Why do I constantly feel the need to wear a happy face? I always pretend that everything is great and that I am always in a good mood, but I’m not. In fact, I suffer from crippling mood swings that leave me feeling hollow and numb. When I go to work I laugh with my peers and friends; at home, I can barely keep from crying or lashing out at my family members. I’ve been like this for about six months and I don’t know what to do. Help.
A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, asks
Mrabet Jihene, Assistant professor and Director of the Office of Counselling and Disability at the American University in Emirates, replies
I read carefully your message and I understand how difficult is your situation. I think that you are suffering from what professionals call atypical depression or "smiling depression". In fact, a large proportion of depressed people, whose activities no longer provide pleasure, manage to hide their condition with a smile.
Sometimes there is no any apparent reason to be sad - you have a job, an apartment, maybe even children or a partner - but you still have a sad feeling that is shadowing all your moments even the happiest ones. This is why you experience those mood swings.
Some other symptoms of this atypical depression could be:
Heaviness in the arms and legs
Being easily hurt by criticism or rejection
People suffering from this depression may experience pics of sadness at night or in the morning
They may also go through a sleep disorder ( sleeping more than usual or experiencing insomnia).
This form of "smiling depression" is particularly related to being more inclined to anticipate failure, to experience difficulties in overcoming embarrassing or humiliating situations and to overthink about or focus too much on the negative situations that have occurred.
Factors causing depression
Depression can be caused by a number of factors, such as work problems, broken relationships, or the feeling that life has no meaning or purpose.
Despite the mask of happiness, depressed people are sometimes truly, and beneficially, touched by positive events happening to them. These are able to improve their morale. For example, receiving a text message from someone they love or being congratulated for their work can help them feel better for a few moments. Before feeling depressed again ...
If you suffer from this depression, it is particularly important to get help. Unfortunately, those who are affected do not usually do so, primarily because they do not realize that they have a problem. This is particularly the case if they manage to complete their tasks and continue their daily routine as before. In addition, these people may also feel guilty and rationalize the fact that they have no reason to be sad. As a consequence, they do not talk about their problems, and end up ashamed of their feelings.
How to break this vicious circle?
The point of departure is to realize that this affection really exists, and that it is serious. It is only when we stop rationalizing our problems because we do not consider them serious enough that we can begin to improve the situation.
It has been shown that meditation and physical activity can bring tremendous benefits in terms of mental health. Psychological therapies involving learning to change one's thinking patterns and behavior, helping venting out one's frustrations and anxieties are also highly recommended.
Finding meaning in your life is the most important factor of progress. Indeed, the cornerstone of good mental health is having a purpose in life.
Finding a goal to achieve can divert attention from ourselves by moving it to something else. So find yourself a worthwhile goal and try to progress towards it regularly, even if it's only step by step, every day, because this attitude can have a positive impact.
This goal may also include taking care of someone else. When we stop being in the limelight and think about the needs and desires of others, we feel that our lives matter. This can be achieved by volunteering, caring for a family member, and maybe even an animal.
To feel that our life counts, that it matters, is what gives it a purpose and a meaning. This can make a significant difference to our mental health and well-being.
Finally, it is important to seek professional help and visit psychologists or psychiatrists. They will help you to understand the reasons underneath your depression and to build strategies to get over it.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.