The Secret We Pretend We Don’t Know

Psst. Hey. You wanna know a secret?

Life is hard sometimes.

I don’t mean capital-letters LIFE, your string of years on this planet, where into your LIFE good times and bad times will come. Everybody admits capital-letters LIFE can be hard sometimes.

I mean lowercase life, the daily act of getting out of bed in the morning and managing to navigate a string of consecutive hours without climbing back into that bed and pulling the covers over your head.

Why is that a secret? I have no idea. I actually don’t think it is a secret. I think most people know lowercase life is hard sometimes. But, we pretend it’s a secret that nobody knows but us.

We’re all running around pretending to be productive and happy at all times, when logically, because we all secretly know this secret we don’t talk about, it must be true that, percentage-wise, some of those days we’re faking it…so that nobody will know that we know the secret.

Um. That’s dumb.

Why are we all doing this? I’m willing to bet most people in the world at some point in their life, no matter how temporary the time, no matter how severe the degree, will deal with some form of depression. I’m not going to get all statistical, I’m just guessing.

I had never dealt with depression until my mom passed away two years ago. Major life changes and the death of someone you are close to are well-known triggers for depression. Add to that, I have hormonal issues I’m dealing with that bring with them, along with other symptoms, varying degrees of depression every month. But, despite those three major triggers, I have managed until recently, to keep the secret of my depression from even myself.

Nobody really talks about what depression feels like. At least not in general society.

You don’t see Bob walk into the record store and say, “Hey, Joe. It took me 45 minutes to convince myself to get out of bed this morning.”

You’re also unlikely to hear Jane sit down at the coffee shop and say, “Hi Mary, I almost canceled our lunch because I’m sad for some undefined reason and I don’t really feel like talking.”

Nope. Bob says, “Sorry I’m late. Something came up.” and Jane says, “I’m fine. And you?”

Because Bob and Jane assume Joe and Mary either don’t know the secret or if they do, it’s less uncomfortable for all of us if we keep it a secret.

But, because we don’t talk about depression in casual society…that kind of makes it hard to know when you might be experiencing it.

I imagine it feels different for everyone, but I know I had a generalized idea of what it must feel like. Turns out, my assumptions were not what I have personally experienced in my life.

I don’t feel hopeless. I’m very optimistic.

I don’t feel like life is not worth living. I am excited by life and all the things I want to do now and in the future.

I’m functioning fine. I go to work, I get my groceries, I do what I need to do and I do what I enjoy doing.

Not every day is a battle. Most days are fine.

But those battle days? Those battle days are like climbing an ever-lengthening wall covered in molasses. Sometimes it’s sticky and you get stuck, sometimes it’s slippery and you slide three feet down for every foot you climb up, and just when you think you’ve reached the top, the wall shoots up twenty feet higher.

It’s hard to get out of bed and stay out of bed. It’s hard not to cry at the drop of a seemingly meaningless hat. I feel empty, or rather I feel everything and nothing at the same time. The world seems overwhelming. Everything seems out of my control. I feel like I want to run and run until I have physically exhausted all of my excess energy. Or I want to get in bed and stare at the back of my eyelids and not think for awhile. Nothing I usually enjoy doing seems the least bit interesting to me. I have trouble even choosing something to eat for dinner.

And that stick figure I drew at the top of this post? “I’m ok. I’m just tired.” There is a reason you see this on a lot of cartoons about depression. It’s because you really are tired, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Yes, it’s not a, “Yawn, I’m sleepy.”, kind of tired, but it’s exhaustion just the same. And sometimes it’s easier to say you’re tired than to attempt to explain how you really feel.

A combination of any or all of these things is how I personally feel on my battle days.

And the good news is, I know what I need to do to arm myself for battle. I know the things I personally need to do to come out victorious.

Theoretically.

In practicality, sometimes I don’t realize, “Hey! Yoo-hoo! This is one of those times you need to go out and do one of those things you know you should be doing to help yourself make it through and enjoy this day!”

Sleep. I know how important sleep is to my well-being and yet when I’m really tired is often when I stay up the latest. I logically know what I am registering as depression at 10:30 at night, after I’ve been awake for 16 hours, is actually legit sleepiness, but I’m upset and I feel like if I just keep scrolling mindlessly through the internet I will eventually find something that will make me feel better. um. Sleep is actually what I’m looking for and you can’t find that on the internet. So, why don’t I realize that until 12:30am?

