Why do people keep smiling at me?
I’ve talked at some length about my experiences with PND and isolation so I'll keep that bit short: When my daughter was two, we moved 140 miles to a place I hardly knew, five weeks before my son was born. It is hard to explain how much of a wonderful time this was while at the same time on another level I was hardly functioning. But this is how it was.
I went around in a bit of a bubble and found it hard to make friends. I had this assumption that how I felt on the inside – like I was totally failing in every area of my life, would be somehow visible to people and nobody would like me. So it would be safer to keep myself to myself. I enjoyed going to playgroups with my children and I did get out and talk to people but I still felt really isolated.
When my daughter started pre-school I was terrified of the playground and the school environment, I didn’t know what the correct procedures were or what the right etiquette was. The other mums all seemed to know each other, and also all 'seemed' much younger than me (I was 40).
I tried to smile at people, but also kept my head down, I was sure nobody would want to talk to me and my difference to them was painfully obvious. Many of them were in their early 20’s and I was in Yorkshire with a London accent. If they didn't return the smile I felt crushed, when they probably just hadn't seen me.
Gradually I spoke to other parents and got to know some of them, I was surprised that they were nice to me and started to realise how much of my reality was in my own head. Then I started to study psychology and mental health and learned about mindfulness. I slowly began to heal. I questioned my thoughts and turned them on their head. I felt better and soon my son was old enough for pre school and I wasn’t a newcomer any more.
One day I was walking back from dropping off my children and noticed that several other parents smiled at me; I was confused by this until with a huge jolt, I realised that I was smiling. I was walking around with my head up and a smile on my face because I was happy and thinking nice thoughts. When had this changed and how hadn’t I noticed? What must I have looked like before when I spent all my time staring at the ground and hiding behind a hat or a huge pair of sunglasses? Now I always make a point of smiling and saying good morning to people, I realise I can't be the only one who has felt that way and that as parents, the school environment can be awkward for everyone.
I learned first hand the power of perception and the simplicity of a smile.