Are You Hiding Depression? Possibly Even from Yourself?
Hiding depression? Is that a thing? Do people actually do that? The truth is that we certainly can do that, and sometimes, we can even hide our depression from ourselves.
Depression can be a many-sided thing. It can appear in many different shapes and forms, some of which can even fool or surprise experts. As UK psychiatrist Rebecca Lawrence asserts “Is [the hidden depressive’s] depression as real, or as valid, because they manage to go to work, to smile, even to crack a joke? I think it is.”
This is a different perspective than the one that typical stereotypes of depression would suggest. Rather than the sad, emotionally flat and energy-less images we might have of depression, the person who is hiding depression might well appear to be as lively, energetic and socially engaged as anyone else, and yet such a person might be harbouring unseen depression.
What could be going on in the inner life of such a person, who “presents”, as they say, in a way that is so much at odds with what is really going on in their inner life? Dr. Lawrence offers us an important insight:
[D]oes that mean they suffer less when smiling? No: in fact, the strain of keeping up appearances, the weight of a misplaced sense of responsibility to others, can be one of the most onerous aspects of mental ill health.Dr. Rebecca Lawrence, “When depression wears a smile”, The Guardian, 18 March, 2021
This offers us an important insight: if we’re hiding depression, we may well be doing it for the other people in our lives. This misplaced sense of duty or care has the potential to do us serious and undeserved harm.
Am I Hiding Depression?
For some people who are dealing with the reality of hidden depression, the answer to the question “Am I hiding depression?” will be obvious. These individuals know that they are hiding depression from co-workers or people that they love. This hiding is done to protect these people, to keep things in a good place in the work place, or for some other consciously chosen reason. Yet there are many other people who are either semi-conscious or completely unaware of their own depression.
How do I know whether I’m hiding depression? Well, there are several common characteristics exhibited by individuals who are struggling with depression that is hidden.
People with hidden depression can often be perfectionistic. They are often people who set a very high bar for themselves in many areas of life. They have a sense of constantly measuring themselves against expectations—and there’s an inner critic ready to lacerate them with intense shame if they fall short.
People with hidden depression can actually often be “rigidly positive”. They can feel a strong face of shame or failure if they are anything other than unfailingly positive and optimistic. It can often be that any attitude of kindness to oneself, or acknowledging any of the difficulty or pain in one’s life is prohibited by a rigid, shaming inner critic.
Facing or expressing painful emotions can often be difficult for some one who is hiding depression. Sadness, anger, disappointment and grief often are all “no go zones” for the individual with hidden depression.
People hiding depression can have a very high need to feel that a situation is under control, and can feel intense anxiety when it is not. There is a very strong drive to feel in control, which individuals may keep very well hidden. Such a person may tend to worry a lot, and avoid situations where they cannot be in control.
An individual with hidden depression can have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. This means that the individual certainly has no trouble taking responsibility for things—but can all too easily end up blaming themselves.
Being Honest with Others—and with Myself
When people are hiding depression, it can be a real challenge to be fully honest and vulnerable with other people. It can also be really difficult sometimes to be fundamentally honest with themselves about their actual mood state. Yet it can be fundamentally important to listen to what others are saying about how we seem to them. Even more basically, it may be important to listen to ourselves, on all kinds of levels.
This certainly means stopping and trying to gain an understanding of how we really feel about things. Taking a few minutes to check in with yourself on a daily basis may be essential, including noticing things like energy levels, whether appetite is normal, length and quality of sleep, and just basically asking yourself how you’re feeling about things—and giving yourself an honest answer. Some people find that journalling every day on what is happening in their lives and how they feel about it can be an invaluable tool.
Staying in touch with yourself, dialoging with yourself… This may all be new territory. Yet it may have a lot of life in it.
If I’m Hiding Depression, What Can I Do About It?
If you’re concerned that you’re hiding depression, it can be a very good thing to speak about that concern with someone whom you really trust. Sometimes, it can be very valuable to talk to a relatable, knowledgeable and supportive counsellor or therapist, such as a Jungian /a-midlife-transition. (NOTE: If you are in need of immediate support, please contact your local distress line. In my area, that is Distress Line Halton 905-849-4541) It can be of tremendous value to speak with someone who validates you, and who affirms that your feelings are important and worthy of respect.
Exploring those feelings and what your deepest, even unconscious, self has to show you about the threads of meaning and energy in your life can be vital. It can certainly help immensely in opening up what lies beyond hiding depression—moving on the journey towards wholeness.