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On the Days I'm Not Emotionally Ready to Fake a Smile

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When some people say, “I’m not feeling well,” most tend to think it’s a physical sickness. Like a cold or a headache.

Just like the times when I wake up in the morning and find it hard to get out of bed because I need to battle my anxiety and depression first.

When it’s almost 7 a.m. and my class is about to start in five minutes and I’m still stuck in my bed, I’ll text my friends to let them know I can’t make it to school. I say I’m not feeling well. They say, “Is it the stomach thing again?”

Every time I’m not feeling well, they tend to think it’s my stomach problem that’s keeping me from going to school. But sometimes not feeling well goes beyond just the physical sickness. Sometimes not feeling well means I’m not emotionally well. I’m still in the constant battle with my self and I’m not emotionally ready to go to school.

Not feeling well may also mean I can’t meet you today because I’m not emotionally ready to fake a smile.

But not feeling well doesn’t just mean I need medication — I just need a hug or maybe just a comforting hand. So every time I saying I’m not feeling well, I hope someone would just look beyond the physical pain and say, “It’s OK if you can’t make it today, just know that we’re here for you.”

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Thinkstock photo via monzenmachi

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What You Don't See About 'Happy' People With Depression

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This piece was written by a Thought Catalog contributor.

I smile a lot. People meet me for the first time and often mention that. My energy is infectious and full of joy. My friends joke that I smile even when I shouldn’t. It’s my first instinct. It’s natural, something I do without even thinking about it. I smile at neighbors and strangers and babies and dogs wagging their happy tails.

I’m silly and a little loud. Every photo of that exists of me online I’m seen laughing or grinning. To the outside world, I look so happy. I always look so happy.

There’s this idea about what depression looks like. It’s one filled with messy, unmade beds and greasy hair. It’s someone who doesn’t go out to socialize. Someone who watches TV for hours on end. Like a human Eeyore. Gloomy and sad. Lifeless, really.

Depression looks different on everyone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all illness. And just because you can’t see it on someone, just because you can’t tell they’re struggling, doesn’t mean they aren’t affected.

Because when you’re the happy person, the smiley social butterfly, no one expects you to be hurting inside.

No one assumes there are things that go beyond the exterior. No one thinks there’s pain past the friendly outside.

When people see you as a happy person, it’s difficult to want to open up. If you don’t fit the narrow expectation of what depression is or what it can look like, it feels like you have to struggle in silence. Would I be disappointing them if they knew the truth? Would they look at me differently?

So, I don’t say anything. I continue being the happy, smiley, giggly person everyone knows. I go out. I text people back quickly. I show up to brunch and laugh with all my friends.

Depression sits in the background, like an uninvited guest. No one else can see it. But still, I know it’s there.

Even if I’m all smiles. 

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Unsplash photo via Matthew Hamilton.

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Dear Potential Employer: Here's Why You Should Hire Me, Depression, Anxiety and All

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Dear Potential Employer,

Over the past couple of years, I have been more and more open about my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety. While I have had a number of people reach out to me to thank me for being so open, I have also had a lot of people ask me if I am worried a potential employer will see any of my posts and then have that impact whether or not I get a job. I have even had people I trust tell me to flat out stop. But I push back.

For one thing, I do not want to hold anything back from you. I am who I am. I am not ashamed of my illnesses.

For another thing, my depression and anxiety are big assets to you. Yes, you read that right. Here’s how:

1. I have hit rock bottom and have come back.

In my experience, when you deal with depression, you quickly become a very resilient person. When I face a setback, I do not let it hold me back — I use it to motivate me. I may make a mistake or hit a rough patch, but for every step back I take, I am going to take two more forward.

2. I am adaptable.

With depression, I am constantly learning on the fly. Maybe I am dealing with a new trigger, or I have an episode that comes out of nowhere. Each time this happens, I overcome it.

3. I have high emotional intelligence.

This has improved out of necessity: I am very aware of my own emotions and am constantly ensuring I have them in check. I am also cognizant of my surroundings, whether it is for potential triggers or issues or ways I am having an impact on people around me. There are numerous benefits to this in the workplace: I can make adjustments easily, can work well on a team, and am very self-aware of what I bring, and do not bring, to the workplace.

4. I care. A lot.

Put another way, I have trouble letting things go. This makes me the type of employee that will do whatever I can to help out a co-worker, even if that is staying late or working as hard as possible to do a good job. If I make a mistake, it stays with me. It marinades. I replay the situation over and over. I think about every way I could have done it better. I do not want to ever make that mistake again, even if it is something small.

