I cannot tell you how many times someone has looked at me and said, “You do not look like you live with depression.”
Depression: An Invisible Illness
Mental illnesses and mental health conditions are invisible illnesses. Many of us are covered in invisible scars. Invisible scars marked by every trauma, every intrusive thought, every adverse childhood experience, and every loss. These scars are called invisible because you cannot see them. The person covered in invisible scars, however, can feel all of them. Just because you cannot see someone’s pain does not mean the pain does not exist.
Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness. Symptoms of depression often include decreased energy levels, constant fatigue, and loss of pleasure in things one previously enjoyed. Therefore, a lot of people have an image of depression being someone who lays in bed and cries day after day. What many people do not consider is that many people are able to put on a brave face and hide it.
What does depression look like?
Depression has many faces. Someone can feel extremely depressed and still show up to work with a smile. Likewise, someone can be experiencing severe suicidal thoughts and still spend the day smiling with their family. Someone can be living with major depressive disorder and have on a smile, show up to work every day, take care of their family, workout daily, eat healthy, and laugh with friends. Someone can post beautiful photos showcasing their “amazing” life moments before attempting suicide or moments after self-harming.
Individuals living with depression often have many faces, in particular, the face they show to the world and the face they show to themselves. To the world, the eyes and smile hide the pain, but when in silence and solitude, the pain often feels all-consuming.
The Stigma on Depression.
The stigma on depression makes people believe if they do not see someone struggling, if they do not see the tears, the pain, the hopelessness, the fatigue, and the brokenness, then that person is attention-seeking or dramatic. However, you do not see what happens behind closed doors. When someone seems “functional” that does not mean it was easy to get out of bed that morning. Someone with depression can experience bursts of energy as they try to fit in, often times seeming like the life of the party. Yet, that does not mean when they go home, they are not falling apart alone.
Furthermore, the stigma on depression leads to excessive invalidation. “You have no reason to be depressed, look at everything you have.”
I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside. I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together to where I let myself down.
Selena Gomez, American Music Awards
Regardless of what you have in life or what your life appears to be in the eyes of others, your feelings, and your thoughts matter. Depression is like any other illness,
Illness is the great equalizer. It does not matter who you are, rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, sick is sick.
We are all vulnerable to physical and mental illness. And, like physical illness, mental health symptoms present themselves differently for different people.
The stigma on depression also makes individuals struggling believe if they do not have a suicide note in hand then they are not worthy of reaching out for support.
The advice I would give to somebody that is silently struggling is, you do not have to live that way. You do not have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent. You can live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it, because it is really important you share your experience with people so that you can get the help that you need.
You do not have to struggle in silence, because your depression is “not severe enough.” You are important, and you deserve to get the help and support you need, regardless of who has it worse or how your symptoms present themselves.
Depression is not black and white. It looks differently on everyone. Just because other people cannot see your mental health condition / mental illness does not mean you or someone you know is not struggling. We need to stop invalidating ourselves and others. We need to start listening, learning, and validating.
I will leave you with this,
Scars remind us of where we have been. They do not have to dictate where we are going.
And, yes that includes invisible scars.