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What I Actually Hear When You Ask Me 'What's Wrong?'

There is pain in my eyes, but the corners of my mouth are forced up into a smile. Never one to settle, but today I am OK with being content. Why? Because I know the extremes of the spectrum. I know the struggle of giving 110 percent just to get up. I am accustomed to having “just one of those days,” at least once a week. The kind when even the biggest fake smile can’t hide the contradicting pain in my eyes. The kind when I pray no one will ask me if I’m alright. I’m not. If they ask, I know my voice will crack when I speak. So I won’t. “Mhmm,” I’ll manage to mutter with a half smile.

Because if my voice were to crack, I know what would be next. That dreaded question that comes with the best intentions. “What’s wrong?” Everything, and yet nothing at all. To most, asking seems like a common courtesy. But to me, it’s a reminder that all is not OK. And more importantly, when you say, “What’s wrong?” I hear, “Explain yourself.” And if you know I have depression, it seems like you’re saying “I don’t listen to you when you say, ‘There isn’t a reason, it’s just one of those days.’” You see, I don’t know “what the matter” is. That’s what is the matter: feeling down, and having no logical explanation why. Feeling out of control of my own emotional state.

What’s worse, irritability is the way my depression unmasks itself to the world. “What’s wrong,” you ask? Oh, boy! I want to scream. You think you’re being polite. You think you’re being supportive. But all I can think of is how much you don’t “get it.” How you often don’t listen to me. The problem is, if you don’t struggle with depression, I believe you’ll never fully know what it feels like. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone I know. But I do wish they could understand. When someone asks, “what’s wrong?” over and over, it often feels like a child questioning everything you say. “Why? But why? But why?” until there is no answer to the “why.” I’m exhausted, running out of patience. But you wouldn’t see irritability, a symptom of my inner struggle. You’d see irrational anger. You’d see an impatient person. A friend who doesn’t appreciate your attempt to help.

“What’s wrong?” is what you ask, but it isn’t what I hear. My depression makes every conversation a game of broken telephone. No one wins.

Trying to be happy all the time is exhausting. I’m trying. But sometimes, I’ll just have “one of those days.” Rather than asking “What’s wrong?” and forcing me to speak, offer me a hug. Invite me for tea. Your action will speak louder.

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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Thinkstock photo via Zoonar RF.

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