SE Smith in The Guardian:
"When I’m having a depressive episode, I’m not walking around in tattered black clothes, weeping and wailing. I go out with friends and I crack jokes (especially sardonic ones)."
This piece was published in The Guardian newspaper at the weekend. Through wonderfully descriptive personal stories and examples, Smith shows us that Depression doesn't make you sad all the time. Nor does it mean you act a certain way.
It's a great image, and I think it's one people cling to because it makes them feel better - Depressed people wear black, cry all the time and isolate themselves. It makes them easy to identify, easy to notice so you can ask if they're okay, easy to avoid... And if someone doesn't fit into that category then they can't be depressed, right?
I really relate to what Smith writes. When I'm feeling my worst I make stupid jokes about others, and try to spend time with my friends because it takes my mind off my mood even if only for a short while.
There are different stages of Depression, different triggers, symptoms, reactions, and everyone deals with it unique ways. Some days I feel fine. Some days I feel crap and stay in bed. Other days I feel crap and try to function as 'normal'.
Yet, the times where I feel fine, or where I act like a non-depressed person is supposed to, my illness is forgotten. That's not always a bad thing. I always say I don't want to be defined by my mental health. But people forget that I'm continually battling against a darkness. I am always still fighting the fight. I'm at the stage now where most days are better that these. But I'm not better.
Smith describes it perfectly:
"Yet I feel a strange conflicting pressure. On the one hand, I feel like I need to engage in a sort of relentless performative sadness to be taken seriously, for people to understand that I really am depressed and that each day – each moment of each day – is a struggle for me, that even when I am happy, I am still fighting the monster. I feel like I need to darken everything around me, to stop communicating with the world, to stop publishing anything, to just stop. Because that way I will appear suitably, certifiably sad, and thus, depressed – and then maybe people will recognise that I’m depressed and perhaps they’ll even offer support and assistance."
Depression brings with it a sense of performing. Pretending to be normal. Trying to hide your illness. Wanting to fit in.
"I’m caught in a trap where if I don’t perform sadness, I’m not really depressed, but if I express sadness at all to any degree, I’m annoying and boring and should stop being so self-centred."
What I and Smith are trying to say is that you never know what someone else is going through. They can hide their illness, and hide it well. Anybody, no matter what their public perception, may be fighting the most horrific demons when they go home in the evenings. They can even be fighting those demons while maintaining a conversation about how fine they are.
Smith reminds us that you can never see the whole picture. You can never know who has issues and who hasn't. And you should never presume when it comes to mental health.
"Look at the woman, joyously cycling on a beach, hair fluttering in the breeze. You can’t judge her emotional state or her larger mental health picture, nor should you."