5. I follow through.

As a result of some of what I mentioned before, I do not give up. That translates to me following through on a problem, assignment or project until it is completed.

6. I am driven.

For all of the reasons listed above, I have an uncanny drive. It isn’t just that I want to do a good job, it is that I need to do a good job. If I do not give you 100 percent, it will eat at me and I will be angry with myself.

I understand, potential future employer, how you may be worried about hiring someone with depression. But I hope this post has helped to open your eyes to the advantages there are to hiring me as someone with a mental health issue.

Sincerely,

Pete

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6 Reasons I Won't Tell You I'm Depressed

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“I never would have guessed you were depressed. You always seem so happy.”

“Really, depression? I had no idea…”

These are common responses I get when I mention depression has been part of my life.

I hear the same reactions when we lose someone to suicide: “Can you believe it? I never even suspected he was struggling.”

When the truth emerges about people who struggle with mental illness, others are usually shocked. However, I’ve come to expect the disbelief and surprise. After all, as someone who hid depression and anxiety from the world for years, I know firsthand how hard we often work hard to hide mental illness from others. I wipe away my tears before walking out the door of my home and I try to keep my head lifted high in public. I wear a superhero mask and put on Emmy-worthy performances day in and day out. Though every person has unique reasons for sharing or not sharing struggles with depression, here are the top six reasons I don’t tell others I’m depressed:

1. It’s awkward.

This is sad but true. I remember the first time someone shared with me her struggle with depression, and I bumbled through an awkward response of: “I’m sorry… I um, I have to go.” At the time, I didn’t understand depression and knew very little about it. I had no clue how to engage in a conversation in something I didn’t understand. It made me uncomfortable.

Since then I have gained plenty of firsthand experience about depression and have a much more caring, empathetic response. I’ve also experienced those bumbling, awkward responses from the other side of the conversation. I’ve been the one to witness others stammer and blush and suddenly forget how to talk when depression comes up. Though the awkwardness doesn’t bother me much anymore, I do think twice about how someone will respond before mentioning depression.

2. I don’t want to come across as “needy.”

Unfortunately, the stereotypical “depressed person” is weak, needy and perhaps clingy. In an effort to avoid this stereotype at all costs, we keep our struggles to ourselves. We strive to keep up our reputations as strong, independent individuals. Isn’t this the American ideal?

Yet herein lies the misconception that strong means not needing others — and furthermore, that neediness is equal to needing help. For a long time, I avoided talking about depression because I believed needing help made me less-than and weak, in the end only to discover true courage is practicing vulnerability and asking for help.

3. I’m afraid there’s something wrong with me.

Ashamed. Horrified. Scared. These are the emotions that plagued me in the pits of depression. Because depression is difficult to understand and has no cut-and-dry medical explanation with a formula to get better, it’s easy to fall into the lie that depression is an inherent flaw within me.

Depression carries the critical inner voice causing us to doubt our sense of value and our sense of belonging. “A freak. A failure. Of no value,” it whispers in my head. With the pressure to conform and my natural aversion to vulnerability constantly weighing on me, of course I choose to keep my depression from others.

4. Some days I can’t even admit to myself I’m depressed.

Given the fears discussed above, it’s no wonder I try to convince myself I’m not depressed! On my best days in depression and on my worst, there is almost nothing I have wanted more desperately than for depression to be gone. I have wished for a magic cure, I have prayed and begged God to “take it away,” and I have spent hours on the internet looking for solutions to this mood disorder.

I have wished depression never existed, and I have wanted to forget about it altogether. I have tried to ignore it, to run from it, to numb myself to it — and on these days of denial, hiding depression from others simply comes as a byproduct of trying to keep it hidden from myself.

5. When I’m with you, I genuinely may be happy.

This may sound odd, but when I greet my friends and see co-workers in the hallway, I genuinely am happy in that moment — happy to see them, happy to know them, happy to spend time with them. In those moments, I am happy. I want to hear about their week and tell them about my day. I smile and crack jokes and do more than my share of laughing because I truly enjoy their company. It simply isn’t the right context to mention my depression, especially if I’m not feeling the full weight of it at the moment.

Because most interactions with others happen in these more superficial, 30-second conversations, it makes sense that many would view me as a generally upbeat and happy person. The truth is, in the moments I interact with others I may be genuinely happy, but these moments do not necessarily represent my overall mental and emotional well-being.

