The Pain of Growing Up With Hidden Depression
This piece was written by Kim Pavon, a Thought Catalog contributor.
When I was 6 years old, I used to join every competition there was, whether it be singing, dancing, drawing – you name it. Kindergarten was the time in my life that I had the most achievements. My childhood consisted of competing against other people. My parents thought it was odd how competitive I was being at such a young age, but they never questioned it.
When I was 10, I remember being the most hyper of the bunch. I would play and talk to everyone, and I knew the other kids liked me. I basked in their attention without a clue that this was where it all began.
When I was 14, I was the same. People often labeled me as a walking ray of sunshine, carrying all the brightness wherever I went. I was a happy person, until I was left by myself. And that was how the first wave hit me.
When I was 18, I noticed a few changes. For once, I was conscious of all the highs and lows I experienced. I was either too happy or too sad. There was no middle ground.
There were a lot of signs that pointed to a mental illness and yet, I regarded it as something normal that happens to everyone. Everyone can be too happy or too sad, right?
I remember taking guidance tests and how careful I was being, because I was afraid of the results. I would lie about how I felt to escape interrogation — because I knew something was wrong. I was afraid to confirm it.
Even when I was in elementary school, I would get called to the guidance office. Luckily, I concealed my true answers quite well and they weren’t able to gather anything substantial from me. But I could only hide it for so long, and concealing became escaping. The next thing I knew, I was skipping counseling appointments until, eventually, they gave up trying to contact me at all.
The second wave hit me like someone threw a bucket of ice water on my head. Not only was I experiencing heightened emotions, I was also acting differently to situations too. When problems came my way, I lost my appetite and energy to do things; I slept lots (sometimes during odd hours of the day); I was constantly overthinking and thinking lowly of myself for no apparent reason; I started questioning my self-worth when I made mistakes — and I often had thoughts of not deserving anything good in this world — all of which I considered as part of growing up and just my hormones “kicking in.”
However, it didn’t take long for me to crack. The third wave set in when I started getting attached to new people. There were sudden “what ifs” in my head, and the thought of losing them emotionally destroyed me. Even without any reason, I would break down if I got triggered over something; I would start crying and would keep on blaming myself for things I could not control. I was helpless over my emotions, and every moment was emotional torture.
After years of hiding and escaping, I knew I couldn’t keep bottling it all inside — and a few weeks ago, I decided to go to the doctor.
Sitting and waiting as the doctor called my name, I pondered why it took me so long to get a checkup.
Why did I conceal my feelings all these years? It’s like I was avoiding judgment day, hoping I could live my life without having to face it.
Of course, I knew the answer all along, and I know this is exactly what many people with mental illness feel.
Fear of knowing. Fear of being judged. Fear of being different. Fear of being dependent on others. Fear of admitting to myself that I’m sick.
And yes, I felt fear. I went to my checkup alone because I didn’t want anyone else to know I was getting my brain checked. I convinced myself I was going through with this to prove something vital — that I wasn’t sick even if I knew I was lying to myself. Of course, that didn’t happen. After the diagnosis, I was in denial. I told myself I should ask for a second opinion. I refused to take medication even when I was prescribed them because I didn’t want to be ”sick.” I didn’t want to be the girl who had “issues.”
I tried to avoid it like I used to, but it wasn’t that easy anymore. In fact, the more I thought about my “condition,” the more depressed I felt. I tried to distract myself and it did work, but only for a short period of time. I was mad at everyone — my family, my friends, myself — because I convinced myself that they did this to me. That I did this to me.
I started forcing myself to be happy — pressuring myself to look at things positively. I heard a lot of people saying happiness was a choice, and I wanted to believe that so much that I kept on smiling to anything and everything, even when I was already breaking.
Then one day, it hit me.
Why am I punishing myself pretending to be OK when I’m not? Who am I doing this for? For others not to worry about me? So what if I am depressed? So what if I’m sick? People get themselves treated when they’re sick — why couldn’t I? What’s the difference?
It has come to my attention that the reason for this is simple. Some people don’t see the gravity of a mental illness because it is not as visible as other disorders. When you get chicken pox, you get red spots. When you have fever, your temperature rises, you get coughs or colds, and you see it. You see the effects. But for mental illnesses — you can’t always see it. Often times, you don’t even know you have it.
Mind over matter — that’s what people used to tell me. I guess that’s part of the reason people don’t take mental illnesses seriously — because they think it’s all in the mind and if you don’t think about it, it leaves you. That is where they are wrong.
Depression doesn’t leave you. It’s different from just feeling depressed. It sticks even if you want it to go. It makes you believe things about your life that are not true. It’s hiding behind every smile, every joke, just so people won’t look at the parts of you that you don’t want them to see. It’s surrounding yourself with people, but constantly wishing you would be left alone. It’s being strong and trying so hard to make everyone believe you are holding up, even if you are fighting for survival every waking moment. It’s an illness that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I’m writing this not only to share my experience, but to also call out those who are afraid to know and who already know. If you are struggling with depression, just like me, please listen.
You are kind. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are talented. You are loved. You are not alone.
It is OK to hurt. It is OK to be sad. It is OK to be angry.
Never feel bad about your feelings. You cannot control how you feel, so don’t force yourself to. Don’t apologize for feeling the way you’re feeling. The sky has never apologized for changing colors like changing moods. You shouldn’t either.
You may be imperfect, but so are all the others. Bask in your imperfections. Don’t even think for a second that you are any less of a person than anyone else. Do not be ashamed of who you are, and what you are experiencing. You are so much more than your condition.
I know whatever kind words I spout will not make a difference for everyone. Hearing these things from a stranger may not make any difference. Hearing these things from a loved one may not make any difference — because I know. I never believed them when they said it’s OK to feel this way; I never believed them when they said they loved me and they would be there for me.
But hey, sometimes, you just have to trust yourself that you can overcome it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not after 10 years. Do it at your own pace. Don’t push yourself too hard, sweetheart. We can do this. You can do this. Take it one step at a time. Things will get better, you’ll see.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Unsplash photo via Joseph Gonzalez