Holly Golightly (‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’) called them ‘the mean reds’, a state progressively worse than what some jazz musicians and common parlance have termed ‘the blues’. Winston Churchill branded ‘it’, that terrible and impenetrable fog of depression, ‘The Black Dog’. And perhaps we ourselves find ourselves oscillating between colours on the spectrum of wellbeing.
‘Sunny’ is not a term commonly associated with depression. For me, it evokes inspiring images of wide open fields, blue skies, sunshine, meadows of brightly arrayed flowers, children running, laughing and playing, and key to it all….happiness.
Having a ‘sunny disposition’ connotes cheerfulness, wellbeing, and happiness. It is not the face of depression. Or is it?
Depression is not merely feeling sad. It is not something you can simply ‘pull yourself out of’. It is a real illness, as real as having a broken leg, only not as visible, and it can cause persistent distress over long periods of time.
Although a caricature of depression may involve dark clouds, lightning bolts, lashing rain, sad faces and general miserableness, which can in many cases describe the low moods and despair that some sufferers of depression may feel, it is not an accurate picture of the ‘face’ of depression.
What do I mean? I have a medical condition, among others, known as clinical depression. I was diagnosed only within the last two years, but I knew or suspected for decades that I suffered from something like this, particularly since and perhaps mainly triggered by being badly bullied at a formative time in my childhood, when I ceased to want to exist. At times the pain has been unbearable and I have not been able to hide it. However, as something that is a persistent condition, it somehow becomes ‘normal’, and since as adults we have to keep going and keep doing and keep living our lives and going about our business, we can sometimes ‘forget’ the seriousness of such conditions in ourselves and others. You do often seek to ‘just get on with it’, sometimes at your own risk. And getting on with it can mean putting on a smile, having a cheerful face and a ‘sunny disposition’ such that the invisible illness that you carry around with you is unseen and undetected.
The ‘face of depression’ therefore, at times, could in fact be a big smile, sunshine and blue skies, quite unlike the dismal ‘gloom and doom’ picture painted above. However, that makes it no less serious. Statistics show that in the UK, 1 in 4 people experience mental illness such as depression at some point in their lives, and in the US, depression is said to affect more than 15 million American adults. That means that more than likely, either you or someone you know, or know of, carries this ‘Black Dog’, and suffers from the ‘Mean Reds’, perhaps while showing you only a bright sunny smile on the surface.
So, knowing this, what can you do?
If you have been suffering and struggling for a long time, and trying to just put on a brave face, yet suspect you may have depression, please reach out for help. There are many mental health charities, and obviously talking to your doctor is a good first step. Depression is a very treatable illness. It isn’t easy. I know, I have it. Yet, you don’t have to suffer alone, in silence, or hiding behind your sunny mask all the time. A friend once told me, very helpfully, that I wouldn’t feel ashamed to reach out for help if I had a broken leg, nor try to ‘fix’ it myself (which is what I had been doing with my emotional and psychological issues, to no avail), so why should anyone feel ashamed to seek help for an equally legitimate medical condition, where the suffering is often profound and long lasting, perhaps caused by brain activity, trauma or genetics among many other factors.
If you are concerned about a friend, but are not sure because they always ‘seem happy’, carefully ask them how they are.
And if you can’t keep your sunny disposition and happy face in place today, don’t worry, it’s ok. And you’re not alone. It may seem bleak just now, but there is hope, and like me, I trust you will have brighter days ahead. x