Fake Smiles Can Kill

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02 | Bree's Guide on How to Smile

02 | Bree's Guide on How to Smile

and i won’t say i’m feeling fine.
after what i’ve been through, i can’t lie.

“Okay, Bree, we’re going to try and breathe,” Joanna instructed me, her hand resting lightly on the table that separated me and her by about half a metre. I shook my head firmly, all thoughts trying to escape my brain as I did so and a pounding ache rocketing around inside.

“No,” I said stoutly, my heart hammering as I avoided all eye contact and focused my gaze on the faded, peeling-away-from-the-wall carpet that was an odd mix between beige and green in colour.

Joanna sighed, not quite impatiently but in the sort of way that she had a tendency of doing for the past few months that I had been going to therapy with her. “Bree,” she vocalised with a hint of disapproval, “we can only fix this if you try to work with me.”

“Do we have to fix it, though?” I hated her use of the word ‘fixed’. It made me feel as though I was simply a project of hers, a mere toy that was broken and needed mending with her DIY kit and determined, happy-go-lucky attitude of it’s always going to be okay! bullcrap.

She raised an eyebrow at me. “You are the one who wants to get better,” Joanna reminded me gently, closing her spread-out fingers together so that they aligned with the edge of the desk.

“I thought there would be an easier way of doing it, though,” I grumbled, sitting back in my chair sulkily. What I had just said was a lie: I had always known it would be difficult, but what I had not been told in the beginning was that it would involve stupid exercises like these ones that seemed to be doing nothing.

“Unless you want to stay on your medication forever, this is the way that we are going to do it,” she explained, all matter-of-factly.

I refrained from rolling my eyes. “Okay,” I eventually relented, wriggling in my chair so that I could sit up straighter, “What do I have to do?”

Joanna smiled proudly to herself, almost making me wish to go back on my agreement and just slouch in the chair all day. “We’re going to take a deep breath in-” she inhaled as a demonstration, “- and then a slow exhale through a small hole in your lips.”

I copied her. My breathing shook and trembled, making everything so much worse as thoughts began to form and swirl around in my head.

She heard that, they say, she’s judging you because you can’t breathe properly, you absolute fucking moron. Breathe better. She’s looking. She’s looking, she’s looking, she’s-

My breathing quickened as it transformed into shorter, more panicked bursts of hot air escaping my lips. Nausea settled in, kicking off the whole experience with a doomed sense of familiarity that I had felt so many times before.

“I can’t...” I began to try and make out some words but my vision clouded over and a pounding headache seared through my brain, making me focus on getting rid of the pain instead of other, more simple tasks. Like breathing. Breathing would have been good.

Joanna jumped to her feet. “Bree, stay calm,” she instructed, her voice taking on her uber-calm-therapist mode as she knelt by my chair, “it’s okay. You’re safe. Bree, you’re safe.”

I shook my head roughly as the headache continued to spread to the forefront of my mind and stayed there as a dull ache that refused to go away. “I can’t... breathe,” I stammered, gulping as a lump in my throat formed and what seemed to be a yawn constricted itself in my lungs.

“Bree, you are safe,” Joanna repeated.

But what if you’re not? the voices in my head taunted, it’s probably best you stay on your medication, Bree darling. Stay on your meds, you crazy freak, before other people start judging you.

“Bree, listen to me.”

“Breathe, Bree.”

I gulped hard, desperate to stay alive. After what seemed like an eternity, the yawn was expelled from my throat and I doubled over so that my head was resting on the tops of my knees. I inhaled through my nose like Joanna had taught me to do and stayed there, my heart thumping, my headache pounding slightly less painfully.

“You can do it. There you go. Good girl...”

Half an hour later when I left that office, a smile was plastered on my lips, refusing to let anyone else see my broken inside for fear of judgement.

* * *

“How was today’s session?” Mum asked me as she bustled around the kitchen, grabbing utensils from different worktops before dumping them on another one.

She was flustered, she always was, and yet that was what made her cooking so special. Despite every hectic thing that seemed to go on inside this wretched room, everything that was set onto the dining table tasted delicious, fooling everyone into forgetting about the chaos that had been commencing only ten minutes before.

