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Happiness is more attractive than sadness. This was an idea instilled into me from a young age. No one should know my problems, so I should hide them behind a smile and dodge answers when someone asks how I am. Growing up, I tried my best to keep up appearances.
When my friends were on the way over and my dad had just been verbally abusive, I had to mask my feelings. If a friend called on the phone, I tried to cover the fact that my dad was bullying my sister in the background by moving to a different room. On the way to church, I had to listen to my parents scream at each other, then dry my tears and sing in worship and read Bible verses like it never happened.
But it did happen, again and again and again, and it hurt so deeply. Pretending everything okay was destroying me.
Lady Bishamonten is a very tenderhearted god of fortune in the anime Noragami. She has taken in more regalia (former wandering spirits now bonded to a god) than any other god, giving them a home safe from phantoms. When a regalia sins or feels negative emotions, it affects their god, therefore one of Bishamonten’s spirits, Kazuma, urges his fellow regalia to hide any bad feelings they have for one another.
The regalia disguise their fears, sadness, and worries behind smiles. But instead of creating an area of peace, this incites even more discord as they tried harder and harder to cover up how they feel. Eventually, these bottle feelings poison Lady Bishamonten. Ironically, their attempts to stop a problem only made the problem worse.
Despite the aching pain inside me from my parents’ bad relationship and my father’s verbal abuse, I never talked about it. During a youth camp, everyone rooming with me shared their testimonies. After hearing all of these tales of dodging abuse and rape, stories that seemed much worse than mine, I didn’t think my problems were worth telling anyone.
When I had to quit fencing, my fencing teacher, who was normally a gruff and strict man, looked me in the eye and asked me if I had trouble at home. I could have said something then, because someone was finally asking me outright what was wrong; but I didn’t because I was scared and I didn’t want him to see me differently. I wanted to keep up appearances and I didn’t want someone to pity me or think less of me. I wanted everyone to think my family was fine and everything was normal.
All of these evasive maneuvers, didn’t help. The problem never went away. It got worse and worse. When my parents divorced, I couldn’t keep in all of the anger, fear, and despair I felt, and it plunged me into a deep depression that lasted for a year. I felt as poisoned as Lady Bishamonten.
Kazuma: “No matter what we must continue to smile for our lady’s sake. That’s what I’ve always taught our family. Always. But now we have disgraced her once again.”
Hiyori: “Are you sure that really helps? Seems like it must be tough. It sounds like Bishamonten handles things a lot differently than Yato. He has no trouble complaining whenever he’s in pain. And Yukine’s not usually shy about sharing his feelings either. That can lead to a whole lot of bickering but I like that about them. It’s sweet. You can tell they’re actually close to one another. More family than friends. But Bishamonten and her regalia are quietly suffering to keep up appearances. Isn’t that sort of hard on everyone?”
Quietly suffering. That’s what I did for years. It wasn’t until I started making a point to voice my pain that I felt relief. I talked about my hardships to others. I talked about my pain to my mother and my sister and because of that we grew closer. When I admitted this pain to my best friend and she revealed her own suffering to me, we sealed a bond that has lasted us years. Our feelings shouldn’t be expressed to everyone, but to the people closest to us, we don’t need to hide.
Smiles are important. They help us display happiness and laughter can help sadness lessen for a moment, but faking them isn’t a resolution for problems. Pretending my feelings don’t exist won’t make them go away. Appearances are not worth our relationships, nor our mental health. Happiness isn’t meant to be a cloak for sadness. Smiles shouldn’t be used to hide our blights.