Exercise. When you feel exhausted by life that day, it’s hard to motivate yourself to get up and move. It seems counter-intuitive that walking will actually make you less exhausted.

Outdoors. When I go outside, I feel an enormous connection to life and nature that is truly restorative, but when you’re laying on the sofa under a blanket, it can be hard to convince yourself to get up and open the door.

Eat. Eating the right foods at the right times for me is very important, but it’s hard to do that when nothing sounds good and food is not going to magically appear before you, ready to be eaten.

Talk. I don’t even mean deep, heavy conversations about how I’m feeling. I mean just light, everyday stuff. I have a tendency to get in my own head and forget to get back out of it. I’m not a big talker, but not making the effort to exchange what’s in your head for what’s in a friend’s head on a regular basis can be detrimental.

Sleep, Exercise, Outdoors, Eat, Talk. Your things may be different, but these are my things. Some days I do a better job at these things than others. I consider it a win that I even realize there ARE things I can and should do to make myself feel better. I’ve worked hard to determine what things work for me. Now I need to work on doing them regularly.

So, why have I been keeping this secret we all pretend we don’t know?

I’m not sure.

Maybe because I don’t hear anyone else talk about it.

Maybe I don’t feel like I have any right to feel this way, because my life is great and I really do love it.

Maybe because I feel like I should be strong enough to handle this on my own.

Maybe because it feels kind of private.

So then…why am I writing this?

I don’t know.

Because I felt an inexplicable need to write this. I’ve learned when you have an inexplicable feeling you need to do something, you should do it.

Maybe I’m not writing this for myself. Maybe I’m writing this for someone else. Someone I don’t even know, who will read this on just the day they need to read it.

I said maybe I feel like I should be strong enough to handle this on my own, but I would NEVER say that to someone else.

If I knew someone else was struggling, I would never say, “Well, buck up! You ought to be able to handle that yourself!”

No. The first thing I would say to that person is, “I’m so sorry you are going through that. I’m glad you said something. You don’t have to go through that alone.”

Why am I not that kind to myself?

Why aren’t we all that kind to ourselves?

Lowercase life can be hard sometimes. That shouldn’t be a secret.

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5 thoughts on “The Secret We Pretend We Don’t Know

  1. By far, your best. And yes, maybe I can relate — maybe I do.

    I have written before that some mornings when I wake up, the real blanket covering me is the one of sadness. I’m not sure whether to put a toothbrush in my mouth or a revolver. Those days — those wretched wretched days, I survive them by simply waiting them out. I have learned after all these years that the blanket of sadness dissipates in time. It doesn’t get lifted and disappear all at once, it just thins out as I find ways to keep myself occupied until I notice it’s no longer there.

    Perhaps that is the most important thing I have learned as a human being; that the often inexplicable lower-case life depression always goes away. Just knowing that helps me survive it.

    As to your point about people not talking about it. To me the trend seems to be counter. That is, I see, hear, and read people discussing this more often, and in more creative ways than ever before.

    Like the civil rights movement and the food movement, the depression movement is arching upward, and I’ll suggest there is more awareness than ever before about little “d” depression.

    1. Thanks for you compliment on this post, Roy. I can honestly say, I have never felt even the remotest inclination to choose anything other than the toothbrush. I’m grateful for that. I know that’s not the case for some people. I, too, thankfully, have always known in the back of my mind, that what I’m going through at that moment will pass. “Waiting it out” is a phrase I have used many times. I agree the trend is that more people are writing about depression online, but at least from my perspective, it seems like you still have to go looking for it to find it. Sometimes, unfortunately, people don’t know to go looking or even that there is something to find. I hope someday it will be part of casual conversation. I agree like most important movements, it’s moving slowly, but upward. That’s a very good thing. 🙂

  2. Yes, I can relate. On all points. Especially lately–but it has always been true. What I hate most when it’s one of those days is the message/feeling that it’s all a matter of my perspective and attitude. That I should be able to change it by changing what I focus on, or by changing my thoughts. That said, I do find one more thing effective that I would add to your list: practicing gratitude. I find that works best as a preventative, though. Doesn’t do a thing for me when I’m in the depths.

    Thank you for writing this. It’s important.

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