Filipinos are known for their tenacity and their ability to find their smile amidst their pain. According to Jetpac, a social travel app guide, the Philippines ranked as the 8th smiliest country in the world. Philippines was the only Asian country that made it to the top ten according to this list. Having been raised in the Philippines, I have been a witness to our smiling culture. It is an endearing cultural trait that make foreigners want to trade their comfortable abode in the States to the humid, organized chaotic lifestyle our Motherland has to offer.
It is the trait that helps us cope as we transition to our new life in America while we struggle to cope with our own losses as we show our brave faces to our children to give them the confidence to adjust to theirs.
It is the trait that helps us connect with people at our new church in the hopes of forming new friendships. The same one we used to mask our disappointments from your children in an effort not to burden them with our troubles.
Unsurprisingly, the very same smiles our children have learned to use to mask their own pain and sadness.
Smiling depression is defined as appearing happy to others, masking internal depression symptoms by hiding deep feelings of sadness as a defense mechanism.
Some might consciously or unconsciously choose this approach in support of the belief – “You have to fake it until you make it.” Perhaps, this belief is not completely fallible if you are simply attempting to motivate yourself with small behavioral changes, for example, waking up early in the morning, or conquering our fears of public speaking.
As to Filipino-Americans and our collectivistic nature, we put much stress on how we will be perceived by others, fearing their judgment or how others might carry on if we do decide to let them into our world-the darker side of it, fearing we will burden them with our heavy load. It is indeed a challenge to balance these two worlds while thirsting to feel better and to do better.
Depression and Its Many Faces
Every person’s experience with depression varies. For some people depression may appear as deep sadness and exhaustion. For others, it might appear as loss of concentration or forgetfulness. For some others, it might appear like the inability to find pleasure in usual activities that used to bring them joy OR keeping a “smiling face,” as the case with smiling depression.
Due to Filipino American’s unique socio-political history, varied migration wave experience coupled with our multi-linguistic exposure amongst others, it is not surprisingly that our forms of expression and communication evolve constantly and at times with great complexity. Some ways that depression may appear uniquely (not undermining that these symptoms can also be seen in other cultures) in the Filipino American community are as follows but not limited to:
- Feelings of worthlessness, feelings of inferiority to others
- Worrying too much about things
- Getting one’s feelings easily hurt
- Feeling guilt, feeling that others do not understand them
- Trouble concentrating
- Nervousness or shakiness inside
- Feeling easily annoyed or irritated
- Headaches, dizziness
- Weakness in parts of one’s body
- Heart pounding or racing, pain in the heart or chest
- Upset stomach
- Hot & cold spells
- Trouble catching one’s breath
- Heavy feelings in the arms and legs, numbness or tingling in parts of one’s body
It is crucial to note that observing one or two symptoms in the above, do not immediately constitute a diagnosis for Depression. The intent of the list above is to encourage observation of our own and our loved ones’ change in patterns of behaviors so that their subtler, more quiet form of “crying out for help” can be met with curiosity and support.
Do I Stop Smiling Now?
Please keep the rest of us inspired by your smile. Research show that humor including smiling can help reduce stress hormones and boost immune system while inducing optimistic feelings.
If you are smiling to express, find solace, even comfort for a bad day or even for a bad mood, this might be an adaptive approach to try. It might bring back sunshine to your temporary gloomy day.
But, if you’re smiling to cover up deep, persistent feelings of sadness and emptiness that just wouldn’t go away despite your best efforts, unfortunately, the answer would be a NO– our smiles alone cannot take our pain away . But the good news is that your smile belongs to you and is not fully lost. By reaching out for support or even treatment, you might be wearing it sooner than you’ve anticipated!
Sa Uulitin (‘til then),