“What do you mean depressed? I just saw you last week and you seemed so happy.”
That is the typical thing people say when we talk about depression. They don’t mean anything by it, in fact they are trying their best to understand. They are well meaning. But it shows something that I know first hand to be true. You have no idea of how many people around you are dealing with depression. We become masters at hiding our true feelings. To be laughing on the outside, but quietly screaming on the inside.
As much as you will hear me stress how much mental health is just a medical health issue, it is a bit different at the same time. There aren’t necessarily any outward signs at all. It’s not like I limp suddenly when I am depressed. But it is not really something that you can easily admit to, out of fear for our career, our reputations, and ourselves, we learn to hide it. We are everywhere around you every day.
The guy in the office who is always cutting up and you wonder if he is ever serious, he suffers from crushing depression. Last week he was at the edge of the building thinking, just open the window and lean forward. The friend who you used to hang out with all of the time who suddenly doesn’t want to go anywhere or do anything any more, she has social anxiety and being out is just too much right now. 1 in 25 million in the US live with serious chronic mental illness. Nearly 60% of adults with a mental disorder haven’t had treatment for it in the previous year.
I hear all of the time that I don’t have a poker face because you can read my every emotion on my face. Those are just the emotions that make it through. People tell me I don’t have a filter between what I think and what Isay. You have NO idea what I don’t say!!! By the time anyone notices a change in me, it has already been bad for a long time.
We will run to our primary care doctor, and three specialists at the first sign of a problem, but you just don’t tell people that you are seeking mental health treatment, or seeing a counselor, or psychiatrist. Immediately people think of you differently, talk about you differently, treat you differently. How do I know? I’ve been in the room when someone walked out and heard the comments. And even though it has gotten marginally better, men find it especially difficult. We won’t stop and ask directions and you want us to tell someone our problems?
It would be a sign of weakness by how most men my age were raised. I am from the suck it up and go, rub some dirt on it and get back in there, big boys don’t cry era as was everyone older than me. You don’t talk about your feelings. You don’t go to see a shrink.
That is what stopped me from saying anything each of the 3 times that I have been in trouble. Coach Black, Sgt Black, Jimbo can’t reach out for help. What would everyone think? What will they say about me? If you have fallen down the stairs and your ankle is black and blue, wouldn’t you go see a shrink? What, do you mean it isn’t reasonable to just hope it gets better on its own? But most of us are scared to death to say we need help for something mentally. Out mind is the most neglected body part we have.
All of these “hiding” techniques are why I love to make people laugh. The sound of someone else laughing is one of my greatest joys. What I have learned is that is nothing more than my mask. Because I won’t allow myself to feel joy, because I don’t feel like I am allowed to be happy or content, I have to hear your laughter because I don’t hear my own when I am alone. So I become the sarcastic one. They one that has a comment for everything. The one that is always willing to make an ass out of myself to make someone else laugh. It is all because I am hiding and I am scared. I have to borrow your laughter. My smile crumbles the instant you are gone.
But because we don’t discuss mental health, we don’t know what to say or what to ask. Which leads to the things that people can say that will make me silently roll my eyes so hard I can see my brain stem.
“You have to quit letting things get to you”, “you take stuff too personal”, “you just have to let things go.”
Then there is my very favorite. Years ago, I was told I just needed to just stop being sad. Isn’t that just some genius advice? I have a psychiatrist, well, technically 2 right now actually, a counselor with a PhD, 3 other counselors, 2 counseling interns and a case manager. Add them all up and that is decades of education, residencies, internships and practical experience. Who knew all this time all I had to do was to stop being sad? Holy shit, Dr. House, you have figured it out again.
Under that theory, when I had appendicitis earlier this year, the doctor should have just told it to stop being infected. See? All better now. When you see the lady with the insulin pump on her side, tell her to just start making insulin?
Just stop being sad. Do you think I want this? Do you really think that I enjoy the sleepless nights and the panic attacks and having to stop my day in the middle of the day because you have had a panic attack in someone’s parking lot? Like I wanted the associated medical problems that my anxiety and OCD cause like the ulcers, the issues that led to the having my gallbladder out last year. Because I enjoy the nights filled with my thoughts are racing so fast that my whole head is buzzing. Nobody wants to live this way, but because you say stuff like this, we hide.
Start noticing the people around you. What do we miss as we live our lives looking at others without seeing, listenin to them without hearing them? I think all of us that are struggling have subtle hints that we give out to people. There are things that our demeanor and body language tell you that our words do not. Look for subtle changes in people that are around you. Are they suddenly absent when they are usually always around? Are they no longer participating in normal activities that they used to enjoy? Is your contact with them less frequent for no reason at all? Do calls and texts go unanswered?
Sometimes all we need is for someone to notice and ask us if we are ok or just to know that despite what we feel, somebody does care. Sometimes it is a simple as asking “is there something I can do to help?” And if they ever open up to you, don’t treat them any differently than before they told you. Don’t abandon them.
If anything in this post looks familiar to you are if you are struggling, seek professional help, talk to a counselor. You are not alone and there is hope. I promise there is.
Remember to love yourself first and always.