I’ve been interviewing real people with very real perfectly hidden depression.
First, we email. We talk about arranging a phone call for later, to talk about their experience with hiding their depression.
A few get cold feet, and pull out. That’s okay. I totally understand.
Right before I make each call, I’m aware that I want to make the person on the other end of the line as comfortable as I can, as quickly as I can.
Because I recognize how hard it is for them to share their story — to tell me, a perfect stranger, things that they may not have not told anyone.
Then we start talking.
When asked, “Why did you reach out to me?” the answer has consistently been, “Because I’ve never seen this anywhere else — that someone is writing about me intentionally hiding.“
The 19 interviewees thus far have fallen into a spectrum. They’ve ranged from people who have never whispered a word to anyone, not even their spouse, that they have thoughts of wanting to die, or secrets from their past and present that have remained shamefully untold, to people who hide mostly within their professional world, but have a close friend or partner who know their struggles.
Most of the people I have interviewed belong to the first group. Our conversations have occurred at times when no one can hear them talking to me. Many assurances have been given about confidentiality.
A few have sought therapy. But others have told me, “I am hoping that by talking to you, it will help me take the next step. I’m so tired of living this way.”
Everyone is describing themselves as taking lots of responsibility, pushing themselves constantly, rarely feeling that they do enough, keeping a thumb in their back — and yet never feeling satisfied completely with what they’ve accomplished.
All of that, of course, is what makes them not look depressed. They’re active, involved, engaged.
But there is one question that 18 out of 19 people have answered unequivocally “yes,” that keeps jumping out at me.
- Did you grow up in a family where feelings of sadness or pain were avoided, or where you were criticized or punished for expressing them? Yes______ No______
This is poignant to me. Because this is how I began wondering about perfectly hidden depression in the first place. I was trying to treat people who couldn’t connect with any feelings of sadness or pain.
They could have other feelings. But not sadness, or much compassion for themselves.
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#perfectyhiddendepression #depression”]Real people. Hiding sadness really well. Is it you?[/tweetthis]
Here are quotes from some of the interviews:
“I was never told I was loved. I was raised by grandparents who gave me things to show their love.”
“I was adored. But I kept feelings secret if they didn’t please my mom. I was her best friend.”
“My mom died and all the pictures of her disappeared. We weren’t allowed to ask questions about her.”
“If I needed to cry, I hid. If you couldn’t be engaged appropriately with the family, you were punished.”
“If I was sad, I was told ‘those things happen.’ The only feeling that was allowed was anger. Not mine, my parent’s.”
“How can you be sad, and not know it? But that’s how it felt.”
“My mom had severe post-partum depression, like sometimes she thought about killing all of us, but dad wouldn’t do anything. All he did was criticize and be abusive.”
“I was the star of the family. They would drive hours to take me to athletic events. Everything was about practice and more practice. I was competitive. All we talked about was winning.
These families were stunted, skewed in one direction or another. There were huge gaps in the emotional experiences they were offering the children that were being raised within them.
If you can imagine emotions as colors on a palette, only certain colors were allowed. There were no dark hues — no grays, mauves, or dark greens. Only yellows and oranges. The only world that could exist was one that was painted in the colors the parents had decided were appropriate.
If you don’t grow up knowing how to access and soothe more painful feelings — how to “paint” in those colors — it’s very difficult as an adult to learn how.
But it can be done.
Because they’re there.
You feel them in the pit of your stomach, or in your gut. Maybe you feel them when you’re taking a shower and you find yourself crying. Or when you get quiet at night.
So… no, there’s not one factor that determines the presence of perfectly hidden depression.
But if you struggle to feel sad… ever… about anything… if you don’t even know how… you might think about it.
Just why is that?
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If you would like to be interviewed, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!