I was having a rather robust conversation with a colleague of mine in Corporate Land the other week, about mental illness, and Depression, specifically.
It wasn’t a debate or argument about the “selfishness” of suicide, or how depression is just a “state of mind” and if people just “think positive” or stop focussing on the negative stuff in their life, they’ll feel better.
(For the record, I’m all for focussing on the positive etc, that’s not what this is about.)
It wasn’t in the range of some of the conversations I’ve had that involve me trying to explain mental illness / depression / anxiety to someone who refuses to believe it even exists, or is merely the “latest fashion”.
Instead, it was chatting with someone who was struggling with the mental health of a friend.
The standard “But he’s always so happy and doing things” preception against the deep, dark struggles, and “classic” depressive symptoms this friend was displaying. Not to mention the beliefs around men and mental illness, and how they are weak, and need to grow some balls, man up, and get on with it.
I have to be totally honest here and say I’m so glad I’m not a man with a mental illness like depression or anxiety. That would just be a whole other level of horrible experience and crap to overcome. I can’t imagine what that would be like.
Then this popped up in one of my social media feeds this morning, and reminded me of the conversation.
And I think this is a really, really important thing in all of the raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health. Sometimes, in fact, in my experience with all the people I know that are experiencing some form of depression of anxiety disorder, most times, it is the person who could easily win the Least Likely To Suffer Depression award who does have depression.
They are always doing things. They are leaders of some sort, coordinating or managing something or other; their workplace, kinder or school committee, sports team manager or coach, running some fundraising activity or other. I would almost go so far as to say the ones who are heavily involved in cake stalls and bake sales, and who contribute the most homemade goods to these events are likely to be suffering in a considerable silence.
(Baking, for some reason I’m not aware of, has some amazing calming effect. If anyone knows why, I’d love to know.)
Sometimes its the public face people put on, the face that looks like everything is fabulous. Some people suggest this is done to present a good perception, but the honesty is that sometimes it’s done to protect oneself from stupid comments, unsolicted advice, or well-meaning but misplaced feedback.
It reminded me, also, of a radio interview I did, oh … quite some time back now, where that discussion centered around How To Tell If Someone Has Depression. The interviewer’s perspective was that we are all familiar with, and that which is oft presented in flyers and brochures on what to look for; like crying a lot, not eating, not sleeping well or sleeping too much.
Discussed was the withdrawal and cancelling of events, or not going out with friends so much.
Whilst these are all signs to look for, there are a whole bunch of people experiecing mental illness that look nothing like this picture we’re familiar with.
Depression can look like big belly laughs; like a good life with a nice car, nice house, nice wife who cooks for you and cares for you and loves you dearly; it can look like the immaculate suit, polished shoes, and trendy tie or the Jimmy Choos, lastest handbag, and tailored skirt and jacket; it can look like the parent cheering from the sideline, or the woman who is involved in all the commitee activities.
Depression can look like dinner parties in the home; exceptionally tidy house; and the life of the party.
Depression can look like the person you want to be when you grow up.
Even in all of this, there can be signs, and those signs aren’t always the crying, the tired, the over- or under-eating.
The signs, in this well constucted person, are usually identified by a flaw in the facade; it might be a shirt on back to front, odd shoes, a run in the stockings, or a slightly skewed tie. It may be jumbled, unclear conversations, or silly mistakes that are in considerably contrast to their immaculate and well put together appearance.
It may even manifest as an almost obsessive level of cleanliness of a house, one too many cakes for the pre-school cake stall, or the person who is taking on a lot of roles; especially those roles of some sort of power (commitee president/chair, coache, team manager …).
Going back to the conversation with my colleague, Depression can look very much like it’s opposite, and I think that is something we all need to be aware of.
It’s also essential to note that just because a person looks not-Depression, who appears as the antithesis of Depression, isn’t experiencing it any less painfully, or any more smoothly, than those who present with the classic signs; the signs we are familiar with and can easily attribute to Depression, or someone experiencing it.
Depression is Depression, no matter how it appears or what anyone thinks it should look like; and the horrible thing about it, is it can present itself in many ways.