Hidden Depression

A short film that explains what it’s like to have hidden depression.


I May Not Understand Depression, but My Dad Does

I’m not a psychologist.

I’ll repeat. I am not a psychologist. I took five psychology courses during undergrad: intro, social, abnormal, personality and developmental. Almost enough for a minor, but not enough to change my amateur status. I passed — for the most part — with middling grades in all of the courses except for one (I aced developmental, which I can only attribute to my girlfriend’s insistence I’m still mentally 13-years-old).

I don’t understand depression.

I’m part of the group who haven’t found themselves on the short end of a diagnosis. I don’t – perhaps can’t – understand the struggle of those in the remaining fraction of the populace, because my brain allows me to experience the world “typically” according to the American Psychiatric Association. I can sympathize with their struggle, but that’s all I can do. I can’t live in their world and I can’t will myself into depression any more than they can will themselves out of it.

My father understands depression.

My dad’s understanding of depression was forced upon him. Throughout his teenage years and his adult life, my father experienced the constant specter of depressive thoughts without ever asking Siri about sadness or Googling feelings of worthlessness. He knows what it’s like to sit silently and stare at an opposing wall, wanting only to hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing.

The amplified feeling of hopelessness after a missed promotion. The despair felt after losing a family member. The experience of being unwanted at the end of a failed marriage. He knows these emotions because he lived these emotions.

I may understand the courage it took for him to seek out professional help. I may understand the helplessness he must have felt as we, his sons, constantly came to him for the same advice, the same warmth we had come to expect when his mind wasn’t telling him he was worthless. But I’m not my father and I’m not depressed. I have no idea what his struggle meant to him or how he clawed his way back to stability or how he relives those memories when they creep back into the quiet corners of his day.

When I got a call from him before football practice on a clear September day in 2006, right before I exchanged my sneakers for cleats, I didn’t have the therapeutic “know-how” to respond appropriately to his matter-of-fact presentation of the reasons he was getting a divorce. I couldn’t bring him closure with words and I wasn’t going to find a cognitive technique to remove the negativity from his inner monologue. If you had asked me about the DSM, I would have told you I didn’t really use drugs.

I didn’t have a plan. What I had was a car, an unsettled teenage brain and a perfect excuse to not participate in conditioning drills. So I swapped back to sneakers, told my coach there was an emergency and tried to drive home in a panic to figure out what was happening to the family I thought would weather the storm.

I don’t always make the right decision.

The next time I saw my father, he was standing next to my bed at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania after I had fallen asleep behind the wheel and gotten myself into a head-on wreck. By some divine providence, everyone walked away from it uninjured. He was the man I had known all my life. He wasn’t any less a victim of depression, nor was he any less getting a divorce. He was my father and I knew that would never change. I would always be his son. We were bonded by something larger than a few misplaced chemicals or broken receptors.

We didn’t talk about depression or divorce that night. We didn’t talk about the wreck, either. We went to Chick-fil-A and talked about how they had figured out the exact blend of three or four ingredients that comprised a perfect chicken sandwich. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated a milkshake as much as the one he bought for me while I was still wearing my CHOP wristband and IV-induced Band-Aid.

I don’t need to make the right decision every time.

Like most, I still argue with my dad sometimes. He’s eternally risk-averse and gets upset when I let my car rack up an extra 3,000 miles beyond the point where I should have gotten an oil change (Dad, if you’re reading this, I scheduled it for tomorrow, just like the last three times I told you I scheduled it for tomorrow).

But when he was at his lowest points, it didn’t matter I occasionally spent weekends in college drinking Lionshead out of a week-old keg and playing Borderlands with my roommates instead of figuring out how to write a basic proxy server in an archaic programming language. What mattered was I called and told him I could talk whenever he was up to it. What mattered was I made enough time in my day to remember that, while he was fighting a battle on his own, my dad was more than his depression and he had a support network to remind him in case he ever forgot.

My dad doesn’t see his therapist anymore and he no longer fills a prescription for antidepressants. It’s fairly clear he’s doing better now by all outside measures. I never figured out how he beat it – nor do I think I’ll ever figure out how he beat it – but I can tell he’s not fighting just to be normal anymore.

I still don’t really understand depression.

If my life depended on it, I couldn’t treat someone’s depression on my own any more than I could perform facial reconstruction surgery or operate a garbage truck. I’d just take a mess and make it even worse. I’m trying to educate myself on symptom recognition, negative patterns of thinking and proven techniques to help counsel those in need of immediate assistance. Even still, I don’t have the training and am only now finding the resources such as NAMI, Challenge the Storm and The Mighty to help me acquire the tools to help people like my father, to help people in need.

