To My Doctor Who Said, 'Well, You Don't Look Depressed...'

I guess I’m one hell of an actress then.

I’m not quite sure what depression is supposed to look like, but I do know how it feels. It’s
like a nightmare you can’t wake up from, and it generally gets worse before it gets better.

An estimated 350 million people worldwide live through this ongoing nightmare every
day, yet it is the loneliest illness a person can face. And when your own physician downplays your unhappiness, the lonely cause isn’t helped out one bit.

I have been suffering from depression before I even knew what depression was, but I had only talked to my doctor about it for the first time a few months ago. There I was, a 19-year-old high school graduate, in my pediatrician’s office, sitting on an uncomfortable Sesame Street themed bed, awkwardly trying to explain to her how I had been feeling for the past several weeks (for the past several years). What she had to say in return was quite discouraging:

“Well, you don’t look depressed…I’ve had patients come in here and not even make eye contact with me. They just lay on the bed, barely saying a word and I usually do all of the talking.”

Eight years of barely saying a word. Eight years of just laying on my bed at home, praying my bad thoughts would disappear and never return. I finally built up the courage to talk to you, a doctor, about how I have been feeling and you have the nerve to say to me I don’t even look depressed. I’ve had time to practice, to put my makeup on and fake a few smiles. Of course I don’t look depressed. Just because I don’t fit the stereotype of what a depressed person should be, doesn’t mean I do not suffer. That doesn’t mean I cannot suffer. And it doesn’t mean I suffer less — or more — than anyone else.

Although I may have received more help from my own online research than my actual doctor, I do not regret for one second openly talking about my depression and learning how to properly manage it. I’ve learned that depression is not who I am. It is not my label nor my identity. It is only a small part of me, like anything else.

To the other 350 million people out there, do not believe in those who criticize your sorrow. Do not trust in those who judge you and keep the stigma on mental illness alive. We didn’t choose depression, but we can choose how we let it define us, and how we let others define us, too. Remember that.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


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