Photo Credit: Jamal

“How Could You Be Depressed?”

The question rolls off someone’s tongue and is propelled through the air as if they’re doing me a favor.

As if the fact that they couldn’t tell I was struggling is a compliment of some kind. As if it’s detestable to look depressed (whatever “looking depressed” means) and they’re trying to assure me that I don’t look like I’m depressed. As if someone who looks put together on the outside couldn’t be feeling hopeless and worthless on the inside. As if whether or not you’re depressed depends on how other people experience you.

As if depression discriminates.

But I try to keep questions like this in perspective.

Because I realize there are so many things that we could never know about other people unless they told us. So many dark places that are impossible to find unless other people allow us to find them.

Which is why I’m not angry or upset when someone asks me how I could be depressed. Or they insinuate that I have nothing to be depressed about. Or they tell me they’re shocked that someone like me could be depressed.

But when I hear these things, I end up thinking a lot about depression.

And after a while, I usually end up thinking about how we assume that depression looks a certain way. That it dresses a certain way. That it says certain things. That it has a certain affect.

When the truth is, there’s no standardized way that depression appears. We’re all different people struggling in slightly different ways, many of which are not readily apparent from the outside looking in.

Which has led me to this:

Trying to compare two people struggling with depression is like trying to compare two branches on the same tree. Those branches originate from the same source, but there’s a point when they separate and become distinct.

I’m not exactly sure what people see when they look at me, but here are some facts:

  • I am 6'0'’ tall
  • I weigh 185 pounds
  • I have fairly broad shoulders and an athletic build
  • I shave my head because I’m losing my hair

People have told me I resemble an MMA fighter or Vin Diesel or Chris Daughtry. I tend to think these are lazy comparisons based on a few distinguishable physical characteristics and not much else, but whatever people see when they look at me, it’s not depression.

Perhaps more than the way I look, I act a certain way when I’m around most people. Whatever it is I’m feeling inside, I do my best to appear like I’m okay. Because I know that what I’m feeling might be met with negativity or ridicule or judgement.

On a deeper level, I’m aware that the reality of being alive is difficult no matter who we are. So I don’t want to subject others to my hopelessness and sadness because I think there are enough reasons to be dejected and sad in this world and I don’t want to be another source of dejection and sadness.

Which means that if you met me or talked to me for a few minutes, you wouldn’t know. And sometimes it feels like a secret. A secret that I’m ashamed to be carrying around with me. Because as hard as we’re working to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, it still exists. And as much as we’re talking about depression and finding out that all different kinds of people are struggling, it still seems like there’s a certain way I’m supposed to appear.

At least that’s the way I feel when people ask me questions like: “How could you be depressed?”

I don’t have episodes where I can’t get out of bed or don’t shower or don’t eat for long stretches at a time. I don’t have much trouble putting on clean clothes or shaving when necessary.

What I have is a supreme and daunting sense of emptiness and hopelessness about life. These feelings aren’t present all the time, but when they hit, they hit especially hard. When they hit, they usually drown out everything else. When they hit, I don’t see a point in being alive. When they hit, everything about life seems ridiculous and absurd.

When they hit, experiencing the world in any capacity causes me to wonder how we can go through our lives and not notice how impossibly sad it is and not question the fact that everything seems so pointless.

But I’m usually able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Because I know there are people who love me and there’s a possibility of getting better. Even if that possibility sometimes seems ridiculous, I’m thankful that I’ve been able to hold that possibility close enough to my heart that it’s allowed me to keep putting one foot in front of the other up to this point.

I’m not unique.

I know there are so many people who appear perfectly fine on the surface while they’re struggling inside.

Which is why talking about this is so important. Because there’s no uniform way that a depressed person should appear. Because so many people with depression are doing whatever they have to do to get through their day while they suffer out of sight. Making it impossible for us to know whether or not someone is depressed based on how we experience them.

Which means that depression doesn’t have one face. Or body. It doesn’t dress a certain way. Or talk a certain way. Or have a certain kind of haircut. Or work a certain job.

Depression could be anyone. So we should stop pretending like depression discriminates and we should stop asking questions like “How could you be depressed?”

Because while we might care about how someone else appears, depression certainly doesn’t.