My 51 years of living with Bipolar Disorder and 26 years of living in the recovery, spiritual, and mental wellness communities have taught me that we humans are masters at camouflaging our pain. Particularly if it is mental or emotional.

One reason is simple survival instinct. Vulnerable animals (including human animals) are the first to be targeted by predators. So we unconsciously hide pain or struggles that could make us prey.

Those of us with a mental illness face discrimination and ostracism based on fear and ignorance. Many of us end up in prison or homeless as a result. Another reason for us to “grin and bear it.”

Also, we are indoctrinated to present an “I’m fine” front. Many of us were taught to “suck it up and keep going” from a very young age. Because “no one actually cares about your problems.” The “rugged individualistic” ethos burnished into the American psyche has probably killed more people than cancer.

My experience is that excruciating pain often festers beneath the surface of fraudulent fineness. In some instances, a facade of happiness could be hiding agony so intense that the sufferer sees no option but to end their life.

I have felt it to the degree that I made plans to end mine (twice) Fortunately, I was hospitalized and saved. And I have witnessed a number of peers and fellow sufferers who didn’t receive the intervention and grace that I did.

Two, with whom I was particularly close, were in such agony that they went through with ending their lives. One drank himself to death. One jumped off a bridge.

My takeaway is that no matter how happy or “together” someone appears, they may be feeling absolute torture AND may be at the end of their rope. You never know.

A smile, a kind word, a willingness to listen, empathy, and compassion cost us nothing.

Please be generous with them.

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