When a Nurse Said I 'Don't Look Like Someone Who Has Depression'


“How long did you say you’ve struggled with depression and anxiety?”

“I realized something was off since I was 17, so what’s that? Fifteen years?”

“But you don’t look like someone who has depression. You’re so put together. Maybe it’s just stress?”

I’m sitting at my primary care doctor’s office, answering questions from the nurse practitioner about my visit. I want to have some blood work done. My psychologist suggested I get my hormones checked for any irregularities. I am explaining to her that I am desperate to find an answer and treatment that works for me. I got the first appointment of the day, and I’ll be heading to work after. I’m dressed in skinny black slacks, a striped sweater and black heels. I take a shower every morning because I can’t manage to do anything with my hair if I don’t blow dry it. I have very little makeup on, much less than usual because I have actually been feeling pretty low lately.

I never dress fancy or extravagantly, but I’m always put together, even if I’m going to the grocery store. It’s partially because I’m self-conscious, and because why shouldn’t I? I don’t have the energy to convince her I have depression despite the fact that I take care to dress myself. I don’t have the energy to be snarky and see if she expected me to walk in, in a straitjacket. I don’t have the energy to explain to her that after 15 years of getting all kinds of judgmental reactions to the fact I have depression, I’ve learned how to present myself to the world. I don’t even have the energy to be angry at the fact that, as a health care professional, she doesn’t have enough knowledge about the invisible monster that is depression.

Why do I have to convince you, just to get some blood work done? I’ve had my days when I couldn’t get out of bed. I’ve had my days when I didn’t leave the house because I didn’t have the energy to look put together. I wish she knew I woke up with tears trickling down my face. I wish she knew I wanted nothing more than to keep sleeping. I wish she knew of the heavy pain I carry against my chest as I try to look put together.

Inside of me, there is a storm. There is a tornado going through me, and I have no safe place to hide. Inside of me, there is a broken heart, broken dreams, broken hopes and everything else I have taped and glued together so many times, only for them to get ripped apart by this invisible pain again. I wish looking put together was a shield against this raging storm. We fight and push through the pain every day. We get up, we dress up, we show up, and yes, we take our wounded souls back home at the end of the day. I don’t have to look a certain way to prove an illness, and my illness does not make me incapable of fighting or looking presentable. I just don’t want to fight this hard every day. I don’t want to hurt every day. I don’t want to have to answer questions that minimize my daily experience. So, if you could scribble some blood work on your pad, there is a whole world waiting for me out there to tackle.

Image via Thinkstock.

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