Mental Illness: Put on a Happy Face

February 28, 2011 Natasha Tracy

I’m not known for my cheery everything’s-going-to-be-OK-puppies-rainbows-lollipops perspective. In fact, I’m against such perspectives. I find them disingenuous, phony, or seriously ill-informed. Save the rose-colored glasses for Sir Elton John, thank-you.

I find smiling, being positive and telling people how great everything is to be just another chore on my list of things to do today when I’m already busy just trying to keep breathing and possibly pay rent.

Positivity and Mental Illness

OK, some people really like the sunshiny-rainbow thing. I get it. It’s a preference. There are lots of people who agree and will provide such a perspective and if it helps then I say, enjoy.

Smiling and Mental Illness

And yes, someone out there is going to remind me that one of things they teach you in CBT is to smile, even if you don’t feel like it. There is neurological evidence to suggest that by doing this the brain is “tricked” into believing you’re really happy. (You’re essentially trying to remap your brain. It’s complicated.)

Well, I won’t disagree with the CBT folks, but I will say that most of us are so fake-smiley already it makes my face ache.

Hope and Mental Illness

Much as I don’t like rainbow positivity, the same goes for hope. Seriously, don’t bother me with the “buck up partner” and “this will be the time it works” and “it won’t happen if you don’t believe.” I am not bucking, time will be what it is, and my belief has very little to do with medication success. (There is always the placebo effect to argue, but somehow I don’t think faking hope makes that any more likely.)

mp9102187051Realism and Mental Illness

What I try to be is realistic. And real mental illness chatter isn't really that uplifting. My personal, realistic, clinical outcome is dark and spiky. That’s not me talking; that’s the numbers. (OK, relative “spikiness” is hard to measure. They’re working on it.)

That being said, I do try to offer other people hope. Realistic hope; not fluffy-bunny hope. When someone comments here about being hopeless and there being nothing left for them to try, that is pretty much universally false. That's the crazy talking. Believe me. They’ve got stuff. And more stuff. And stuff after that. You’ll almost never run out of stuff. That’s true. That’s real.

And the disease is cyclical. That’s true too.

So as a rule, I’m not terribly positive. But I do try and be realistic. And that’s quite enough of a daily feat for me.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, February 28). Mental Illness: Put on a Happy Face, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

April, 18 2015 at 2:18 pm

I'm as much a realist as the next person but really, such negativity, such pessimism, such cynicism?
I'm sorry but I'm gonna have to agree with Johanna on this one
Depression is something I struggle with every damn day but I choose to choke out the negative weeds in my life, instead of feeding them, to give way for the flowers to bloom even if only for a little while til they wither and die
You don't have to let your negative emotions rule/ruin your life...

Natasha Tracy
August, 23 2011 at 5:35 am

"Just cheer up?"
"Just grow wings."
- Natasha

August, 23 2011 at 4:24 am

Yes someone who will finally say it. Mental illness is not happy. I get so tired of hearing 'you just need to cheer up" ,really, I'd love to. I'd love to wake up and not want to crawl back in bed to hide from a world that I no longer understand and a mind that has turned on me.

March, 12 2011 at 5:12 pm

That was one sad pitty-me-I'm-bipolar article lol I am bipolar too and keep on being positive is what saved me. So see the bright side people!

Natasha Tracy
March, 4 2011 at 6:55 am

Ash and Meredith, thanks.
"I’ve tried some CBT myself, and I find that it works for a day or two, but I cannot stick with it. The negativity takes over whether I am trying hard to prevent it or not."
CBT is a skill. You can work at it and hope to get better over time. But of course, it doesn't work for everyone.
"Even on my best days, I’ve got grunge. Just that little edge with a piece of pessimism and a dab of cynicism to round it off."
Yeah, it happens. But I try to take a shower now and then :)
- Natasha

March, 3 2011 at 6:47 pm

Natasha, yet another homer! Nice work. I call it grunge. Even on my best days, I've got grunge. Just that little edge with a piece of pessimism and a dab of cynicism to round it off.

February, 28 2011 at 3:43 pm

Another awesome post. I fear I've become a huge fan of this blog! Haha!
I get mad when people tell me to "smile more." I already try hard to be less pessimistic for everyone else, but to smile more than I already do (and I am able to, sometimes) would be to completely deny my true feelings. I will not live falsely.
I've tried some CBT myself, and I find that it works for a day or two, but I cannot stick with it. The negativity takes over whether I am trying hard to prevent it or not.
If only others could understand what having a mental illness is like.

Natasha Tracy
February, 28 2011 at 3:23 pm

Hi Martha,
"Actually, moron, it is that bad."
I've had the moments where I've been _dying_ to say that to someone.
CBT has its limitations. I do recommend it for people though as I think it can help some, and it's certainly worth a try.
It's OK if you hate it though. It's a tool set. It doesn't work for everyone.
(Oh, and did I say thanks for the compliment? Thanks. I appreciate that.)
- Natasha

February, 28 2011 at 2:55 pm

Great blog as usual! I can't tell you how many times I've just been walking around thinking and trying to cope when some well-meaning, misguided person will say "Cheer up! It can't be that bad!". Actually, moron, it is that bad. My Bipolar has followed a very downward, brittle trajectory and as much as I want to stay "positive" I am more interested in trying to just stay alive. I also haven't found that smiling makes me happy and I detest CBT.

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