Thursday, March 24, 2005

THE HAPPY FACE SAGA, or WHY I’M ON DISABILITY

SCENE: (a small but comfy room, with two overstuffed chairs, overflowing bookshelves, and a small side table with a box of tissues. Two women enter and each takes a seat. One of them is wearing a paper mask that has eyes and a smiling mouth cut out of it. As she sits, she unties the string that holds the mask on her face and sets the mask on the table.)

SYLVIA: Glad you could make it in today, Jane, what with the weather and all.
JANE: Oh, it’s not as bad as it looks.
S: What do you have there? (Gestures at the mask)
J: Oh, that’s my Happy Face. You don’t usually see it because I don’t feel the need to wear it here. But today I came right from work.
S: That’s right—you just started your new job. How’s it going?
J: Ok, I guess. Just your average clerical stuff—typing, filing, answering phones, that sort of thing.
S: Well, you’re an intelligent woman and I’m sure you’ll have no problems.
J: I guess so, I mean thanks.
S: So tell me about this Happy Face. What do you need it for?
J: Oh, I wear that in public when I’m starting to get a little depressed so that people don’t notice if I’m not smiling all the time.
S: What happens if they do notice?
J: Well, they ask me what’s wrong or did something happen, that sort of thing. Sometimes they think I’m giving them a dirty look and get pissed off, but that doesn’t happen too often, thank goodness.
S: So what do you tell them?
J: I’m not always sure myself, so it’s easier if I just wear the Happy Face.
S: Why can’t you simply tell them you have Depression?
J: I guess I can tell some people, but most people just say things like, “You? Depressed? Why, you always seem so optimistic and happy.” They don’t understand that I really am optimistic and happy, but that I’m also sick.
S: I can see how that can happen. That must be frustrating.
J: Which is why I wear the Happy Face.
S: Do you always wear the Happy Face at work?
J: Oh, most definitely. I’m afraid I might lose my job if they find out about my chronic Major Depressive Disorder. I’m never sure if people will understand, and it’s better to be safe.
S: Well, there are laws which protect you if your rights are violated, so you let me know if you have any trouble in that area, ok?
J: Ok. Thanks.
S: So, other than this new job, how have things been going for you?

(The lights dim as they continue chatting. When the lights come back up, both women are wearing different outfits, but sitting in the same places. Jane is removing a mask similar to the one she wore in the previous scene, only this one is made of heavy cardboard.)

S: Well, Jane, that Happy Face seems a little more substantial than the last one.
J: Yeah, and a little harder to deal with, too.
S: How so?
J: Well, the last one was so light that I hardly knew I had it on. It felt almost natural and I found myself forgetting I was even wearing it. But I can really tell I have this one on.
S: Does it interfere with your work?
J: A little. It’s harder to answer the phone and I can’t type as fast. But I manage. At least it hides my real face.
S: But you feel this thicker Happy Face is necessary?
J: Yes, I do. The first one wasn’t doing the trick anymore. If I happened to cry while I was wearing it, my tears would melt through. This one works better for me now.
S: I see. It seems that you’re really making an effort to appear healthy to others.
J: Got to. I really need this job.

(Again, the lights fade to black as the conversation also fades out. The next scene shows the two women another week later in the same office. Sylvia watches in fascination while Jane removes a wooden mask, fastened to her head with a complex series of leather straps, from her head.)

S: Wow, this Happy Face looks like it takes a lot of effort to wear.
J: Yeah, and it’s beginning to give me headaches.
S: How long does it take you to put it on in the morning?
J: Seems like forever. It’s getting harder and harder to be on time for work.
S: I’ll bet you’re pretty beat when you get home, too.
J: You can’t imagine! I’m so tired I go right to bed. I rarely go anywhere in the evenings or on weekends, I’m so exhausted.
S: Are you able to at least spend a little time with friends now and then?
J: Sometimes. Most of them are really sweet and understanding, but I still have to wear the Happy Face and I usually don’t have the energy. Generally, I just turn off the ringer on the phone so I don’t have to make excuses.
S: How are things going at work?
J: I still like my job, but it’s getting more and more difficult to make it through the day. I can hardly keep up with the filing and typing, and I’m so worried that my Happy Face is slipping that my memory is affected.
S: Your memory?
J: Yeah, like when I answer the phone and the caller identifies himself, I’ve forgotten who it is by the time I transfer the call to the proper person.
S: That must be very frustrating.
J: (pulling a tissue from the box) Sure is. Seems like it’s getting worse, no matter what I do.
S: (leaning over to pat Jane’s arm) It’s ok, hon. That’s why you’re here. We’ll get through this together…

(More tears as the lights fade. When the lights come up this time, Sylvia is helping Jane to remove a large, ugly, iron helmet-type apparatus from her head. The face of the mask has eye-holes and a smile cut out of it, like the previous ones.)

