Note, this post is not meant to be an actual HONEST-TO-GOD lifestyle guide. Depression/Anxiety are serious issues affecting a wide array of people. It sucks, to say the least, when your daily cloud is a little darker than others. All the visible ways to show it are looking tired, sad, or completely devoid. Or else looking scared to death of all the worldly things living and breathing around you.
But a lot of depressives can hide that. As a matter of fact, most won’t even “look” depressed because they’re busy wearing a public face, completely at odds with the silent, soul-sucking monster inside them.
I’ve heard a lot of people who’ve been through depression describe the same thing. Time and toil goes into presentation alone, minus the added crippling effort it takes to maintain it, minus the added effort it takes to mechanically slug through your daily routine.
But there are ways that depressives “keep it together”, not so much for themselves but for the people around them. Cause inside your mind nothing screams “failure” louder than exposure.
Many of the techniques/steps I’m about to mention are things I’ve tried in the past. Note, they’re NOT meant to be personal recommendations: just a look at how the blues affect your gray matter. And subsequently, your behavior.
Like myself, many people who’ve been through depression have probably (more than once) attended the master school of bullshitting. It’s like an acting school except one that lives in your mind, instructing you to either smile, soft-shoe, or pantomime to avoid publicly losing your shit. Result: you get your license as an undercover “happy person”.
Here are 5 simple steps those with the “chemical blues” take or will learn in order to keep their cover from being blown.
1. Keep your smiles LOUD and over-PROUD
Everyone with depression smiles in public, or just about. But by smiling I don’t mean doing it realistically: I mean making your face beam with blissful stupidity as you look around at things that repulse you. Just for the benefit of showing you “have it together”. But not just “have it together”; that you’ve attained some special, superior method of self-control that makes all your friends wonder, once you’ve opened to up to them, what in the hell you have to be depressed about. Because that’s always the response you’ll get: utter surprise: “Wow, I never knew it was rough like that”. The smile, of all basic gestures, should be ready to allay any advance suspicions.
2. Overcompensate at all public events
Take your impression to an excess. I don’t know why but for some reason depression (especially with men) is the kind of thing that can make you want to over-exert yourself at parties and social functions: the ones you actually dragged yourself out of bed to get to. Hyperactivity can serve as an effective way to deter suspicion. I’ve used it a hundred times.
For the 5 steps in this post let’s think of a public venue, namely a bar or party. To offset your “inner darkness” you want to be the star of the show.
You see those “happy people” conversing all around? Screw ’em: you want to be louder and more interesting. See those two people playing flip cup and winning? Screw ’em: you want to be winning BETTER than they are. You want to be twice as loud as the most extroverted person in the room and twice as friendly, moving from crowd to crowd to bestow your counterfeit charm. Because what’s depression: hiding away in sadness and keeping to yourself. So you try to give off the most “opposite” impression. When the music starts playing what do you do: you start dancing and singing and shuffling twice as much as everyone else in the room. And they watch you from a distance, entertained by your antics, but conveniently unaware.
Because if they were, they probably wouldn’t have invited you there. And if you want more invitations (just to look normal) you’ve got to keep the act going.
The really (and no pun intended) sad part about depression isn’t the fact that it’s there: it’s how unrecognized it is. People like me (and others who have been through the “dark times”) typically have a better eye for it: you can recognize depression a mile away by the person at the party who’s drinking twice as much, playing twice as much, and talking twice as much as everyone else. Or at least trying to. Depressives don’t sit in a corner and mope in public (unless they’ve had WAY too much to drink); we save that shit for our bedrooms.
The funny thing about most of the DSM symptoms is that they happen behind closed doors where nobody can see. In public they can often present themselves as little or vaguely as possible. Ergo, the most extreme example of covert happiness: the party or social function. After the 100 minutes of slogging around your apartment trying to eat and get dressed you can damn-well expect to give about 200 more of “fun time”. Fake mood is what you put on before leaving the door.