After all, I’m not a psychologist.

I’m someone’s son and someone’s support.

And maybe that’s all I need to be.

Originally published on and submitted on behalf of Challenge the Storm.

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A tweet that reads: It's like trying to swim to the surface from the bottom of a murky pool but never reaching it

23 Tweets That Perfectly Describe the Reality of Depression

Because it can be hard to describe what depression is like in real life, #ThisIsWhatDepressionFeelsLike is inviting people to share the experiences on Twitter. Using the hashtag — an offshoot of #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike — people have been having honest conversations about the harsh reality of living with depression. Their descriptions are powerful, and a reminder that however dark it might get, you’re never alone.

Here are some of the tweets that resonated with us:



































Of course, not everyone experiences depression in the same way. If none of these resonated with you, how would you describe what depression feels like? Let us know in the comments below.

A colorful image of a woman dancer

I Am Not My Depression, I Am My Fight

Am I my depression? That is a question that is haunting me tonight. I have been on break, and depression has really colored my week. The deep set heaviness made “fun things” completely exhausting. Being out of my routine ruined my ability to mentally prepare for the expectations of others.

Perhaps it seems dramatic to make this a question of identity, but it is one of the two most impactful things in my life right now. It changes my decisions, my engagement with life and my self-perception. I keep trying out different descriptions about how my depression relates to me to see which one fits.

Maybe depression is a part of me. But then, it is the part of me that I hate. It becomes a personal flaw in my makeup. Or maybe I must accept and embrace it. Be OK with the place I’m at right now. Be OK with the situation that triggered my depression. I would need to look at the silver linings and all the things I’ve learned, and decide they are worth the continued, sometimes intolerable, psychological pain.

And there are moments when I think it’s all that I am. It consumes every thought. It makes me question everything about my previous identity — my competence, skills, personality and even my faith. The depression tells me that it is all that I have and the only way out is to escape.

Next, I try to look at it through a logical lens. What is the science behind it? From that perspective, I would have to say it is an illness. Its cause is likely multifaceted. So my depression boils down to a list of symptoms. But does it make a difference when some of those symptoms are emotional or behavioral?

I think back to those moments where I was at my worst. Moments when I truly thought I didn’t want to live anymore. And, I begin to see a pattern. I feel worthless and undeserving. The depression is dragging me down and fear makes it hard to breathe.

But I reach out.

I may not directly ask for help, but I let someone know that I’m not doing well. When depression leads to suicidal ideation, the person that I am, the person within me reaches out. Even when the pain felt unbearable, there was always a part of me fighting to live.

I am not my depression, I am my fight.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Depression Made Me Believe People-Pleasing Was Love

I have been in love many times in my life. I have fallen hard and I have fallen fast. Unfortunately the “me” who was in love all those times wasn’t really me. I have come to learn — with the help of a very special person — that what I had wasn’t love. My depression and anxiety have impacted a lot of aspects of my personality, but I think the most damaging thing they have done is make me a people-pleaser.

The “me” that was in love all those times wasn’t really me. Yes, that person had my face. She had my laugh and smile but not the real emotions that went with them. I’ve come to learn the girl who was in love was nothing but a copy of me. This copy may have looked like me, but inside she was whatever her partner wanted her to be. I dated a guy who loved guns, so I magically became OK with them. I dated a hardline conservative and slowly my views shifted. They hated cats so I gradually stopped liking cats. All the while I would smile and tell people I was in love. I really did think I was at the time, but when the relationships ended, I would have a moment of devastation and then move on. Sometimes the devastation was longer than others because I really did care about each and every one of them, but it was not love.

The thing I realized is I never felt the real me deserved love. I always felt I had to hold things back or change things about myself in order to be loved. This is where the people-pleasing came in. If I wanted love or acceptance, I would have to prove myself to people. I would have to be what they wanted. In truth, I must have been the “perfect” girlfriend because I accepted every flaw in each partner and more than that, I altered myself to match their desires.

It is only after my most recent breakup that I have made all of these realizations. After this breakup, I saw what real love was. I saw the way my first boyfriend and longtime friend stood by me. I began to see how I never felt I had to hide things around him. He knew every part of me I had deemed awful, unloveable and shameful and yet he still loved me. It is because of him that I know what love is. I may still be fighting against people-pleasing in other aspects of my life, but at least now I know what real love looks like. Love is unconditional and constant.

