Hiding Depression is a Way of Life for Many
Every day you interact with other people; the clerk at the grocery store who always greets you by name with a warm smile; the friend you met for lunch; the guy at the gym who keeps to himself, safe inside his noise-cancelling headphones; the woman pushing her young child in a shopping cart, his innocence shining through his smile. From the outside, they all seem perfectly content with their lives, but are they really?
Society has taught us to hide our pain behind a smile; behind routine tasks; behind a collection of masks. Although the media and various health organizations are trying to reverse generations of conditioning with their “let us help you” ad campaigns, the stigma remains for many.
The prospect of being shunned, losing a job, or being humiliated for showing weakness play an enormous part in a continued unwillingness to seek help. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg of depression. Getting past a deep-seated belief that you don’t deserve to ask for help, or you’d be a bother to others for asking keeps many locked inside their own minds. That there’s no basis in fact for their beliefs never comes into question.
Getting in Touch With Your Emotions
Even before you consider asking for help, you have to actually be in touch with your emotions, and recognize when you’re just down over a specific event vs. down in the grand scheme of things without specific reasons. In her article “How to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence”, Angela Duckworth talks about an enormous gap in our educational system. If we can’t identify our own emotional state, not only are we unable to help ourselves, we can’t set an example for our kids, or recognize when they’re flailing. Is it any wonder so many people think the problem lies within themselves; that they’re broken and can’t be fixed?
I’ve learned by reading books from people like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and a few others, you need to learn how to not only be more self-aware, but more in the moment. In order to assess your true state of mind, you have to focus on where you are at this very moment, tuning out any future plans and lists, worries and concerns. Tolle calls it being in the “Now” and advises you ask yourself if all the problems and plans running through your head are an issue at this very moment.
Managing Life in Smaller Bites
For example, say you’re stressing out over necessary car repairs you can’t afford. If you ask yourself whether it is an issue in this moment; if it’s something you have to deal with in this exact period of time, the answer is likely to be no. If you neither need to, nor are able to deal with it right now, worrying about it won’t change things. He advises setting it aside until its proper moment, and dealing with what is right in front of you. Typically, what’s right in front of you is a small, manageable portion of your life and will be better dealt with if you’re not worrying about something in the future. And who knows? All those smaller pieces may lead you to a solution for the car repairs as well!
Another benefit to focusing on the moment you’re in is you’re able to determine whether what’s dragging you down even belongs to you. If you’re like me, you’re sensitive to the energies others are putting out. At times, it’s difficult to tell whether your stress and even anger belong to you, or to someone else entirely. When you step back and ask yourself what you can truly deal with in this moment, what isn’t yours won’t even make the cut. The truth is, there will never be a moment when you can manage what belongs to someone else.
I know this sounds complicated, or at least it did for me when I first read about it in “The Power of Now”. Like anything else, you get better with practice. Now, when someone in my world is suddenly cranky for no apparent reason, I can take a mental step back (even if I’ve reacted in kind), focus on what’s really mine, and send them compassionate thoughts for whatever is causing them to act out. It helps me release any ownership of their anger or frustration, and allows them to do with it as they see fit.
Take a Moment to Breathe and Assess
I was sitting at a machine at the gym one day, looking at my phone as I rested between sets. One of the trainers who is usually very sweet, comes up and practically snarls, “Helloooo, I need this machine!” I snapped back that I’d just gotten there, had two more sets, and had to rest a bit between sets (something she should have been aware of in the first place).
I could have allowed the exchange to make me rush through my last two sets, but decided I’d finish them in my normal time. In the first place, as a trainer, she should have a large enough repertoire of exercises she could easily substitute something else. In the second, it was clear something wasn’t right in her life for her to be uncharacteristically snotty.
It doesn’t mean I didn’t stew a bit before showering her with compassion from afar, nor feel slightly annoyed when she (as she should have) had her client working on a similar machine and never did use the one she tried to kick me off of. I did cut my workout a bit short as I needed to get away from the toxic energy, but not so short that I didn’t use all the machines I needed to.
Small Improvements With Consistent Practice
Staying in the “Now” isn’t something you learn and perfect in a few sittings. As far as I can tell, it’s a lifelong pursuit. The more you do it, the better you become, but there will still be times when you let someone piss you off, or feel cranky and out of sorts for no reason. But the more you remain aware, the more time you’ll spend in a calmer, happier place. Better still, the more you’ll be aware when someone around you needs an extra dose of understanding and compassion, or maybe assistance in identifying what’s causing their mood to swing downwards.
Sometimes, no, oftentimes, all they really need is for you to be there with a smile, a warm hug, or quiet companionship. In doing so, you let them know they don’t have to face whatever they’re facing alone, even if they don’t want to share it. You’re there, you’re supportive, and you’re not pushing them to divulge more than they’re comfortable sharing. When someone is sad or depressed, knowing you’re there with unquestioning support could be the small reminder they need to see they really do matter. It could be the spark that helps them start turning things around.
Sure, you and I aren’t going to eliminate depression by being there for a few. Depression is a complicated animal. Some people need professional help to manage it. Like the cats I’ve rescued over the last few decades, I’m not going to change the world for everyone, but for the ones I brought into my home, and will in the future, I’ve changed their world.
Think about changing someone’s world, if not for a lifetime, at least for a moment. Consider how you feel when you’re able to lift someone’s spirits, or when someone lifts yours, and pass it on.
Using Gratitude to Keep My Spirits High
My gratitudes today are:
- I am grateful for all the people who have lifted my spirits, often without even realizing it.
- I am grateful for my own experiences with depression. The memories help me avoid slipping back into that pit of despair.
- I am grateful to friends who’ve become comfortable letting me see when they’re down, feeling lost, left out, or alone, and need a little extra attention.
- I am grateful for my lower stress world where even a bad day can be made better with a few kitty cuddles, head bonks, and cat facials.
- I am grateful for abundance; love, laughter, friendship, dancing, long walks in nature, energy, answers, questions, inspiration, motivation, peace, harmony, balance, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, ghostwriter, and an advocate for cats and mental health. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward