Mental Illness Stigma – Keeping Quiet about Depression

Cover of "No Talking (Thorndike Press Lar...

(Cover via Amazon) I have to remind myself to keep my own secrets

Today has been slow. Agonizingly slow. Slow to wake up, slow to get up, slow to move, slow to think, slow to speak.

I have not been able to work yet today, but my boss does not know this since I work from home. I do what I can , when I can, and somehow it all gets done. When they don’t hear from me, they assume I am crazy busy. Not just crazy.

I hate that I can’t share my struggle with my boss and coworkers. But I know that I can’t. Another coworker is struggling to recover from surgery to remove endometriosis. We all know the details and have taken some of her chores to lighten her load. Another coworker just returned from maternity leave and has shortened hours. Another coworker has just had shoulder surgery and can only type 1 handed, her load is reduced. We all know these facts and jump in to help out.

No one knows I can barely sleep all night, that I struggle to rub 2 thoughts together, that I sit in a foggy haze all morning, that I can’t understand the request in the email even though I read it a zillion times. I can’t share that I have depression and still have them treat me with respect. Hell, I may even lose my job. If I ever make a mistake, and I do, they wouldn’t just brush it off, they’d blame my depression.

But the good and honest part of me feels like I am lying to withhold this information. I blame the kids for keeping me up all night, that’s why I sound sleepy in the teleconference. I blame the cable outage for losing my documents. I blame my busy schedule for missing meetings, not admitting I just forgot.

They picture me as a supermom, running around like crazy, getting everything done, and squeezing in my work on top of it. They don’t know that most days I have only managed to do the work, there was nothing else.

And then they praise me. What? seriously? Yes, they think I am brilliant, creative, hard working, responsible. Well, I am all of those things, but it is hard to accept compliments when I feel like I am barely doing the minimum requirements. But, even with my struggles, I get things done that others do not. I wonder if they have hidden struggles too?

A coworker was given a project in November, checked on her progress last week, and she had not even started it and never told anyone. I was shocked. They gave the project to me – they know I will do it. I started it, but the tedium is wearing on me, and it sits untouched most days. But I presented the part I had started in the last meeting, and got oohed and ahhed. They love it. They will wait for it. I could have it all done today if I could just focus. But I can’t focus, so it takes weeks, and then I get praised for putting in so much time.

The world is messed up. I just have to shake my head in amazement. But I can play the game for now.

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13 thoughts on “Mental Illness Stigma – Keeping Quiet about Depression

  1. Withholding information is not lying. Sometimes withholding information simply means choosing not to dump everything on someone else. If they’re happy with your work, then don’t beat yourself up for not being as perfect as you think you should be. If you need tea and sympathy, that’s something else again. Cultivate a circle of friends that will give you the tea and sympathy, without having to worry about the pressure of what people at work will think. I am so grateful for my tea and sympathy friends. I couldn’t make it without them.

    My own work hasn’t been getting done this week, either. I’ve come down with something, cough, sore throat, headache. I’ve felt worse. I’m not completing the editing I had scheduled. I could beat myself up, but it wouldn’t get the editing done any faster. I’ve been working on the same paragraph for two days now. I tell myself the important thing is that I haven’t given up.

    There is no way around depression, only through. And if you quit, then it wins. Do what you are able, as little as it may be. You’ll find your stride again. It says a lot that as little as you’ve done, by your way of thinking, is fantastic by their way of thinking.

    • Thank you for the support Judy. Sadly I have no tea and sympathy buddies. Yet. I am just getting out into the world. I have been completely alone for most of my life. I now have people I see and do things with, but no one I would call a friend or could actually lean on. I have no idea what that would feel like.

  2. I agree with Judy and wanted to throw out this idea: what about a shift in perspective? I’ve also experienced feeling stunned (and sometimes hurt) by the fact that others are completely oblivious to how I’m *really* doing. The next time someone comments about how fabulous you are, shift your focus slightly and think “You think I’m great but if you had the slightest idea what I’m going through, you’d KNOW how great I actually am to accomplish what I do.” I know it’s easier said than done, but might be worth a try!
    Best wishes,
    HH
    Suicide, A Biography

  3. Along the same lines as Judy, I agree about trying to hang on to what works for you. If connecting with a friend helps, pick up the phone, or send that email. If treating yourself to a special brand of tea will help, go ahead and splurge a bit.

