I have a friend who recently went through a period of real struggle in her life. She shared with me that she had found herself not wanting to be around friends or to go out because she didn’t want to have to pretend like things were okay in her life and it got me thinking about why people feel like they have to put on a show for others. When I told her I completely understood how she was feeling, she said, I know. That’s why I confided in you.
How many times in my 29 years of life have there been where I wanted to shut everything out because I didn’t want to pretend either? How many times did I avoid people because I didn’t want to make small talk, to say I was “fine” or “good” or even “okay” when I was anything but? She knew I understood, so I began to wonder, why should we feel like we have to pretend?
No one wants to talk about depression and sometimes I wonder why. Is it because we’re embarrassed? Is it because we’re afraid of what other people will think of us? Are we afraid of the careful way people will begin to look at us? Are we afraid of the whispered words friends will share with each other?
When I think about why I don’t talk about it, understanding comes to mind. My silence is because I’m afraid people won’t understand. Depression is the dark secret in many people’s lives – including my own -- that others either mistake for sadness or mistake for a period of time that will pass. Depression seems to be that word that we use to describe days where we feel down or times in our lives where we’re going through difficult situations, and while those times are real, that isn’t the kind of depression I’m referring to.
The dark secret that many people, including myself, hide is the depression that seems to cover every aspect of a person’s life. It’s the thing that takes wonderful situations and sours them, the thing that makes every moment in life feel like a struggle, the thing that makes a person believe everything negative at every moment of the day. It’s the thing that makes it hard to get out of bed some days, the thing that makes the hardest worker into someone that doesn’t want to do anything, the thing that makes best friends and family into burdens.
We don’t talk about depression because many people don’t want to understand it. I’ve been called dramatic. I’ve been called selfish. I’ve been called lazy. I’ve been called a pushover. I’ve been called overly emotional. People want to see these actions and brush them off because for people who don’t suffer from depression, everything in life is a choice. For people who don’t suffer from depression, life is all about our mindset, about not letting things get to us and about choosing to feel a certain way, but for people with depression, our mind is the one thing that betrays us. What if it isn’t as easy as making a choice? What if when you wake up in the morning the only thing you can manage to do is stay put? What if your brain is wired to see things differently?
The truth is, I’m tired. I’m tired of keeping quiet. I’m tired of pretending. And I’m tired of feeling like my depression is a big scarlet A on my chest that makes me incapable of being a regular person. This secret has become my identity for so long, mostly because of the fact that it was a secret. I’m tired of depression running my life and I’m sure others out there are tired too.
Depression is real. It isn’t a feeling. It isn’t something that will pass. It can be debilitating. It can be dark and lonely. It can sometimes mean hoping your friends bail on you so you don’t have to go out. It can mean not getting out of bed until lunchtime. It can mean living in sweats. It can mean not wanting to talk to anyone. It can mean wishing you could be anyone else than who you are. It can mean imagining how death could be better than life. And, this is my life and it’s been my life for a long time. Sure I have days where things feel right and good and days where I can live and see all the things in my life to be thankful for. But, mostly my life has been about fighting through anxiety, feelings of loneliness, of self-hatred, and constant and oppressive sadness. I fight every day to see my life as it is in front of me, to enjoy friends and family and the luxuries of life, to see all the positives instead of the negatives, to love who I am and the life around me. But, when it comes down to it, my life has been a constant struggle. It’s a constant struggle to not let depression win. It’s been a struggle to be confident in the person I am and in the life I lead. It’s been a constant struggle to not let the world around me dictate who I am.
This is what we’re not talking about. This is the thing everyone wants to keep hidden and safe. Talking about it doesn’t mean I or any one else requires pity or wants any one else to feel sorry for us or treat us delicately. But, this is the thing that should be talked about because talking about it is the only way to get past it. Talking about it is what allows us to be free.