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Describe yourself in three words. It’s pretty hard to boil down an entire person—appearance, personality, and all one’s perplexities—into three, or even four or five words. Nonetheless, it’s a question we’re asked throughout life. Job interviews, website biographies, dating apps, and your occasional training seminar or personality quiz are obvious inquirers. The less obvious questioning—where you find yourself feeling obligated to express who you are as fully, but precisely, as possible—come at random... like those awkward times when you’re talking to someone that you feel just doesn’t understand the real you. But when you’re posed with this dreadful task, what answer would you give—the one that you think will make the recipient most comfortable and more likely to approve of you or the cold, hard truth?
A conversation with my mom a few days ago started as a recap of the most recent work drama increasing my need for a Texas-sized margarita, but somehow turned into a heart-to-heart on how we’ve become the people we are today and what parts of us seemed less hereditary or genetic. This deep chat led to my realization that, unlike my mother, I talk openly about my issues (and oh, there are many) at a more frequent, detailed rate than others. But this wasn’t always the case. And just like that, my little internal light came on. We allow the discomfort of others, when finding out our truth, to push our newfound courage and acceptance of personal issues back into our buried box of secrets. And quite frankly, that’s bullshit.
Developing Your Own Comfort
As usually the only brown, less fortunate kid in my childhood circle of friends, I subconsciously hid those less accepted, less approved parts of myself as much as possible. I didn’t even realize how that suppression had begun to eat away at the core of who I was as a person. Then, before you know it, I lost everything I used to love about myself and opened the door to a depressed reality and no idea how to grasp it. Instead of the proud, outspoken, curious little girl I once was, I put on the image that others expected of me. And that image became harder to keep up with when I began to resent my past and my present.
Understanding your depression is not an easy task. But it’s not fair to blame the person staring back at you in the mirror. We may allow others to convince us that the invasion of our depression is our own fault, or that we have a remote to tone it down. Negative, captain. If depression is Super Mario Brothers, the afflicted have a remote control with all but the ‘b’ button missing.
That being said, it doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s going on in that head of yours. Acknowledge that this is not who you want or planned to be. Dig into yourself—all the way down to the painful, disturbing realities that got you here—and address the roots of your depression and internal dysfunction. BUT, all on your own time. You have to do the work to not only accept your depression, but also learn to live with it in spite of everyone else’s opinions about your well-being.
For me, it took watching myself try to fit in with the crowd, but never quite finding the right puzzle piece. It took me losing just about every friend I’ve ever had, living by myself, and truly saying “what the fuck happened?” It didn’t happen in a week, or a month, or even a year, but I learned everything about myself. And don’t get me started on the nights of crying myself to sleep or avoiding the rest of the world because I couldn’t grasp where I fit in it. Nonetheless, I put all that pain and confusion into understanding when and where my depression first latched its roots into my life and decided how much I was willing to let someone else’s view of me and my struggles affect my outlook.
To Share or Not to Share
Honestly, I’ve heard every opinion in the book:
- “You should talk about what you’re going through more…getting it off your chest will help.”
- “There’s a time and place for talking about that kind of stuff.”
- “Everyone has enough problems…they don’t need to hear yours, too.”
- “You need therapy.”
- “Have some couth – don’t put your business out there like that!”
- “TMI, man.”
- “Are you depressed, or just bored?”
- “Trust me, I know EXACTLY how you feel.”
And the list goes on… I’ve been made to feel embarrassed or dishonest if I don’t share my struggles or join the conversations on mental health and depression, and I’ve been made to feel annoying or too open when I do share. Especially growing up in a family of strong, unwavering black women, expressing your dark thoughts or pain was seen as a sign of weakness or cry for attention. But when my family was hit with a tragedy we never expected, all of those predispositions and opinions went out the window. There was no hiding the pain, stress, and heartbreak boiling in each of us – and I could not care less who felt uncomfortable or bother by my self-expression (a.k.a., outbursts of rage and sadness that felt like shattered glass screeching through my chest).
You are the only one who can decide if you want others to know more about you and your depression. Don’t feel like you have to view your depression as a secret. It’s your business, not a secret, and no one is entitled to your business. Just know that sharing, like with anything personal, comes at a cost. Some people will immediately look at you differently—sometimes good, sometimes bad. Some will stray away from you and your friendship because they feel that you’re now needy or, my favorite, a “Debbie-downer." Some will pity you and think of you as a fragile eggshell on its way to a big break. Most often, some people will simply be uncomfortable. The truth is that many people are not raised to express themselves or be comforting and receptive when others express themselves. And that is not your fault.
So, make your decisions based on yourself and what you want, and never on anyone else. Whether you decide to see a therapist or psychologist, check the “Yes—I have a disability” box on that mandatory sheet of job applications, or express your inner feelings and thoughts only in your private diary, it’s your choice. You will understand, accept, and learn to grow with your depression on your own time. Your journey is no one else’s business, and other’s reactions to your journey, if you choose to share, is really none of your business.