Do depressed people smell? Is their hair fucked up? Do they appear dirty and unshowered? Are they mopey? Do they scowl? Do they have unibrows?
Half of the time when people find out about my struggles, their responses are usually in the realm of, "But you don't look depressed?"
Please, tell me: What does a depressed person look like? When you swipe through their Facebook photos do you think you'll see macro shots of the cuts on their arms, stomach, or inner thighs? Do you think they'll post status updates like "current mood: suicidal?" Probably not.
Even on my worst days, when I'm lying in a fetal position for hours on the floor, when my hair is wet from tears, when my voice hurts from simultaneously screaming and ugly crying, I'm still wearing a notable #ootd. I may be sporting sweats, but they're from Opening Ceremony.
Unlike some other illnesses, depression may show no outwardly recognizable physical signs. Just as depression affects all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, it manifests in many different ways. It isn’t always visible to the untrained eye. In fact, I’ve always done everything in my power to conceal my symptoms. There is enough shame and embarrassment in depression, as it is, and that’s a big part of why it took me over 10 years to finally ‘go public’ with this blog.
I kept my truth hidden. From family. From friends. From strangers. I hated myself for feeling sad, and for cutting. I didn't understand why I couldn't be "normal - just like everybody else." Sometimes, I still don't understand. I know I’m not the only one, either. In recent years mental illness has garnered more attention in the media, but it is still a subject generally clouded by guilt, confusion, and misinformation.
Only my closest friends have seen me at my lowest points. For the most part, I keep my inner 2007-Britney hidden from the world, projecting a smiling, happy mask for the public – the dried up blood covered under long sleeve shirts, and the emotional spikes kept at bay by daily antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills.
When asked by the random checkout clerk at the grocery story about the marks on my arm, I would nonchalantly lie and say, "Just some cat scratches." I'd be forced to respond to their shock with a tale of bending over to pet the animal, and subsequently being surprise attacked. I'd always wondered if people believed the fictitious story. Hardly anyone chose to pry further.
I lied to others. I lied to myself. At my worst in college, I believed that self harm was a coping mechanism, like any other, like drinking large quantities of alcohol, a pastime common among my gaucho peers at UC Santa Barbara. I didn't understand why it wasn't socially accepted, and yet a part of me always knew it was wrong. Why the need for the elaborate cover ups? For almost 15 years, the negative feedback loop spiraled with continuous cycles of mental peace, chaos, cutting, guilt, more cutting, depression, frustration about depression, denial.
In the words of Plato, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." To that I'll add, you never know what happens behind closed doors.
Disclaimer: These opinions are my own and don't necessarily reflect the views of others struggling with self-harm, depression, or anxiety.