3. Drink a LITTLE more than you should but NOT TOO MUCH
And I stress “NOT TOO MUCH”. That can send you into a depressive crash AT the party, instead of once you get home and wake up the next morning. But a little spike gets you up and going. It opens your mouth to words. It expresses those words. And it gets you around the room. If the depression Energizer Bunny had a logo it would probably be a shot of tequila. Just don’t beat the glass too hard with those drumsticks: cause your “worser” side might come spilling out.
But you really are drinking MORE than the people around you, because unlike them it makes you feel a bit more normal and less terrified. I should stress the anxiety illness as a key factor here, as well as depression. But a bit of beverage allays that. If your lips don’t want to talk, they start talking. If your legs don’t want to kick and sway they start kicking. And if your lips don’t want to smile your eyes certainly will.
Just make sure every now and then to return to your nearest bar or kitchen. Re-up with another beverage, so you can recharge that clever smile.
4. Always appear to be “superhuman”
Meaning don’t talk about your weaknesses. Your brain knows people won’t understand them. And if they do they’ll give you a b.s. answer (What you gotta do is…; some crappy life instructions). Which will lead you to disagree with them if you’ve “had too much”, which might leave you getting asked to leave. Cover blown. And cue the Hudson voice from Aliens: “Game over, man!”
The better thing is just to be “strong man” or “strong woman” instead. At least that’s what your mind says: power through the night and make sure to leave nothing less on your peers than a totally kick-ass impression. It should edify you beyond measure. Because, let’s face it, one chink in the armor leaves an air hole: for noxious fumes of the monster inside you to pass through.
5. Crash when you get home
After all the lagging, tiresome effort it took to conjure your spirits up (albeit temporarily) nothing fits you like a nice, twelve-hour slumber: one that’ll likely have you waking up tomorrow at 8, but not actually getting up until about 12. Your “covert” shift takes a lot out of you. And now you need some R&R before clocking in again. But just a little more than everyone else. Why: because you don’t wear your mask in private. You are the somber sum of your symptoms. And what’s most depressing: right now you’re the sluggish, moping self that nobody should ever see. But you can’t escape it. Because the mask is off. And even though the people you fooled are gone you can still sense them scrutinizing over every inch of your being. They see cracks and fissures in the places you taped up so nicely.
Should depression be privatized like healthcare?
It already is. At the end of the day its purest form isn’t regulated by doctors or public institutions: it’s regulated by the people who suffer it.
Most of your premium is based on how many hours you have to play up your public appearance. Interest includes malt liquor and beverages. Your deductible is how many hours of sleep it takes to revitalize that appearance. If you step out of your house with a 14 hour deductible on sleep, your little pantomime isn’t going to work. Any little ruse is going to come sadly short of your last performance. And with no copay your ass is screwed.
Now that we’ve gotten the satire out of the way I’ll say it candidly: depression is something that a lot of people use unfortunate ways to cope with. And dishonest ones. The list above is more meant to inform than advise. And it reiterates the sad (but true) notion that society’s biggest problems aren’t the ones that go “un-diagnosed”; they’re the ones that go unseen.
In the past I have used some of the ways mentioned above to cope with my own experience. But eventually fear eats the facade. Your body and brain grow tired of “keeping it all in”. Which is why the powder keg approach is bad for you.
The best part, though, is that it allows you to see which people are truly friends and care about what you’re going through versus friends who treat you indifferently. In other words, sham acting eventually uncovers sham people. It’s a very weird irony. But in the end you figure out the “friends” to cut off and the friends to keep (note: I used quotes to describe one type).
But obviously the one thing to do for yourself is to seek out help. Seek it by asking the people you know you can trust. Forge friendships with people who are better for you, if necessary. Look for permanent rather than temporary measures. And medication helps: the right kind. And the right kind of therapy.
It doesn’t “end” the problem obviously: you’ll still feel the need to slip on your mask at times and go “covert” with the five steps mentioned above. But hopefully you’ll have those moments where the mask comes off and reveals a smile instead of a frown underneath. One that you didn’t have to take three hours to make.