in. The effect of trying to always wear the Pagliacci mask is that I get worn down. Mentally, physically, even spiritually. Parts of me seem to just shut down, and I struggle to find the light. I know this isn’t something unique to me, and other people have it way, way worse. But everyone has their own experience, every one of them valid, and this is mine.

The same thing we do every day, Pinky.

So what do I do about it? Mostly, I just keep going. Just keep swimming, as Dory would say. Most of the time there just isn’t an alternative. Bills still need to be paid, the house still needs to be maintained, people (and pets!) still need to eat. In purely practical terms, I can’t afford to let the day-to-day grind prevent me from meeting my obligations.

I’m one hundred percent aware that my own mental health is important, and I can’t constantly ignore what’s going on in my head at the risk of making it worse. I’ve been taking this just keep swimming approach for awhile, and so far it’s been working out. Since I started this blog post almost a month ago, I’ve mostly worked through the downward swing and I feel like I’m on my way up again. I feel incredibly privileged and hyper-aware of how my experience is easier that the experience of others that truly face the spectre of mental illness, and depression in particular. In my case, it feels like I’m doing OK most of the time, and I’m thankful for that.

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