S: My lord, Jane! I don’t see how you can wear such a thing!
J: I have to. I have to be able to go to work and do my errands. And then there are the neighbors… (Begins to sob, which continues off and on throughout the conversation)
S: It must be so painful.
J: My head hurts almost all the time. My neck and shoulders are killing me from the weight of the Happy Face. Even my back hurts.
S: At least you must be getting some sleep at nights…
J: Ironically, no. I’m so exhausted that I can’t sleep. And if I do, it’s only until about 3 or 4 am, and then I can’t get back to sleep. I’m too afraid I won’t wake up in time for work.
S: Are you able to make it to work on time, having to put this thing on every morning?
J: I’m late almost every day.
S: How are things once you get there?
J: Really, really bad. This thing makes it almost impossible to concentrate on my work. I just can’t think. I told my boss that I’m distracted by outside activity so she lets me close my office door. But I end up spending more time crying than working.
S: Does your boss know about your illness?
J: Yes, I finally had to tell her, because of the time I’ve taken off. But she doesn’t understand what it’s like in here. She thinks that since I’m wearing the Happy Face, I should be well enough to get my work done. I’m afraid she’s losing patience with me, and I don’t blame her.
S: Still having memory problems?
J: Worse. I miss deadlines and appointments all the time.
S: Are you taking your meds?
J: They quit working so we’re trying some new stuff. But it’s not working either.
S: Well, you know it takes several weeks…
J: Yes, but I feel like they’ll never work. I can’t imagine life without the Happy Face. I can’t even remember what it was like to be well.
S: Perhaps you should take some time off work. I can write a letter to your boss…
J: I’ve used up all my sick time and vacation. I can’t afford to take time off with no pay. Plus, I’m afraid my job won’t be there when I get back, whenever that would be.
S: Well, why don’t you start coming here more often? Perhaps just being able to take off the Happy Face for a little while will ease things up for you, at least until the meds kick in.
J: (really sobbing hard now) That would be good.

(Lights fade and come up and this time we see Jane lugging in a large, flat stone about 10 inches across and 3 inches thick. The stone slab has what look like eyes and a smiling mouth carved into the surface of it. She struggles to the chair, then drops her heavy load on the floor with a loud thump. Tears are streaming down her face.)

J: I can’t take it any more. I give up. If I have to carry this damn Happy Face around just one more day, I’ll die.
S: Oh, you poor dear. You don’t have to carry it. Nobody expects you to cart around a load like this.
J: Yeah, especially since I lost my job.
S: What happened?
J: They said it was because of another missed deadline. But I know it was because I couldn’t keep up with my work. I tried so hard, I really did!
S: I know, hon, I know. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone work so hard to carry that Happy Face.
J: (nodding through her sobs) It feels like I’ve been doing it for so long and I’m so, so tired! I just can’t do it any more.
S: It’s ok, Jane. Just rest. That’s the most important thing right now, the thing you need the most—rest. I’ll help you and your doctor will help you, and everything will be fine. You just try to get the rest you need so that your body can get stronger once again. It’s ok to put the Happy Face down, at least until it becomes more manageable. You’re a very strong person and I know you’ll get through this if you stop trying so hard to fight it and just rest, rest, rest…

(Her words, as well as the lights, fade out…)

7 Comments:

At 10:06 AM, Blogger theresa said...

What a phenomenal impression you've left me with.

It also makes it easy to understand why I barely saw you during the 6 months after you left your job.

 
At 12:38 PM, Blogger Jay said...

That's a really good way of explaining it. I really felt how the weight was pulling you down, down, down.

Jay

 
At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. You just painted with words and it is an intense, thought provoking work of art. I want to sit and study it for a while, so that I can truly understand.

I so enjoy your real happy face. I hope you are able to share it more now. Miss ya.
Nelle (AKA Ellen)

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger Tiger said...

*nods* ...cuz... yeah.

 
At 9:09 PM, Blogger Serra said...

Absolutely perfect.

We can tell people about our disorders (I've had depression and for the last 14 years I've had a chronic pain disorder) until we're blue in the face, but still have to hear "But you look just fine!"

Chronic pain issues are a lot like depression--if someone hasn't actually seen me crawling on my hands and knees in the morning to get to the bathroom on a bad day, they tend to minimize the fact that I have those days because they aren't slapped in the face by the facts.

Enough of my babbling, I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my b*tchy little heart.

 
At 4:50 AM, Anonymous Paula said...

I love you, sis. Especially without your happy face. But I have to say.... "You sound simply marvelous!"

 
At 7:35 AM, Blogger Lu said...

Thanks for the feedback. It sure means a lot and inspires me to write more.

Some background on Paula's comment: Our dad is a very sweet, loving man, but one is never sure if he's getting what you're talking about. When my sis and I try to tell him what we're going through in our lives (both of us have had some pretty heavy depressive episodes), he listens earnestly and then says, "Well, you sound really great!" AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! This is why I wrote "Dear Dad," which you can find in the archives.

--Lu

 

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