6. I don’t want unsolicited advice on how to get better.

Well-meaning friends have suggested everything from antidepressants to praying and reading my Bible more. They have told me about their Aunt Milly and what cured her depression and the miraculous recovery of their friend Billy Bob.

For obvious reasons, this can be very annoying to those with depression. Everyone’s experience of depression is different, and what helps one person will not necessarily help someone else. It can also be exasperating because it can unintentionally imply that we aren’t already trying everything we know to get better. We probably already googled that therapy or pill or herbal supplement you’re telling us about, and we probably read about five articles on it while we were busy avoiding people!

Ways to Make the Conversation Easier

Though I’ve learned to become comfortable talking about depression openly, there are still ways people can make the conversation easier:

1. Create a nonjudgmental attitude/safe atmosphere

2. Focus on listening, not telling

3. Have a genuine desire to learn and understand

4. Use phrases like: “Tell me more about that” or “I’d like to learn more about depression and would love to hear about your experience”

5. Create an environment where others are vulnerable about their struggles as well (a “me too” culture)

6. Cultivate the ability to relate but not compare (for example, “I/someone close to me has walked through depression, and I know it can be really difficult” vs. “My brother was depressed but it wasn’t that bad.”)

7. After listening, ask “How can I help?” or “What helps on the hard days?”

8. Say “thank you for sharing” or acknowledge in another way how much courage it takes to talk about taboo topics like mental illness.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the road of depression, or perhaps you’re walking alongside someone with depression. Regardless, I hope this list provides some insight — and please know, we are thankful for you. We are thankful for the conversations about depression, even if they’re a little awkward at first! We are thankful for community because even though we don’t always like it, we cannot do this alone.

Thanks for letting me tell you I’m depressed.

Follow this journey on Beyond the Smiles.

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 kevinhillillustration.

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She is waiting someone or something.

The Symptom of Depression We Don't Often Hear About

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One symptom of depression I don’t think is talked about enough is guilt. There are many reasons a person who is depressed might feel guilty. Here are a few of the reasons and why you shouldn’t feel guilty.

1. Feeling guilty for being alive.

You may truly feel the people around you are better off without you. You may feel like an inconvenience or a burden. You are not a burden. Anyone who says you are doesn’t deserve to be in your life. Everyone has their own individual needs. Yours may happen to be needing a little extra emotional support when you’re depressed. You shouldn’t feel guilty for being alive. There is no one out there like you. There is no one with the same talents and interests and personality. Only you can be you. There are things in your future for you to accomplish. There are things in your future for you to stay alive for.

2. Feeling guilty for getting help because you’re not “depressed enough.”

There is no scale. There is no measure of depression. There is no point where you can say, “OK, now it’s bad enough. Now I need help.” If you feel you need help, then you deserve help. Don’t wait for it to get worse. Don’t feel guilty for getting help because everyone needs a little help sometimes.

3. Feeling guilty because you believe you “shouldn’t be depressed.”

You may feel like you’ve had a good life. You may feel like other people have it much worse. You may not understand why you feel depressed. You may feel like you don’t deserve to be depressed. You may feel like since your life has been OK so far, there’s no reason you should be depressed. There are two reasons why you shouldn’t believe those things. The first is it doesn’t matter if someone else has it worse. You’re hurting, and your feelings are valid. There’s a quote that says, “Telling someone they shouldn’t feel sad because someone else has it worse is like telling someone they shouldn’t feel happy because someone else has it better.” The second reason is there doesn’t have to be a reason you feel depressed. Some people know their triggers. Some people don’t. Some people don’t even have specific triggers. Depression affects everyone differently. Although it can be triggered by outside events, it is not dependent on something bad happening. You are allowed to feel depressed for no reason.

As for getting rid of the guilt that comes with depression, I’m still working on it. The important thing to remember is none of this is your fault. Guilt implies you have done something wrong. You haven’t done anything wrong. Therefore, you have nothing to feel guilty for.

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 marcogobbi0.

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We Need to Help Black Women Struggling With Depression

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What the hell do you have to be depressed about?

You don’t need no therapy. Telling white folks all our business ain’t gonna help nothing!

After all our people have been through! You don’t know depressed!

Go to church. Talk to the pastor.

Black folks don’t get them fancy mental problems.

You ain’t depressed. You’re just a little sad.

This is just a tiny snapshot of what is thrown around the black community in reference to mental illness. We do not accept it at all. If you mention it, the conversation will change quicker than a blink. This is why so many of us are struggling. Mental illness is often a taboo in our homes.

