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My Happy Mask – Why People Don’t Tell You They Have Depression

Sometimes I wear a mask. I put it on to cover the things that make you worry about me. I’m stronger than you think I am. I don’t wear the mask for me, I wear it for you.

Sometimes I wear a mask. I put it on to cover the things that make you worry about me. I'm stronger than you think I am. I don't wear the mask for me, I wear it for you. Click To Tweet

Sometimes what I really need is to be alone, to recharge my batteries and rest, but I don’t. I have obligations, social gatherings. So I dig deep and I change.

I am strong. 

I convince myself to be happy and I am good at it. I believe it. 

I walk in with my head held high and a smile on my face. You ask if I’m okay. 

I laugh and say, “Of course. Why?” You give me a strange look, but carry on.

I mingle. I make small talk. I wonder why small talk is so important. I look for someone I can connect with. 

You ask me if I’m having fun. I say yes, but you introduce me to more people. More small talk. More smiling. 

I find a friend. We laugh. Suddenly you appear at my side and ask if I’m okay. People notice. 

Others start to look at me differently. They start to wonder if I’m okay. They see the way you worry about me.

I’m a leper.

I want to go home.

I mingled, I made small talk, I laughed, I had fun. But I’m done. Energy depleted. 

I sit in my car replaying the night and the questions. Did I really look like I wasn’t okay? Did it really seem like I wasn’t having fun? Is my Depression really that obvious to everyone else?

Maybe I’m not okay. Maybe I wasn’t having fun. Maybe I’m not as strong as I thought.

 

 

People with Depression see the world differently. They are deeply connected to emotions and sensitive to changes. They see how much you worry about them. They see you flinch when they mention their mental illness. They see how hard it is for you to understand. You’ve never experienced it. It scares you.

What does it mean that someone I love is taking anti-depressants? Did they try to commit suicide? Are they going to cry if I’m not careful about what I say all the time? Are they going to hurt themselves? Are they going to hurt their children? Is their marriage in trouble? What could possibly be causing this? How can I fix it?

You’ve heard of the word association game, right? I say a word and you say the first word that pops in your head. Ready?

The word is Depression.

Raise your hand if the first word you thought of was suicide.

No wonder you’re scared!

However, according to www.verywell.com,  “Depression and suicide are linked, but a study by the Mayo Clinic in 2000 found that the number of people suffering from depression who commit suicide is not as high as originally thought.

 Prior to the study, it was believed that as many as 15 percent of people diagnosed with depression committed suicide; however, after analyzing suicide studies over a 30 year time period, Mayo Clinic researchers found that the rate of suicide among depression patients was lower, between 2 and 9 percent.

The difference in these numbers is due to the methods used for calculating the statistics and because of a change in how depression has been defined. Depression in 1970, for example, only accounted for those patients with serious mental illnesses that were diagnosed with depression (such as manic depression). The definition has expanded today and includes those with mild to moderate symptoms who can be treated with therapy and medication.”

I am not in any way trying to downplay suicide, it is a very important issue to be aware of.  If you think someone you love might be considering suicide, here are some warning signs to watch out for and a number you can call at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

However, I do feel it is important not to panic or jump to conclusions.  In those with mild to moderate depression, common symptoms are: fatigue, irritability, lack of interest or pleasure in things they once enjoyed (even sex), feelings of guilt or inadequacy, inability to concentrate or focus, restlessness, sleeping too much or too little, difficulty performing daily tasks, eating too much or too little, and general sadness or hopelessness. In postpartum depression, there may also be a difficulty bonding with the baby.

 

How can you help if someone you love has Depression?

#1. Give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

If they say they’re okay, they probably are. Don’t make assumptions or walk on eggshells. It’s not your job to try to figure them out or “fix” them.  Treat them like they’re strong and happy and it will be easier for them to be strong and happy.

#2. If you’re worried, talk to them privately.

