Behind the Forced Smile


“I was so good at it that no one ever found out.”

One might typically think that if you were good at something, you’d want to show it off, not hide it. Right? Unless what you were so good at was slitting your wrist and inner thighs with the razor blade from an X-Acto knife.

Jessica Quail, a 20-year-old sophomore at Morningside College, hasn’t had the easiest life; however, she’s learned to embrace her struggles.

Jessica grew up in the small town of Sac City, Iowa, with population just slightly over 2,000 people. At the age of 12, Jessica began struggling with depression. To her, “depression is feeling like you’re by yourself with no where to turn. You’re in a place where you have no control over your life.”

There are several things that she credits for the cause of her depression. Firstly, Jessica has grown up without a father figure in her life. Her dad left her mom before Jessica was born, insisting that she wasn’t his and that he wanted nothing to do with her. However, according to Jessica’s mom, he used to drive by their house when Jessica was little and watch her, but he never approached her. Because of this, Jessica’s family moved several times. “I’m 20 years old and I’ve moved 23 times,” she says. Jessica’s mom even kept their phone number and address unlisted for years so he wouldn’t be able to find them again.

Jessica has never met her father and doesn’t have any desire to do so. “Why would I want to get to know somebody who for the last 20 years never tried to get a hold of me? If he died tomorrow it wouldn’t change my life one bit.” Jessica doesn’t know much about her dad, including where he is. All she knows is that he is a fugitive on the run who is wanted for assault, child support, and murdering his own dad. Nevertheless, without having a father figure in her life, Jessica has always felt like a part of her is missing, and that missing piece has been replaced with depression.

In addition to growing up without a dad, Jessica says “being bullied, not feeling pretty enough, not being good at sports, and overall low self esteem” were causes of her depression.

By the time Jessica was 13, her depression became significantly worse and she turned to self-harm. She would cut her wrist and thighs just to be able to feel something. No one knew what she was doing it since she hid her scars, both physical and emotional, so well. In fact, her mom never found out until a year ago when Jessica decided to tell her. She was heartbroken to hear what her daughter used to put herself through.

At that point in her life, Jessica was also very suicidal and contemplated killing herself multiple times. If she had, she would have most likely done so by overdosing on pills. This method appealed to her the most because it would most likely be less painful than others. Bringing to light Jessica’s negative body image at that time she says, “I never thought about hanging myself because fat people can’t hang themselves.”

Jessica never actually attempted suicide, but she continued to struggle with her depression. That is, until she found a creative outlet. She began to open up about her struggles in the form of poetry. At first, the poems were just for her, but soon, she began to share with others. The following is an excerpt form one of her poems.


                    Life just didn’t seem fair

                    No one seemed to notice

                    When she started wearing long sleeves

                    The sparkle in her eye no longer was there

                    Her smile was so forced


Writing helped her to cope, and she continues to use this strategy today. Jessica still struggles with depression sometimes, but she plans to make use of these struggles by helping others.

She plans on being a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with children and teens who are depressed. She believes that her future patients will benefit from having a psychiatrist who has gone through the same struggles as they are.