Why I Learned to Hide My Depression From Everyone
I was always the happy one — the affectionate one, the kind one, the bubbly one full of energy and life. I was always the one who made an effort to make someone else smile.
I was, and I am, also the one with depression.
From the outside, I always seemed to have it together. I was warm and welcoming and always seemed to be a pillar of strength. Inside, however, I always felt empty and alone. I felt a sadness so deep and an unworthiness so rampant I didn’t feel as though I had the right or reason to live.
I was a fraud. I am a fraud.
How did I become such a great con artist? How is it that instead of owning this depression as an illness, I managed to go to such great lengths to hide it?
Shame — an all-consuming sense of shame. My parents always told me depression wasn’t real, that it was just an excuse for people who were lazy. They told me no one wanted to hear or see me cry, that being sad was not fair to everyone else — that being sad was a burden.
My parents taught me people just wanted to see the happy, kind, bubbly version of me. No one likes a girl who cries all the time.
So I adapted. I learned how to hide. I learned how to appear functioning, how to appear happy, because no one could love a sad, tormented woman.
I started working in hospitality, and that same mentality is at the very core of the service industry. No one wants to see a sad bartender or waitress. No one tips a waitress who is so empty inside they can’t smile. People want service with a smile. They want their drinks served with a side of banter and their food with a side of enthusiasm. They want to be able to abuse you for things that aren’t your fault and watch you smile as they do it.
So I adapted again. I learned how to hide, and boy was I good at it. I was great at my job, and no matter how empty or hollow or tired I was, I would go into my job and I could pretend to be happy for 6-8 hours. I could make people feel warm and welcomed, I could laugh at their jokes (even when they were terribly misogynistic and degrading) and I could give them service they would remember and come back for.
Hiding how I really felt day-in and day-out was acceptable. Deceiving everyone around me and conning people into believing I was always that happy, bubbly, energetic woman was OK. It didn’t matter I was a fraud because being a fraud made people feel more comfortable. My parents, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my customers – they all felt better believing I was that girl, and any “off” days were due to a lack of sleep or being a bit run down. I wanted to be that for them because the shame and guilt of burdening them with my depression made the idea of owning up to my depression so much worse.
So for those of you who say “But, you can’t be depressed/have depression because you are always so happy!” please know this: depression has no pattern, it has no rhyme or reason, it can take anyone at any time for any reason (or no reason) and that is OK. Don’t assume to know anyone from their surface encounters, because underneath it all we’re all fighting different battles and we all need to accept it is OK to admit it. I long for the day when we can say we have depression and anxiety without making other people uncomfortable, and a day where appearing to be happy is not the ultimate goal.
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Unsplash photo via Ross Sokolovski