Perfectly hidden depression. What is it? It’s depression that’s so deeply disguised you might not even know it’s there. You feel something in your gut; you may sense something is wrong but even if you search the symptoms of depression, nothing fits. And then you go on to shame yourself for even looking.
But the undeniable fact is this: you developed a strategy years before to keep pain buried within, which has caused you to act as if everything is wonderful, and it’s been how you’ve operated for a very long time.
In fact, “wonderful” isn’t always good enough for you; you strive for perfect. Or at least, perfect-looking.
What the holidays look like when you’re a perfectionist…
So what do the holidays look like with someone whose life has to look well-controlled, whose appearance must be impeccable, where goals must surpass any and all expectations?
Your house could be featured in a design magazine, flocked in greenery and ribbons from floor to ceiling, with the sugary smell of holiday cookies in the air as celebratory music flows throughout your rooms.
The gifts are wrapped in matching paper, and piled up under a twelve-foot Christmas tree, loaded with special ornaments. The kids’ outfits for photos are ready to go. Donations to charities have been given. Gifts have been picked out, not just for friends, but for many acquaintances as well.
Champagne is cooling for the annual, and highly touted, New Year’s celebration (albeit this year likely via Zoom).
In non-COVID times, you would have had another perfectly hidden holiday. And the silent despair that lies underneath that façade might only be sensed when you’re in your car. You arrived wherever you were going with a smile. But on the way, you’ve wondered if you could have simply driven away.
Someone with perfectly hiding depression must accomplish these things. And there’s an undeniable solace, and even pride, that your life and that of your family seems full. You like being a giver, someone who looks out for others, and is capable of providing for them. And you look out for them well.
Discovering that joy is found within the present …
Yet there’s something missing in all of that display.
The tremendous effort, the worry that things won’t get done, the need for everything to be perfect, ultimately drowns out any true joy.
Joy is spontaneous. It comes from deep within and spills into the present, in a wild torrent or a warm glow. It can’t be planned or even always predicted.
Joy gives life to a moment in time.
If you’re hiding pain, if you’re erecting a daily facade of what you believe looks perfect, you won’t know joy because you don’t know how to be purely in the moment.
You’re always playing a role, instead of being who you are. You’ll be “the hostess,” the “son-in-law,” “Andrea’s mom,” or “Jeff’s boss.” Instead of being yourself and allowing whatever happens to happen, you’ll try to intentionally craft your persona and joy will only arrive as some muted version of itself, as you watch yourself play out your duties.
And that’s what life can become. One duty after another duty after another duty.
But you can stop.
You can breathe in the moment. You can decide to be present. You can realize that your value is not all about what you perform or accomplish. You can connect with whatever pain you have, perhaps slowly at first, as you begin to understand that in acknowledging it, working through it, tremendous relief and freedom can be felt. It’s scary. Exhilarating. At times painful — as the reasons for your hiding are confronted and you lend yourself compassion and self-acceptance.
You can trust that whatever you do — wherever you put the Christmas ornaments, whenever you serve lunch, however you decorate the house, all of it will be imperfectly perfect.
You can stop being who you think you’re supposed to be, or what role you’re playing, and be who you are.
Joy is waiting for you around the corner.
You can hear more about perfectly hidden depression and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
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Originally published December 23, 2016; updated on December 4, 2019 and again on December 5, 2020.