My automatic response to feeling depression creeping in, is retreat. Maybe not physical retreat, but hiding nonetheless. Slap on the pretend smile, the brave face. Start telling people I’m just a bit tired, or have a bit of a cold. Bluff, deny, lie outright if necessary. I know it isn’t just me. I know the time to worry most about my depressed friends is when they go quiet, or seem uncharacteristically jolly. This is the ailment that does not want to speak its name.
Some of it is social, and a simple consequence of the stigma associated with mental poor health. Every depressed person out there has heard the ‘pull yourself together, get over it, stop making such a fuss and being such a wimp,’ lines. Even if you’ve not had one slapped in your face, you know it happens, and you’d probably rather avoid the humiliation. The people in your life who do not understand are also a consideration. The ones who think they should be able to rescue you and get ever more resentful when they can’t. The ones who interpret it as emotional blackmail, manipulation, laziness, unreasonableness and a hundred other things you don’t want to be. For these reasons too, it can seem preferable to hide it away. Lying about it beats the hell out of dealing with the consequences of other people’s misinformed, prejudiced, mistrustful responses. When you’re down, those are a lot like being kicked.
Hiding it is the loneliest path. We step into the dark alone, wrapping layers of lies around us so that what torment occurs on the inside isn’t visible. Of course sometimes this goes wrong, and something leaches out, and that exposure can be frightening. I don’t want anyone to see, or know. I want to hide my shame, my misery, my lost, comfortless confusion. I don’t want to burden anyone with getting close enough to find they can’t rescue me.
In the silence of that isolation, there are no voices to argue with whatever is causing the pain. There is no countering the futility, the despair, the dying dreams and lost direction. There is no antidote to exhaustion and feeling useless. There is no help, once you’ve carefully shut everyone out. But you tell yourself you are protecting them. You are keeping them safe from all the horrors inside you, from all your many failings and shortcomings. I suspect this is why a lot of people end up killing themselves. Not as an act of careless, selfish cruelty, but in a desperate bid to protect the world from themselves. And trust me, when you reach the point of thinking the best thing you can give is your absence, it is a truly awful place.
I’m more likely to blog about it on the downslope or in the aftermath, than when depression really has its teeth in me. Exposure, during the worst of it, is profoundly uncomfortable. It would be terrible if people thought I was attention seeking, or feeling sorry for myself… right? Shameful failings in an adult, reasons for scorn and derision. Except… except… how do you heal a wound you do not acknowledge? How do you pull a barb from your flesh without admitting it exists and hurts and needs removing? How do you make necessary changes in your life if you cannot own the problem?
The culture that is so keen to stifle the cries of those it wounds, is a culture that does not want to admit that it is harming a hell of a lot of people right now. Mental ill health is at epidemic proportions. So long as it stays a private shame, hidden away out of sight, we can all collectively keep saying that things are ok really and there is no big problem. We can pretend that our civilization does not put barbs into bodies on a daily basis. By this means, we can have business as usual.
For these reasons, I keep pushing against how I feel about my own dysfunction. I am a symptom of a sick society, not a solitary failure but a consequence of an unsustainable approach to living.