There’s a stigma that surrounds mental illness in general. There’s a sense of shame that comes with it in a lot of cases. Some people view it as a sign of weakness. It makes it difficult to open up about the kinds of feelings that depression creates. And when you do let others see it, there’s a chance you’ll get the “well just toughen up” or “you just gotta pull yourself up by your boot straps and be a man about it”. It’s degrading for you to be feeling all this pain and not know why, and then for someone to tell you that it’s just because you’re not strong enough or are just being a wimp. In fact it’s gut wrenchingly painful. When you believe what you’re being told (which because of the disease you tend to believe the worst about yourself anyways), you start to see your sickness as a personal flaw instead of as a situation that you were born into. I wrote an entire post about how depression isn’t a choice, so I’ll digress from that.
The reason I bring this up is because feelings of shame are a powerful force. When you feel shame, you want to hide whatever it is that causes it. Depression is no different. You don’t want others to see what you’re feeling, so you bury it deep. You hide it under your smile, your sense of humor, your relationships with others; you throw anything you can on top of it so that it doesn’t see the light of day and others won’t be aware of it. Some people are really good at this, and that’s why you hear people say, “I would have never expected you to have depression”. I was told this a lot when I was first diagnosed. Some are better than others, but you learn to hide the things you don’t want others to see in whatever way you can.
The longer it’s buried, the more pressure there is on top of it. It seethes and burns and grows under all of these things you’ve used to conceal it. It gets worse and worse. It drains more and more of you. You feel your resolve to fight it deplete more and more. Then it happens. The inevitable outcome of continuously suppressing something so volatile comes to fruition.
I’ve always used that word to describe it and I always will because there is no more accurate depiction of what happens. The sudden and violent release of everything you’ve been feeling. It leave you completely wrecked. You can become despondent and completely lock everyone out. All of a sudden you have your issues out there. Without your consent your sickness let itself out and you feel overwhelming shame because this break down means that you still haven’t “toughened up”. You feel weak and you don’t know what to do about it. You feel depleted and empty and your pain is now worse.
For me these were the hardest times. I had a few good explosions a year usually and they were always very visible. My moods and actions were just kind of raw. I wasn’t making an effort to hide it; not because I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t have the energy to push it back. I was hollow.
After I started to return to normal, I started burying it again and putting the pieces back in place. However that gets harder and harder to do the more times you let the explosions happen.
I advocate strongly for opening up. In fact if I could pass on two pieces of advice to everyone who is struggling they would be this: be confident in the fact that your depression doesn’t define you or reflect an inherent flaw, and find someone you trust who cares about you to open up to so that you can decompress. Decompressing is vital to ensure that you don’t blow up.
I guess what I’m trying to tell people who are trying to comprehend depression is this: depression can make someone form a very thorough and convincing mask which they hide behind. Be aware of that. Be aware that they’re not always alright despite what they say. If you know someone who suffers, then please don’t shame them by saying that what they’re experiencing is their fault or is caused by a lack of strength. Support them and give them a place to open if when they need to.