    Along the same lines as HH Editor, I sometimes use a version of this altered perspective strategy. I don’t really like making these kind of comparisons because invariably someone will take offense or be scandalized, but if you were to see a child with bulky metal braces on their legs forcing themselves to stand and take halting steps across the sidewalk so that they could lean against the rail at the edge of the pond and soak up some of the beauty, would you be saying in your head … why didn’t that child walk faster? why didn’t that child stand up straight? why didn’t that child take wide and firm steps towards the rail? No, instead you would be saying something along the lines of how brave that child was to venture across the expanse of the sidewalk so that they could reach their goal.

    Don’t beat yourself up. If you catch yourself giving yourself yet another reminder of how you simply don’t do enough, or how your whole life is a lie, try to remember that every step, no matter how shaky or small, still takes us towards our goal. Just keep moving. Just keep moving.

    • Your comment hit home more than you could know. I have a physical disability that makes it difficult for me to walk. I don’t write about in this blog, as I am trying to sort out different parts of my life and just focus on the mental health here. No worries though, I am not the type to get offended. And I think it is a good way to illustrate that point. Maybe I will go into that part of me one day, as it is another part of what I hide, or at least don’t readily disclose. I had a major injury as a child and had to relearn to walk. I do walk unaided now, after many years of effort to do so, but I can not run. No one would know of the underlying issue there either unless I told them. Sigh. I am just not what I appear. I do not feel I am living a lie. Just explains why I am so quiet. Never knowing what to share and with whom. I have made the mistake of sharing too much, too fast, and lost friends that way. So now I don’t share anything. And that makes me sad at times to see other friends easily chatting. I have had the most support and feeling of being connected to others through this blog. Best thing I ever did I think. I am learning so much and meeting such caring people. And such strong people. It is amazing what we can endure and rise above.

  4. “It is amazing what we can endure and rise above.”

    Well spoken. Part of the stigma of mental illness is that many folks are simply incapable of recognizing that sometimes we begin from a place that is already in a deficit position, so the very fact that we are able to function within the structure of the world is sometimes really quite astonishing, when you get right down to it.

    People that struggle with depression are often more isolated or keep to themselves and feel as if they have no friends, and blogging IS a good way to stay connected. I spent twenty plus years chastising myself for not developing friendships, and only recently started to come into the realization that sometimes self-preservation has to happen before we can begin any other journey. I’m getting a little bit better about accepting my limitations. A little better is an improvement. Hang in there.

    • Judy … I saw this comment and it reminded me that I’ve actually tried to comment on your sister’s blog a couple of times, but for some reason, i can’t get the comment box to load. I have her site bookmarked anyway, and am hoping I might figure out what the technical difficulties are … just thought I would pass the word. Every now and again I come across a blog that I either can’t get through the registration process or can’t access the comment box.

      • Thanks ntexas. I’ll let her know. I think it’s a problem with Blogger. Google is going through some privacy changes, and re-organizing their products. So it isn’t you. It’s Blogger. Lucky us. (mild sarcasm)

  5. Hi-Keep up the good work and you’ll get there, you are doing a fantastic job. My passion in life is fighting the stigma attached to mental illness, and specifically depression, by talking openly and honestly about my experiences. I work full-time +, I travel a lot, I have a hubby and 16 year old son, etc etc and I have depression. Whilst undoubtedly the illness has a huge impact on my life, I only allow it to be a small part of who I am. It’s a battle as it wants to win and take over but I won’t let it. Sometimes it does win the odd battle when I have to wave the white flag and surrender but it will never win the war.
    Stay strong. and good luck xxxx

    • Thanks for the encouraging words. I like how you put that, we may not win every battle, but will certainly win the war. I’m starting by speaking honestly and openly – but anonymously. Maybe some day I’ll feel free to attach my name to depression, but I don’t do that right now.

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