Talking about mental illness is a two-way street. Those who have no experience with it need to talk to become informed. But those of us with any variety of conditions tend to stray away from the subject as well. Nikki Albert explains her reasons for keeping silent and I think it is a great place to start the conversation! This post was written in May 2016 for Mental Health Awareness.
6 Reasons Why I Masked My Depression For Years
By Nikki Albert, Brainless Blog
It is nearing the end of Mental Health Awareness Month and so I thought I would devote another post about it. This one about what caused me to hide my depression for so long. I had read posts about smiling depression and that was me. I hid behind my smiles, my goofy humor, and jokes. No one would ever be able to tell I had suicidal ideation frequently. That I had severe mood issues along with the chronic pain. That I was Not coping well with the pain.
Originally when I first had a bout of depression in my late teens I used humor when I was getting through it as a positive coping strategy to counter my negative thought patterns. And it worked very well. I cultivated my humor. I encouraged it. And it flourished. At that time the depression came about for a few factors; being away from home for the first time, stress of university and dealing with my, at that time, undiagnosed fibromyalgia. I had to not only get through the depression but manage the fibromyalgia by passing and moderation without knowing what I even had.
When I was older and the physical pain was far worse and as such, I wasn’t pacing or moderating or staying in my limits as I desperately held onto working full-time and my career by pushing through the pain. And that led to bouts of severe depression and suicidal ideation. In this case, I used my humor, smiles and giggling laugh to mask my suffering. Why would I do that?
So it was a great tool for coping that became a way to mask my depression and chronic pain.
There is an element of shame: Mental illness has a significant stigma attached to it and I felt weak of will for not being strong enough to handle things. I didn’t want people to know and be judged by them.
Doctor stigma: I had experienced doctor stigma and so had my father. Basically, it goes like this, you have a chronic pain condition but you also are depressed. Bam they diagnose you with depression and evaporate the pain diagnosis. It is all the depression and wasn’t the pain at all. And your treatment clearly suffers greatly for this…. so I didn’t even want to go there.
I felt like I could handle it: I felt like I could get through it on my own if I just stuck it out. Suicidal ideation is just thoughts, right? And they would go away. Then come back. And go away. I handled it myself when I was younger, successfully and there was no reason why I couldn’t do that again… except the physical pain was far more severe and I wasn’t coping with that at all.
There is an element of fear: I didn’t want to admit it was depression. Make it real. Like that would make it worse. And something I would have to deal with. I didn’t want to admit to suicidal thoughts because I was scared what a doctor would do at that point. I would think things like it is a symptom of migraines in the prodrome and I get migraines all the time… the depression will ebb and flow with the pain. That is was normal to have such thoughts with chronic pain. And convince myself it was fine.
My own mind said to not bother: I’d already established no one was going to do a damn thing about the pain. That my suffering didn’t matter to them. What difference did it make? Apparently, people do not care how much you suffer as long as you can work. And when you cannot work… they will get you back to work so you can suffer more again. No one was helping me then and I had pretty much given up on that ever happening. I couldn’t see it making a bit of difference.
I didn’t want my family to know: I didn’t want them to know the extent of my suffering. Mentally and emotionally. I didn’t want them to feel guilty or like it was their fault. Or powerless to do anything about it.