I had a rather nice, honest discussion with a classmate about my depression the other day. Most of the time, when I talk to people about my depression, I’m told that I’m just being a special snowflake and I don’t really have it (my father, most notably, although he has subsequently apologised for this, and admitted he primarily does it because he finds it difficult to accept that I’m struggling with something that he himself struggles with and finds incredibly difficult to live with…after all, nobody wants to see their children suffer) or I’m told to just do [thing] (my brother told me that he had depression but recovered by changing his lifestyle…and told me that I should just do the same…except it doesn’t work that way). What made my discussion with the classmate so special was that this classmate just accepted that what I told him was true, and believed my version of my own experiences instead of trying to tell me that his interpretation of my life was more accurate. At some point in the discussion, he mentioned that I don’t look depressed (without invalidating my experiences at all!) and that it must be hard for me because people don’t really realise, but I still struggle.
I’ve been told many, many times that I don’t look depressed. After a rather difficult incident at school at the end of last year, I had to take some time off school because I couldn’t cope with my classmates’ reactions. When I returned, a lot of people indicated that they were surprised because I’d always seemed so okay. Even my therapist doesn’t fully understand my life, because I’ve always been told not to show emotion, and after years of having my emotions invalidated, I act okay even when I’m not, even without thinking about it, sometimes. So yes, I don’t look depressed. That doesn’t mean I’m not depressed, though. I have struggled with depression for the past 3 years and very few people know (although I’m trying to be more open about it now). So what lies beneath the surface? What aren’t people seeing?
I’m not a person who cries much, but things lately have been getting too much for me. Last night, I was crying alone in my room and my father happened to walk by and see me. He had to hold me for 20 minutes while I couldn’t stop crying. My mother saw, as well, and was so terrified that she offered to let me go horse-riding after the exams (this has been an ongoing battle… my parents didn’t want to let me ride). When she made that offer, despite the fact that I was finally getting offered a chance to do something I’ve always had to fight my parents for, I wasn’t ready to take them up on the offer because when I’m depressed, no matter what I do, I don’t enjoy it (fancy medical term is anhedonia), and I didn’t feel like I wanted to go horse riding. That’s my depression.
I think about suicide nearly every day. I don’t want to. The thoughts scare me, but I can’t make them go away. I’ve made several detailed plans for suicide. I’ve had thoughts that go something like “I want to commit suicide the day the IB exam results come out, even if I do well”. I chose to accept an offer from a university that doesn’t require a deposit so that if I commit suicide, my parents can save money. That is a truly awful way to pick a university to attend, but that was my reasoning. That’s my depression.
I don’t believe the love anyone else has for me. Even when someone stayed up talking to me past midnight when I was in the hospital until the nurse came with pain medication and I could finally sleep, I believed that person disliked me. When someone tells me that another person likes or respects me, I always believe that the person is lying. Even when someone tells me themselves that they like or respect me, unless I’m having a particularly good self-esteem day, I believe that person is lying. I’ve had days where I felt like the love and care shown to me by my best friends and family has been part of some massive joke that they’re all playing on me. That’s my depression.
On the surface, I look happy. Most people wouldn’t suspect that I struggle with mental illness, unwanted suicidal thoughts, self-injury or anything else. My life looks picture-perfect. Generally good grades (at least in the past…this year I’ve been too depressed to study or turn in homework a lot of the time and my grades have suffered), supportive parents and I always have a smile ready…but that’s not my depression. My depression is what lies beneath the surface.