 You can follow this journey on TranQool’s blog.

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Thinkstock photo via Max5799.

14 Things to Help You Find Your Smile When Depression Sets In

Some days, smiling seems as though it is simply not possible. No amount of cheeriness will “cheer” me up, no amount of jokes will make me laugh and positive quotes about “choosing happiness” make me want to scream at something sooner than suddenly be cured of the doldrums. And do you know what? That is OK. We all go through days like this, the ones where you just need to exist — days when depression or anxiety take hold. Take care of yourself, and be thankful and proud of yourself when you reach the end.

But I wanted to share my go-to list of things to do on the days when I don’t feel a sense of joy. These are the things that help me to find my smile when I lose it. Silly things, little things, free things and things that do not cost much. These things give me something to focus on, other than the often irrational thoughts that can visit when depression or anxiety sets in, or when the pain is high.

The list (in no particular order):

1. Look up anti-motivational quotes for a chuckle.

Motivational quotes make me furious on the bad days. Do people seriously think we “choose” depression over happiness? There is something about black humor or sarcasm that truly appeals on the dark days — anti-motivational quotes are awesome!

2. Curl up with a cup of tea, a soft blanket and a good book (or movie).

A soft mink blanket, or something you can stroke your fingers across or rub your feet on can be really soothing, and getting lost in the pages of your favorite book (or movie) is a great way to practice some healthy escapism. And tea, well… tea fixes everything, doesn’t it?

3. Make a list of at least three things you can look forward to in the future.

Stick it on your fridge door so you can see it. We all need things to look forward too, but I know on the bad days it can be really hard for me to think of anything. Helpful tip… it is perfectly OK if you write down “lunch,” “chocolate” or “ice-cream.” No judgment here.

4. Watch YouTube movies of goats in pajamas.

Oh please, if you have not seen goats in pajamas, then you have not seen cuteness.

5. Go on Pinterest and look at baby animal pictures.

While you are online, Pinterest is fantastic for finding the cutest of cute images of baby animals doing sweet things. Nawwww. 

6. Wash away your worries.

Have a long bath or shower with your favorite body wash. Peppermint helps me clear my head, and the warmth usually helps my sore muscles and joints. If I’m in the shower, I imagine myself washing away the day, starting fresh.

7. Hug your dog, cat, cow or any other type of furkid you may have in your life.

Hugging your pet not only makes them feel loved, but that gratefulness and affection they show can rub off a little on us too, giving us something to live for, something to smile about. Oh and yep, I have cows as pets! They amuse me!

8. Put on some music and silly dance.

The sillier, the better. Kids love this. If you are feeling like a bad parent, put on some music and silly dance for a few minutes with your little ones. Or just do it alone if you don’t have miniature humans in the house.

9. Take a nap, do some gentle stretching, put on a meditation tape or do some deep breathing.

Granted, you might not feel like doing any of these things, but taking five minutes to do something for your soul is normally well worth it in the end.

10. Get creative.

Draw, take photos, paint, journal, craft — anything that inspires you. For me, it is drawing, journaling and getting creative with my camera, but lots of people find coloring, crafting and painting to be very soothing. Whatever works for you.

11. Do something unexpected for someone else.

Write an old-fashioned letter or make a care package for a friend and post it, or do some simple random acts of kindness for strangers. Smiles are infectious and doing something kind for others can help us put our own feelings aside or into perspective, which can also help you feel better!

12. Look through old photo albums.

I’ve spent years of my life behind a camera, but shamefully admit I don’t spend nearly enough time going back and reflecting on the images that have been captured. It can be so cheering to look through photos and remember the fun times you have had, holidays you have been on, pets you have owned. Sure it can be bittersweet, but nostalgia has its place.

13. Go somewhere that makes your soul feel peaceful.

Maybe it is the beach, laying on the warm sand, breathing in the salty breeze. Or the forest? The rustling of the leaves in the trees, the sound of birds, the smell of earth? If you can’t get up and go out, maybe do some mindfulness and imagine yourself there.

14. Read your favorite comics.

My absolute favorites are The Awkward Yeti, Beth Draws Things, and Gemma Correll. They really know how to find the humor in everyday situations faced by those who battle mental health issues, be it depression, social anxiety, general anxiety and a range of other foibles. The feeling of being “understood” always helps me when I’m feeling blue.

So that is a few of the things on my list; sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but anything is worth a try at least once. Do you have a list of your own? What would you add? Feel free to comment — I really would love to know what others find effective mood boosters for the “doldrum days.”

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