There are a lot of misconceptions regarding depression, and I’d never be able to address all of them, however there is one that has been on my mind recently. It’s the belief that you can tell on the outside whether or not a person is depressed.
For some reason we have in our mind a picture of what we believe a person should look like with mental illness, and if the person in front of us doesn’t fit that picture we doubt they are actually depressed. And even if they are it can’t really be that bad…right?
Most people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness won’t admit it. Sure, there are some who do. But I believe the majority of people who feel hopeless, insecure, and alone would never tell you how they feel.
Now, there are two reasons why I decided to write this post.
- I’d like to explain one of the main reasons I believe it is hard to identify a person battling depression.
- I want to answer some of the questions I imagine some who know me might have about my own experience with depression.
Because I’m generally open about my thoughts and feelings, I’ve had a lot of friends come to me and talk about similar feelings they have. After listening to them talk about their insecurities, and living life with different forms of mental illness, I believe it’s hard to identify from the outside because of how easy it is to put on a fake face and pretend like everything is fine.
Wearing a mask is easier than trying to explain to somebody how lost, empty, and afraid you feel on the inside, especially when you know that on the outside your life looks great.
So even though on the inside they’re breaking down, they put on a smile and pretend that nothing is wrong. And even if they do admit they’re unhappy all they hear back is, “Fake it till you make it.”
A person with diabetes would never be told to fake it till they make it. Nobody would tell a cancer patient that if they pretend they don’t have cancer it’ll just go away.
But when somebody admits they’re depressed they usually are told that if they fake being happy eventually they will be. So they either learn to bypass the conversation entirely by never admitting they feel bad, or they believe what they’re told and fake it until they finally break down and stop functioning.
Having said that, as far as my own experience is concerned, I don’t actually wear a mask.
Those who know me can tell you that I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings. Not only do I wear my heart on my sleeve, I broadcast it.
It doesn’t matter if I’m happy, sad, in love, or whatever. You’ll know how I feel.
This means that when you tell me “but you were always so happy” you’re probably right. I most likely was happy when I was around you. When I’m outside of my own head and am able to focus on something else everything is fine and dandy.
But when I went home after spending time with you I started analyzing everything that happened.
- What should I have said?
- What did I say wrong?
- Was I wearing the right thing?
- Was I breathing too loud?
- Did you have as much fun as I did?
- When will I see you again?
- What sort of things were said about me when I left?
Everything starts spiraling and I fall apart.
See, my head is a dangerous place for me to be. When I can focus on other people and am taken out of my head I’m all kinds of happy and fun. But as soon as I get left alone in my head I start tearing myself down.
For me it isn’t a matter of wearing a mask when I’m around you. All those times you saw me and thought I was confident and happy I probably was. But the insecurities, anxiety, and depression I felt when you didn’t see me are also real, and very much a part of me.
(I’m learning how to handle my insecurities, and finding ways to love who I am. But that is a subject for another post.)
There are many other reasons why it might be a surprise to hear that somebody you know is having a hard time mentally. But that does not make it acceptable to question the seriousness of their struggles.
But don’t doubt.