What Is ‘Duck Syndrome’ – And Are You At Risk?

In today's worrying news, 'duck syndrome' is affecting increasing numbers of women around the world - and it's even being linked to an increase in suicides.

Behave like a duck: Stay calm and collected on the surface, but paddle like heck underneath

It’s a familiar adage. The kind of phrase you might see sewn on a tea towel in your Granny’s kitchen, or printed on a retro-inspired birthday card from JOY. It makes sense, you think. Easier said than done though, you sigh. Best try harder at it tomorrow, you vow.

But what if we told you that the ducks have got it all wrong? What if ducks are meant to be flapping their wings all over the place, splashing like a six month old sitting in a washing up bowl, belly flopping into the water like Free Willy and generally causing the river levels to rise with their tears. Because if science and experience and Pixar have taught us anything, it’s that pretending that everything is OK when it’s not OK is, well, not OK.

In fact trying to cover up how hard you’re working is so not OK that experts at Stanford University have termed the trend ‘Duck Syndrome’ – and attributed it to a rise in depression and suicide rates across America and the UK.

Essentially the academic incarnation of #WokeUpLikeThis, Duck Syndrome comes down to the idea of being effortlessly perfect. Women – and, to a lesser extent, men – are endlessly asked to achieve the ‘perfect’ career, the ‘perfect’ body, the ‘perfect’ relationship and the ‘perfect’ social life. But we’re not allowing ourselves to struggle in our attempts to get there.

Just like the food blogger who eats beans and toast Monday to Friday, then uploads one super-stylised, expensive picture of a gourmet cheese burger on a Saturday night, we’re presenting ourselves to the world in an increasingly disingenous light. And that doesn’t just stop us from getting the support that we need when things get tough – it also makes things worse for those around us, too. Sure, you might be doing a smashing job of pretending to scale the career ladder with your eyes closed, but your friend who’s finding her work really difficult might look at you and feel pressured to pretend likewise – only to go home and cry herself to sleep behind closed doors.

Admitting that we’re not perfect is hard, and it’s even harder to admit that actually, we’d quite like to be. But if we want to break free from Duck Syndrome, then that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do. Take a deep breath and tell somebody that you’re aiming high, but that you’re struggling to get there. Ask a friend for her help. Together, flap your wings, cry your tears and make a splash.

After all, who wants to be a duck when you can be a goddamn killer whale anyway?

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