Positivity is not the same as happiness. And I smile because I choose to.

When I first started talking about depression, I heard a lot of but you’re always smiling or you’re always so positive. Comments like these immediately signal two things to me:

1) the person speaking most likely doesn’t experience depression. It’s like saying to an addict, Well why don’t you just stop using? Or asking malignant cancer, Hey could you maybe not spread anywhere vital please? The question itself gives away a fundamental misunderstanding of the disease, which in turn suggests the asker doesn’t experience the disease (and probably doesn’t have a close family member or friend with it who has spoken to them about it either).

2) the person speaking associates positivity with happiness. And maybe most people associate the two. I’m a positive person: I’m optimistic, hopeful, I believe in best possible outcomes, and I seek to do good in my work and in my life. But, again, if we’re being honest (and I don’t see the point in writing this otherwise), I don’t necessarily see myself as a “happy person.” In fact, moody, mercurial, and temperamental are all words that probably describe me more accurately than “happy.” For a long time, I felt a bit (and sometimes more than “a bit”) phony as someone who didn’t think of himself as “happy” but behaved so positively and tried to do good. With time, maturity, and heaps of therapy, I can now distinguish the vital difference between happiness and positivity.

Both of these observations have an obvious common denominator: the remarks say more about who is delivering them than who they are about. I’ve been rattled by people saying this kind of stuff to me before. I’ve gone “in the tank” Oh no, did I mislead this person? Do they feel lied to? Betrayed? Am I faking it? Am I a phony? Ugh, why did I even say anything. I don’t think they like me anymore. Maybe they never did. Why should they anyway. I’m such a jerk. Maybe I….. Typing this out in the context of a blog, it’s clearly a distorted line of thinking. But that’s part of the problem. When you have depression, you have distorted lines of thinking, and those distorted thoughts result in distorted feelings. Those distorted feelings lead to intensified and additional distorted thoughts, and the viciousness of depression is already in full-swing.

I can’t control what people say about me or to me, and I certainly cannot control what they think of me. The most I can do is remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think or say about me. My responsibility is to my truth, and my health. And for me, that includes choosing positivity and smiling, sometimes even when I don’t want to.