“You don’t look or act depressed.”
Oh, the words that drives a knife right into my gut. What does your depression look like? How does your anxiety manifest? Society has drawn a representation of what mental illness should look like. If you’ve ever seen Girl, Interrupted you have seen one side of it. For so many years, numerous doctors and nurses and psychiatrists didn’t understand the complexity of the mind and its many ailments, so performing a lobotomy was the easiest solution. Thousands suffered at the hands of health practitioners and thousands more were left to their own devices often ending in suicide. The history of mental illness is not a pretty picture to paint and because mental health manifests into so many forms there is no one true way to portray someone suffering with a mental illness.
My grandma, a beauty queen, a polite, mild mannered, stunning human, suffered schizophrenia. Her later years as a grandmother would exacerbate her symptoms tenfold but on the outside, you would never guess this housewife was suffering agoraphobia and mind-altering illness. One of my good college friends is what I like to call a functioning depressive. Highly motivated, ridiculously brilliant and a PhD candidate at a top-notch university, she runs marathons, advocates for mental health awareness and loves to brunch. If she wasn’t so vocal about her own struggles, you would probably associate her anxiety with her PhD work. And what about me? I’m happy hence the title of my blog. I practice yoga to balance my anxiety, run when I have extra energy to burn and travel for work. I have a stressful job where life on the road can get the best of me, but no one suspects a thing when I’m traveling out of state because I’m on the ball.
I’m candid about my personal trials and triumphs because mental illness looks different and comes in all shapes and sizes. We aren’t all Angelina Jolie or Brittany Murphy with pale skin, disheveled hair and maniacal looks in our eyes. We’re actually quite, well, normal to most. Whether you’re purposely choosing to ignore signs of a mentally distressed human or you genuinely had no idea someone suffers from depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. it’s important to pay closer attention to those subtle signs. Even if someone you know isn’t clinically depressed, a simple “How are you doing?” will suffice and does let the other person know that someone else cares.
Mental illness is an incredibly deceptive chameleon. It changes at the expense of our own denial and also at the oversight of others. There is no reason to place blame on anyone. The real message is that the wellness of ourselves and of others should be a top priority in helping to eradicate the stigmas of mental illness and having us all be labeled as humans, interrupted.