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When Depression Is Like Being Stuck in a Winter Jacket

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My facade is like a thick winter parka. The depression and anxiety I’ve suffered from have zipped me up in this down jacket to protect me from the storms that come and go in my life.

At first, the jacket is nice and warm, and I put it on when it just starts getting cold outside. I tell myself it’s just a preemptive measure. I’d rather be safe than sorry. Sometimes, I think, do I really need this big clunky coat? I could probably do with less? But then the big storm hits. As a New Englander, it is in my blood to prepare for winter storms. We hunker down with our snacks and our board games in case the power goes out. We make sure we have a good book to read, a reliable shovel on hand and our trusty winter parka always hanging on the hook by the door. When the real storm hits, we are ready to face it head on.

When the snow finally starts to fall and the power goes out, I am left with no choice but to wear that jacket inside. But I don’t mind. That jacket has seen me through some tough times. It has all sorts of pockets where I can hide things, I really don’t even need to speak to anyone else if I didn’t want to. It zips up past my chin so I can tuck my face inside when the wind blows. The hood even comes all the way over my eyes so my entire face is covered when the ice whips into my cheeks. The jacket is long to my knees and is the perfect length and thickness that when I need to walk around outside, I am still a little agile and can move freely in it. I never feel restricted in my winter jacket.

The jacket has memories like a time capsule. It has some ski passes still on the zipper, and last years old hand warmer in the pocket. I know when I put my jacket on I am protected from all of the elements that are out there. Snow, sleet or rain, I will stay dry and warm inside my coat. During some of the worst storms, I trust my coat with my life.

But as it always does, sometimes a little later, sometimes a little earlier, spring always comes back in New England, even when we thought the winter would never end. There is still a little snow on the ground that reminds me of the past few months, but against all odds crocuses pop up through the white ice. The birds come back in the yard, and the sun starts to shine through the windows again. I can go outside without the wind burning my eyes and I am so relieved the cold and blustery storms have ended. Spring is always like a fresh start, and I love that I always feel like I am being reborn.

When I step outside I can feel the sun on my face and it feels warm and beautiful. Even the slight breeze has lost its bite. I soon realize I am sweating inside my big winter parka. I am always grateful when it is cold, but when the sun comes back out I know that it is time to put it back into its storage box, and say goodbye until next time. The problem is, my zipper always seems to get stuck. All the way at the top the zipper is jammed and I can not free myself from the heavy jacket. At first, I think I can tolerate it’s weight and it’s warmth. But eventually, I always feel like it is holding me back. I want to feel the sun on my arms and tan my Irish skin. I want to wear bright colors and go to the beach with my friends. But the jacket will not come off. I try to maneuver my way out of it by pulling it over my head, but it is as if the jacket has shrunk and I no longer have any wiggle room inside. The high neck that used to bring me comfort now scratches me below the chin, and the hood that saved me from the wind is blocking my view of this beautiful change of season.

Every time the storm passes I am still stuck in my facade. When I brace myself for the storms of my mind, I show everyone I am safe and protected by portraying I am comfortable and warm in my jacket. I keep to myself and hunker down. I know the storm will pass, and eventually I can let myself out of the jacket. But the jacket has become comfortable, a part of me, almost fused to my body. Even when I know I can be myself again and take the coat off, that I don’t need to cover my face to hide the sadness, I still do. The facade I put on is what the world sees for most of the time. They see a small girl who is ready to take on a big challenge. A girl who is over prepared and anticipating the worst.

But in reality, I am often sweating inside that winter jacket wishing I could just take it off. Most of the time I’m really just looking for people who know how to pull my hood down for me, help me roll up my sleeves, and know how to unjam the zipper. I’m looking for people who know I may not take the jacket all the way off, but I will at least let a cool spring breeze in, and let the sun hit my face. I’m looking for people who are not embarrassed to be seen with me on the beach while I am still wearing my winter jacket. Everyone like me, who wears their winter jacket year round, who has on a facade to protect themselves from the storms of their mind, need people in their lives to remind them it’s OK to expose themselves to the beauty of the world and not to fear the next storm that will come.

So help someone unjam their jacket, and show them springtime.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 9, 2016
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