When I was a little girl, I loved acting. (Like, loved acting.) I would don costumes and put on backyard shows. I would play my Kermit the Frog keyboard and sing made up, nonsensical songs, and I would write — and star — in my very own musicals.
The world was my stage.
The world was my oyster.
At the time, I swore I would grow up to become an actress. But what can I say: I was 6-years-old; delusions of grandeur came easy in those days. Besides, what 6-year-old doesn’t want to dress up and play pretend all day, every day? What 6-year-old doesn’t want to live in the land of make-believe for the rest of their little life?
But sometime between elementary school and high school things changed — my “life goals” changed — and playing pretend took a back seat.
Despite my best (or worst) efforts though, I have become a good actress. Make that a great actress. A brilliant and extremely talented one.
Every single day, I am acting — it’s just that nobody knows.
While I have shed the costumes and long since left the stage, my depression forces me to play a strange, yet familiar part every time I get out of bed. It’s the role of a brave woman, a strong woman, and a smart woman. The role of a responsible, diligent, generous, carefree, loving, and kind woman. A hard-working woman. An “I don’t know how you do it all” sorta woman.
Make no mistake: I am many of these things. I consider myself loving and generous. I am pretty responsible, and I try to be both fair and kind. But I am not bold. I am not brave. And my studiousness? Well, I am an accidental success story, but success is also part of the problem. It is a rouse. A gimmick. A facade, i.e. I “work hard” but I do so for the wrong reasons.
I consciously — and unconsciously — take on more than I can handle so I seem put together. So I appear held together. And so I can hide from the truth, and from myself.
So I can hide from the fear, the loneliness, and the pain that my illness causes me to feel.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with developing coping skills. In fact, I think you have to, especially if you want to survive life with a chronic or mental illness. But acting like everything is OK? Pretending to be OK? Lying that things are better than OK … that they are great? That you are great? It is damning, and damaging.
I know this because in high school, this 4.0 National Honor Society member almost took her own life.
You see, while you may look at me and see an overachiever — while you may see a good mother, a loving daughter, a caring wife, and a hardworking woman — it’s what you don’t see that matters. It’s what you don’t see that makes all the difference.
Because behind my smile and behind my ambitious attitude; my full schedule; and my “suit of success,” there’s a delicate woman. A fragile woman. A pained and terrified woman. There’s a woman who believes that she isn’t smart enough or good enough to make it in the world. That she doesn’t deserve to make it in the world. And there’d a woman who knows that if she slows down, she will die.
Her depression will kill her.
Because it is then, in the stillness and the silence, that she hears herself. That she must face herself. And what she sees is a hopeless woman. What she sees is a worthless woman. And what she sees is a sad and pathetic excuse of a woman.
A “what the hell is wrong with you” and “why can’t you get your shit together” sorta woman.
Of course, I am not proud of this. In fact, just writing it scares the shit of me. But that is the truth about depression: it is the ugly reality of depression because depression doesn’t feel the same for everybody. It doesn’t look the same for everybody, and it doesn’t discriminate.
No amount of money, faith, or success can keep the shit at bay and it’s important we remember that.
It is imperative we all remember that.
When you live with mental illness, every day is a struggle; every day is a fight. But this life? It’s worth it.
If you’re in this with me, keep fighting — I know you have it in you.