Please don’t ask someone if they’re okay in front of other people. If you are concerned, and have an actual explainable reason, feel free to ask them about it, but do it in private. If you’re fly was down, or you had food in your teeth, would you want someone to point it out in front of a group of people? Okay, it’s not exactly the same, but be considerate of the private feelings the person might be dealing with.

#3. Forgive Them.

Sometimes attending functions is the physical equivalent of running a marathon without any training. If they say they can’t come, or bail at the last minute, try to understand that they are not flaky. They love you and they want to be there, but it’s too much today. It’s a “pick your battles” scenario for them in the sense that there are times when they can’t do everything, or they need to rest.

#4. Show them love.

If you are naturally social or talkative, use your words. Compliment them, tell them you love them, praise them, write them a note, etc. A little genuine praise goes a long way when someone is feeling inadequate or worthless.

If you are service oriented, act. Asking someone if they need anything is sweet, but they’ll usually tell you no. Pick something you want to do and do it. I don’t mean you should be pushy and force them to let you help them, but there are some things that are generally appreciated.

They don’t need brownies, they won’t ask you for brownies, but who doesn’t love it when they find brownies on their doorstep?

If you leave a note, make sure to keep it positive. Something simple like, “I was just thinking about you, have an awesome day!” is much better received than, “You seemed stressed earlier and I thought you could use a pick-me-up.”

You could also offer to make them dinner or take their kids for awhile. Usually these are better for someone you are really close to, who has expressed a need.

#5. Listen.

If they want to open up to you about their symptoms, or their therapy, or their medication, etc. Let them!

Resist the flinching or cringing. Be open-minded and supportive and you might learn a lot about them and strengthen your relationship.

You might also find that they are the ones most willing to listen to you when you have a problem.

#6. Know that they are trying/Don’t judge.

People with depression often get an earful of well-meaning advice about how to “think positively,” or “push through it.” Honestly, you’d be surprised to know the extent of the pep talks they’ve given themselves before you’ve even finished breakfast. Not to mention what they’ve “pushed through” to make it to the table.

Imagine you wake up one morning and look at your calendar. As you are planning your day and writing your to-do list, someone is strapping weights around your arms, legs, and torso. Someone else is whispering in your ear that you’ll never finish everything on that list, reminding you of everything you failed to do the day before, and telling you how much you disappointed everyone.

You push those thoughts away and wade through waist deep mud to the kitchen. Immediately, you are asked to make juice, cereal, lunches, find missing backpacks, match socks, and reminded of a bill that needs paid and an event at the school you must attend.

You check things off in a hurry, but seem to be moving in slow motion. Everything takes longer and uses more energy than you could have imagined.

The kids leave and you sink into the couch. You remember the event at school again and tell yourself to take a shower. Several minutes later, you decide a little dry shampoo or a hat will suffice.

You decide to do dishes and straighten up before you leave, then realize the toddler still needs shoes and they are nowhere to be found. Her hair is a mess and it’s time to go. Barefoot it is.

And on goes the happy mask. But this time it’s not for everyone else. They don’t know how you’re feeling on the inside. They don’t even know you.

This time it’s for you. Because you want nothing more than to sit quietly through your child’s performance and enjoy every second of it.

You want nothing more than to be happy.

 

How do you talk about your depression? How can those around you help? Start a conversation and share your story! I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

6 thoughts on “My Happy Mask – Why People Don’t Tell You They Have Depression

  1. Thank you for this post. My mother was diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago after a lengthy and scary hospital stay. Because it was untreated it manifested in physical symptoms such as seizures. Once she started getting treatment everything changed for the better. No one would have guessed she had it from the outside because she always seemed so strong. It was a hard time for our entire family, but it changed us all for the better and she is so much healthier now!

  2. As soon as I started reading the opening vignette, I knew this would be a good post. You’ve captured depression so well. I’ve had a couple of spells of situational depression as well as some postpartum depression and it’s absolutely real. During those times it’s hard for me to make it through the day because, as you said, everything takes so much longer and more energy than anticipated. And I agree about the “happy mask” – sometimes you put it on for others, other times you put it on for you.

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