I can speculate as to why we’re so quiet. Mental illness is a sign of weakness to some. The expectation seems to be that black women must get it done! All of it! No one has time for being “down.” Bills need to be paid. Kids have to be cared for. Home has to be perfect. Be depressed later. Wanna hear a secret? I used to time my medicine around my kids’ school schedule. I’d drop them off in the morning, come home and take my meds. Pick them up at 3. Do homework. Make dinner. Clean house. Then take meds again. Who cares that I slept all day and accomplished nothing? I was a functioning depressed mom. And this is after I stopped working.

Now I’m a rare bird. When I was in my 20s and realized something was wrong, I sought help. I wasn’t afraid to go to therapy. But I didn’t share it with my family and friends. Definitely not my co-workers. So I was aware there was a stigma surrounding therapy. I was a new mom obsessed with my baby. That was my motivation. Still is. I had to be better for her. For them. This would begin an on and off process for the next 20 plus years of my life.

But I can’t tell you how many friends, family and co-workers I knew who were struggling quietly. We wore “the mask.”

“Hey girl. How are you doing?”

“Fine.” (Insert fake smile)

I couldn’t tell you how many of my sisters were dealing with issues like emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, spousal problems and just plain ole being a black woman in America. Child, we put on some makeup, a good girdle and kept that sh*t movin’! #Aintnobodygottimeforthat family reunions and family gatherings — I’m fine. You want some potato salad? Yup. That’s how we rolled. Quietly exploding. Quietly dying.

Here’s the thing though — mental illnesses can lead to physical illnesses. Heart problems? They can be stress-related. Obesity? Can be stress-related. Headaches and neurological problems? Can be stress-related. And you know what the topper is? We’re too damn busy to go to the doctor! Do you know who diagnosed my first breakdown? My family doctor. She said my body was shutting down. She refused to continue treating migraines and “sadness” without the help of a psychologist. Two months later, I was in the psychiatric ward. And guess what? My doctor was a sister. She would sit with me and just talk some visits. Some days, she was the one who needed to talk. Guess how many doctors prior to that took the time to hear me? I’ll wait…

My family has a long history of mental illness. I never knew. I found out that my grandpa, the love of my life, struggled. What?! If you looked up “man’s man” in the dictionary, you’d see my grandpa. I found out I my grandparents, parents, uncles and cousins also struggled. It wasn’t until after I was sick that I heard about this. And let me tell you, my granny and her sisters, cousins and friends were some of the strongest women I’ve ever met! Honey! The world would have stopped if something was wrong with one of them. But they wore “the mask.” Smiled the “smile.” Made the potato salad.

Mental Health America points out some other common myths in the African American community:

The following statements reflect some common misconceptions about African Americans and depression: “Why are you depressed? If our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything.” “When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable.” “You should take your troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/psychiatrist.”

We have to start getting help. We have to start taking care of ourselves. I’m the last one who should talk, but I am. Why? Because this disorder is stifling. Seriously, I can’t even describe a day in my mind and body. Now multiply that by millions. That sister in the next cubicle might be hiding behind a mask. That sister next to you on the train might be dying on the inside. That sister in the alley might be hurting. Stop and really listen. You can hear it. When I get messages in my inbox, I can see it in the fonts! We have to slow down and help our sisters. Our daughters. Yup. My baby has more than my eyes and thighs. Our mothers. Yup. Where do you think I got it from? Our elders. Yup, there is likely a genetic component.

There are maybe 10 books about black women and depression — and that’s a stretch. Most don’t include bipolar disorderanxiety, OCD, ADD, ADHD, etc. These are mental illnesses too. One author made me so angry because she tried her best to “whiten,” I mean “lighten” up her illness. We don’t need cute. We need ugly. Hideous. Death’s door type shit. That’s the only way our sisters will get a glimpse into the real story. The words behind the words. Then they will realize they are not alone.

I have three sister friends who text me daily. One prays. One says hey. One says I love you. None of them know some days I’m on the edge, thinking about suicide. They just know I’m their sister and I may need a life jacket.

Open your window. Stick your head out and scream: “I’m your sister and I live with a mental illness too! You wanna go out for coffee, martinis, blunts, Newports or fried chicken?”

Meet them where they live. Don’t be ‘shamed. Don’t be prissy. We gotta get dirty, sistahs!

Follow this journey on Diva with Depression.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via William Stitt.

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