I shrugged. “The same as always,” I told her untruthfully.

I didn’t mention the panic attack. What good would come of it, anyway? She would just ask Joanna if we could put me completely on my medication again, undoing all of the hard work that I had put in these past few weeks to reduce it. I didn’t want that! I wanted to be off the stupid tablets so I could finally walk around with a genuine smile on my face, not a forced, I’m-smiling-so-you-don’t-judge-me smile.

“That’s good, dear,” Mum said.

She didn’t see through my lie. I couldn’t tell if I was happy or disappointed.

* * *

Seven months down the line and I was back on my medication.


What had happened with Joanna in her tiny therapy office was not a one-off thing, like I had been hoping it might have been. Within the next few weeks, the frequency of the panic attacks increased and after my parents realised the situation, they had a discussion with Joanna about what to do with me.

I felt like a freak.

All of these years of learning how to hide my anxious thoughts, how to discreetly cope with every worrying phase in a way that didn’t alert my mum of such occurrences, digging my nails into my palm to distract me from the wandering eyes and the judgemental expressions... they all felt as though they had been for nothing.

Don’t you dare order pasta today, the voices warned, you’ll end up eating too messily and everyone will judge you and you’ll cry and you won’t eat and-

I blinked rapidly, shook my head stubbornly as my eyes prickled and threatened to cry. I was so done. So finished. So bored with bad thoughts and avoiding certain foods and wanting to curl up in a ball every time I walked down the street and passed a group of people. Thinking that they were talking about me when they so obviously weren’t.

“I want to go home,” I whispered to myself one day when I was out at the shops, trying to buy some chocolate for my parents because they had passively-ordered the family that it was time to spend a night watching movies together..

And then I mentally slapped myself because a person just a few steps away from me turned towards me with a confused yet sympathetic expression etched onto his face.

He heard you, the voices chanted like a mantra, now he’ll think you’re a freak. Freak freak freak freak freak freak FREAK.

“Will that be all?” the shop assistant asked kindly.

I nodded, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth as though attached by cement, or super glue.

“That will be seven pounds and sixty pence,” she told me.

“T-thank you,” I replied shakily once I’d paid her, taking the bag from where it hung off her hand and dropping the change into the bag.

I exited the store hurriedly, my hands clenched into fists inside the front pocket of my hoodie, the plastic bag digging into my skin. I offered smiles to everyone that I passed in the hopes that they wouldn’t notice my balled-up hands and shaking breath.

Freak freak freak freak freak freak FREAK.

* * *

It has been two years.

Two whole years since my medication went back to its full dosage and I began to have twice-weekly sessions with Joanna, instead of the usual one. Two and a half years since my panic attack in her office. That makes it three years since I was first diagnosed with social anxiety and a generalised anxiety disorder.

And somehow, in that space of time that flew by and yet, at the same time, crawled by at the speed of a snail, I have come off my medication completely.

“Bree!” Mum called from downstairs from where she was bustling around in the kitchen.

I slid off my bed, my socks gliding along the shiny wooden floor of my bedroom and of the landing that led me to the stairs and then down to where my mother had fixed me a plate of pancakes and juice.

“Thanks, Mum,” I kissed her cheek.

Two years ago, I would have poured the juice down the sink and eaten the pancakes in very, very small bites, my hand covering my mouth at all times as I judged everything about the way I ate, the way I swallowed, the way I drank. I would have made up some lie and said I was feeling ill, or create a fib that gave me an excuse to get out of the party that I was about to go to.

But do you know what?

Three years of therapy sessions and hating myself and constant anxious thoughts has taught me one thing.

You can’t live completely if you’re hiding half of yourself.

* * *

and that’s the end to bree’s
story! in this chapter, we
focus on how she has social
anxiety and the troubles she
went through to keep what she
thought was everyone’s
judging stares and wandering

a lot of this chapter was based
on personal emotions. please
remember to vote and comment
because, well, i want to spread
the word about this book!
idrk to be honest.

hugs n kisses from a jellyfish

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