Leaving the ‘happy girl’ mask behind

Rachel became tired of pretending that everything was okay

Written by Rachel


For a stranger to look back through my Facebook pictures from right now at 23 all the way back to the age of 16, they would see nothing other than what appears to be a fun loving, happy young woman. These pictures range from birthdays, to day trips, to nights-out including both a J1 experience and an Erasmus year. Everything in these pictures would suggest a young woman who's had amazing experiences and opportunities and who's living her life to the full. A well known fact of life however is that photographs lie, just like I did.

Like the young woman on Facebook, I present myself as an easy going, happy individual. I've been told unaccountable times by a multitude of people that they never see me without a smile on my face. And the constantly happy girl became me, became what I believed was my essence. The problem with keeping up this facade however is that it becomes near impossible to break; for if I was 'happy girl', I could never let people know the truth. The truth is that since the age of 16, since that young smiling woman on Facebook began her adolescent journey into adulthood, I have been dealing with depression.

This depression is only something I've recently come to terms with early this year. And, my god, what a relief it is to finally be battling it, having the tools to battle it and having the support to battle it. When I was 16 however I was so afraid; afraid of my own mind, afraid of my actions, afraid of myself. There were nights I would cry my heart out in bed and not understand why I was doing so, only that I desperately needed to do it. Yet the very next morning I would arrive into school, I would switch back on Happy Girl.

I can't remember an incidence in secondary school where depression and mental health were properly discussed. As a 16 year old I simply thought I was losing my mind. And there was such taboo about it that I refused to be labelled. I remember one night in particular, following a break up with a boyfriend, I ruminated and rehashed every single detail of our relationship to such an extent that it caused a sharp headache.

Yet I couldn't stop the cycle of thoughts I had started. I lay awake all night engulfed by my mind until my alarm went off for school. Little did I know that this was a pattern that would repeat itself for years to come. Looking back now I was in obvious need of help. But I ignored it. I wouldn't be 'crazy'. And the face of 'Happy Girl' prevailed.

January 2016 was a turning point in my life. The cracks were beginning to show. I was acting out of character, not sleeping, not eating. My grades had suffered insurmountably. I continued to smile, but I was finally tired. Tired of pretending to be happy. After many online assessments and what my gut told me was true, I worked up the courage to go and see my college councellor. To date that afternoon has been the biggest turn around in my life.

Although recovery has not been and probably will not be a straight road I can feel it in the distance. The fear I had when I was 16 still remained though; the self induced fear of what people would think when they found out Happy Girl was a mask. But people are so accepting.

All my friends want to do is talk, help, listen. Mental health issues used to be a taboo. They used to be. And people are so much more open now and people support and people help. And Happy Girl is for the first time in years, becoming a real version of happy. You can place the facade up but I promise you it doesn't last. Let people in and you'll be surprised at how real you will smile.

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