Depression Can Be An Invisible Illness

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
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Depression really can be like those commercials or newsprint ads: A dark cloud hangs over me while the rest of the scene is sunny. Even though I am in the shadows of depression, I can still see what’s around me. I can still see the people in my life who need and love me, but I don’t always let them see me.

I know what is expected of me. I tell myself I should … I should get up. I should brush my teeth. I should make my coffee. I should just get through the day.

So I get up, because guilt and perfectionism accompany my depression. I go through the motions of what looks like normalcy. And even though I am hurting, hiding that hurt is my normal.

If you are currently struggling with or have struggled with depression, you are not a burden. But if you have not struggled with it or loved someone who has, you may not know this: We think we are a burden. It takes a lot to not believe this. I have a few people I allow myself to trust when they tell me I am not the burden I feel I am, that I am not wasting their time, that I am not dragging them down.

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Depression sucks the life out of you; it is a literal drag. I can barely stand to be around myself. Why on earth would anyone else? I know the answer is love and compassion, but those words are hard to swallow when we don’t think we are worth either.

So more often than not, I am not as honest in the moment as I could be about how I am feeling. I have an internal switch that I access. It doesn’t turn on the happy nor does it turn off the sadness. Rather, it’s a numbing mechanism that allows me to take conference calls, make dinner for my kids, and post funny memes on my social media accounts.

My depression doesn’t look like people think it should. Depression is not hiding under covers soaked with my own tears. For a long time, I couldn’t cry and my depression looked like anger. I was incredibly frustrated to feel so miserable and unable to let it out. It’s like I was toxic and the only cleanse, the only healing salve, would come from my own salty tears that were buried inside.

Depression hides in the corners of my smiles. It sneaks up on me in situations that also create joy and happiness. It’s scary when you look at the beauty and love in your life and still feel sad. It makes me wish I could be more grateful. I should be happy. I have no reason to be sad.

Depression lives in my productivity. It does not look like calling in sick or taking a mental health day. It is tears streaming down my face as I write an essay, 5, 10, 25 words at a time as I sit in an empty house. It is finally crying in the shower after years of thinking I was broken. My depression is learning what the fuck to do with all of these tears while not showing you one of them. I push through assignments, workouts, and appointments. I bring stubbornness, guilt, and white knuckles to my to-do lists, because being unproductive makes it worse. And I just can’t have it be worse.

Depression is a dark and scary place, where my mind shows me the worst of myself, of humanity, and of what others think of me. Depression often feels like the clarity I have been waiting for. I drink the Kool-Aid of the thoughts flowing through my brain. But the truth is that depression tells us lies. And I wear those lies well. I just keep them hidden under layers of coping mechanisms.

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Humor is one of those strategies. I may be sad, but I know a good joke or story when I hear or read it. I maintain a balance of self-deprecating jokes and witty comments. I twist words to make things funny, and I laugh until I cry at videos of goats fainting. My depression is not a constant stream of unhappiness. The pain takes more energy and is a more glaring observation, but I do have days of peace and confidence, and, if not full days, I have plenty of these moments before and after a rough morning or miserable night. Those good moments are the ones people tend to see because they are the ones I’m more likely to show, and it’s also the side that others want to see.

I understand that no one wants to see me struggling, and I usually understand it is because they hurt when I hurt. Their love actually grows for me instead of shrinks. But showing my pain feels like I am hurting the ones around me, so if I can’t be funny, I am quiet. I am honest about my struggles, but in the thick of them, I tend to hold back. I muscle through.

This is not to minimize my experience or the mental health of others. It’s just how my brain works. I go in. I hold onto the wispy ribbon that feels like it is attached to an anvil. It’s funny how weight can float overhead while pulling me down. The heaviness comes out of nowhere, yet when it arrives, I am reminded of how familiar it is. Familiarity should not be confused with comfort. But if you ask me how I am or if you can help me with the weight of what I am carrying, I may lie. Depression lies. It lies in the shadows but it also lies in the light.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline where there is a LGBTQ affirming network too. You can also contact Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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