Depression is, more often than not, portrayed as a monolith – it’s seen as a mental illness that keeps people trapped on their couch or in their bed, unable to escape the dark cloud that is so often described as surrounding them. But depression, like every other illness, almost never looks the same. For me, part of my coping mechanism was to pretend I was fine – I would over-commit myself, sign up for every available activity, allow myself only moments of downtime, appear energetic, and while not necessarily happy, I appeared angrier than, say, depressed.
But the truth is this was how I avoided acknowledging that I did, in fact, have depression. I didn’t walk around with a dark cloud hanging over my head; it lived in my brain, and whenever it started to float up, I would shove it back down as deep as it could go. My therapist says I had one of the best masks she’d ever seen when we first met; if I hadn’t been sitting in her office telling her about my suicidal ideation, she probably wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong.
I appeared perfectly normal. I laughed. I joked around. I showed up to things I needed to show up to. I got my homework done. I did extracurricular activities. I had friends. I didn’t fully isolate myself. It never seemed like I had anything to hide. But no matter how much I pretended my connection to Hamlet was arbitrary, or my near-constant need to sleep was simply a matter of growing pains, there was always an underlying fear (or knowledge) that something was, in fact, wrong.
Here’s the problem – as simple as it was to walk around and pretend nothing was wrong, avoid the assumptions about my state of mind, there is nothing I can point to as more of an exacerbator of my depression than my own ability to hide it. Your ability to ask for help diminishes by multitudes the minute you start pretending nothing is wrong. It means that you not only have to overcome the daunting task of asking for help, but you also have to admit that what you’re pretending isn’t there, really is.
And trust me, faking it is a lot easier than owning your shit and admitting that you’re struggling. I have spent the last year of my life taking steps to seek answers, learn my truth, and find help, and every single moment has been ridiculously difficult. Every time I send my beginning of the semester “I Have Depression Sorry” email to my professors, every time I turn down an invitation to go out because my depression is acting up, every time I learn something in therapy that means I have to go ask someone to pick up the slack for me is one more part of my life I’m giving up control over, one more person who sees my vulnerability.
Despite all of this, I am still writing this article and attaching my name to it. I’m still telling the world (or whoever reads this) that I have depression! That I struggle (frequently) and the truth is, I am a great liar. I know how to convince someone I’m not having a depressive episode, and while it makes that single moment easier, all of those moments have added up to a mental illness that, at 20 years old, sometimes feels insurmountable. Honesty has set me free. Honesty has allowed me to forgive myself of my mistakes and let others truly see me. When I ask for help, I am allowing the people I love to take care of me; I am giving the world a chance to show me that I am worth living in it. And yeah, it’s nearly killed me. But I’m still here.