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Hiding Behind a Smile

Depression, hope and fear

Holding onto hope.

Depression does not define you.

For too long I lived my life hating who I was. It was a constant battle inside my head between who I wanted to be versus what depression would permit me to become. I allowed it to define me because of my lack of self- worth and because at the time, people had labeled me as who they saw. I was the “freak,” “miserable,” “pathetic” and “self- absorbed.” Instead of trying to understand my problem, I became the problem. Therapy and medications defined me as damaged. People withdrew from my company. I became isolated to the point that suicide seemed ideal. After all, who could possibly miss me when I was gone?

Depression forced me to become two people. One who hid behind a smile and appeared to have it all together on the surface and the other who struggled to breathe at night through her tears. There was no specific reason for it to be triggered. No matter how much joy there was in my life, depression took that away from me. No matter how much happiness people offered me, I couldn’t feel anything beyond the turmoil I was in.

Depression made me bitter. It made people mistake me for having a bad attitude when really I just felt like I was going through hell. It made me distrust people because every time I attempted to tell them the truth, they withdrew. Either they left me alone or passed me onto someone else because they were too resistant to hear what my inner world had become. But how much easier is it to do the simple act of listening when you are able to walk away from those feelings? Why is it that when you break your arm everyone wants to write on your cast, but when your brain stops functioning properly, people perceive you as weak and glance the other way?

Some nights I remember begging God to just let it end, when so many people were dying who weren’t ready to go yet. I remember the way I struggled through classes because I’d failed to sleep properly for another night and I remember the way my teachers judged me based on a percentage on a piece of paper. I remember the professionals who tried to convince me to keep taking my medication, but they failed to realise that after so many tries, your hope dies. Even if they did work, but later decided to fail, how has that cured me? Who’s to say in five years’ time I won’t feel like this again?

So I began the downward spiral. The one where I shut myself off and acted like I was okay. The one where I perceived others as the enemy and hurt myself physically to dull the pain I was feeling inside. I believed the words people threw at me like knives, but I acted like I hadn’t heard them. I went from waking up to a new day, to dreading any more days given to me. I cried more tears than anyone could imagine and still, there was a constant river inside of me.

Depression convinced me that I was unlovable, ugly, broken and beyond any hope. It taught me to hate my body for still functioning, to abuse myself through constant negative thoughts and to believe that this would become my life forever. So many times I found myself questioning what I might have done to deserve the way I felt. So many times I forgot all about my dreams and ambitions.

It wasn’t until someone loved me for three whole years that I questioned if I was lovable. It wasn’t until my parents told me they were proud of me that I realised I meant something. It wasn’t until my sister told me I was beautiful, that I put more effort into who I wanted to be perceived as. It wasn’t until a few friends told me I was caring, that I believed I was useful.

Depression never disappears from my world. It still hangs over me at times and it can get really dark. But it’s not until recently that I realised that I am not depression. Depression is a small part of me, but it is equally not who I am. Just because I feel unworthy doesn’t mean that I deserve to die. Just because I am damaged in places doesn’t mean that I can’t heal. Just because I can’t hide my emotions doesn’t mean that I deserve a life full of rejection. It’s okay to try and find happiness again. It’s okay to find one slither of hope to be selfish enough to work towards recovery. It’s okay to cry sometimes, but it’s also okay to smile.

People are wrong to stigmatise mental health when our brain is arguably as important as every other part in the human body. People are wrong to judge you when they haven’t walked in your shoes and felt the feeling you find yourself facing at 3 am. Surely when it affects so many of us, we must realise at some point that this ignorance is wrong and inhumane. If we were to ignore the negative aspects of all that life has to offer, then we would never learn and never develop.

For anyone out there who feels like they’re alone and thinks that no one can possibly understand. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m sorry that, as a society, we are ignorant. I am sorry that we have compounded on your sadness. But please don’t give up, because despite what your head tries to convince you, you deserve so much more. You are strong and you are worthwhile. You are resilient and you are beautiful. It’s okay to cry and go through these motions. It’s okay to let your emotions out through your behaviour because people just don’t understand. It’s okay to be afraid, but I promise it does get better. Please don’t give up. Please keep holding to whatever it is that got you through today.

You’re amazing. You are brave. You are a survivor. And I am so proud of you.

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