I’ve just been informed that it’s Depression Awareness Week, and I feel as though it’s time for me to have a frank discussion about what my depression/anxiety looks like.
It concerns me deeply that we have such a restricted view of what depression “looks” like, what mental illness “looks” like, what anxiety “looks” like, even what happiness “looks” like. Here’s the raw truth; for many depressives what looks to you like happiness to you is really our disease at its worst.
Have I spent the day smiling and laughing? Did I tell some great stories, spend all night at that party, buy everyone a drink, make plans for tomorrow night and the night after? Was I super fun to be around? I am probably drowning.
Because, you see, the problem with the societal stigma of mental illness is that we try so valiantly to hide it. If my joy seems unrestrained; I’m faking it. Because I feel like I have to. Because I feel guilty for my lack of happiness, my ingratitude. Because I am sure that you would not love me depressed.
Depression is insidious, it’s sneaky, it’s a chameleon. I can not tell you how often I don’t even recognize it in myself. For me so many of my “positive” qualities are the children of my depression. I am organized because chaos terrifies me (literally terrifies me). Neat because disorder in my surroundings is actually physically painful. Clean because it makes me feel as though I have control. I do activism because the thing that best distracts me from my own darkness is dealing with someone else’s real, concrete problems. I smile because you can’t know I’m sad.
So, in the interest of awareness, I offer you this: you may never be able to tell the difference between my real smile and a faked one, and I believe this to be true of most people living with depression, but you can make it less important for me to pretend. When we ask someone how they are we should encourage a true answer. We should be welcoming of the hard to hear response. We should take encouragement in each others’ honest challenges and offer solace in the form of solidarity. If we can hear each other, we are far less likely to lose each other. Don’t ever take for granted that a smile equals happiness.