Why I Don't Tell Anyone About My Depression
Have you ever had pins and needles? That feeling of numbness, “static” in your feet or legs? If you had it and someone were to say “come on, get up and run,” it would be pretty darn hard or frustrating to do without stumbling, wouldn’t it? You’d tell them to wait until the pain subsides and the feeling returns to normal. You’d get up slowly and ease yourself into walking until you’re finally able to run with them. They’d ask if you’re OK. Your pins and needles are gone.
Now imagine if those pins and needles, that same feeling, were in your brain. It causes you to feel fuzzy and numb. It limits your movements and affects your thoughts and feelings.
This is what it can feel like living with an invisible illness – including, but not limited to, depression. These are medically recognized, clinically diagnosed conditions that affect day-to-day functioning. It can affect your job, your loved ones, your friendships and your hobbies.
So, with these pins and needles, someone tells you to “get up and do some work.” You tell them to wait until the feeling returns to normal. They don’t wait – instead, they tell you about the deadline. They say that laziness is not an excuse. They don’t ask if you’re OK.
If this scenario ends in a positive way, you finally ease yourself into work and you are able to get some things done. They say something like, “see? It wasn’t that hard. It’s just mind over matter.” You still have pins and needles.
If you don’t get the work done, what can happen? Your work could get delegated to someone else. You could lose your job.
If you tell them about how you’ve been struggling, will they help? Will they give you leave? Will they trust you with another similar job? Will they cut your hours back? How will this affect your pay?
This is why it’s hard for me to tell someone I live with mental illness. It becomes all that people see. You stop being the friend, loved one, colleague – and become “the one with…”
They’ll see the face value of mental illness. They’ll use the words that sound reassuring but just reaffirm what your mind is telling you every day: “They can’t do that because…” i.e. you’re in the middle of a depressive episode or your anxiety is peaking.
I get it. I don’t dispute it. What else can you say? It seems like the best bet is to say those words, and give them space or a “mental health day.” However, this is where it becomes important to understand that each person experiences things differently. Mental illness is individual to the person.
“OK, so what’s your solution?” I’m not here to offer a solution. I would like to offer a different perspective.
We as humans can thrive on being able to help others; we respond to things differently (objectively) and with a more caring eye than if it were happening to us personally (like when you were told to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and it helped you sort out a problem).
If we delegate the work to someone else or do the work for them, are we just reinforcing the idea that they can’t do it – something their inner monolog is probably screaming at them?
Be louder than their voices.
If you can support someone to focus on how they impact positively on someone else, it could give them the meaningfulness that depression likes to play hide and seek with. If anything, it can show them – not tell them – that there are people who value them and their opinion. Actions speak louder than words, after all. If they can say “I reached someone today,” it might be a small feat… but it could have the ability to save them more than you’ll know.
“So, if someone is brave enough to open up about their illness, how can I be supportive?”
Ask if they’re OK. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help; what will make things easier for them? Get to know them, not their illness. Our personality can affect the way symptoms present.
Wait it out with them if you can; let them know they’re not alone.
The black dog will leave and, in its absence, the individual remains.
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Thinkstock photo via prudkov