So I said in The Other Side of the Door that I’d have to follow up about a couple of things, including the fear and shame of being “found out” as depressed. Since several people expressed thanks for that post I don’t feel like I can bail on that promise. Otherwise, I think I’d flake out because I’m finding it quite uncomfortable to put it in print. If you’re a follower of this blog because of other topics maybe go skim the archives for something more fun to read, and please come back next time to talk about mud pies and kittens. (No seriously, that’s what we’ll be talking about) Also, I’m just going to send you to Hyperbole and a Half for a great description of the problems of explaining depression to “normal” people. Often it feels like you’re speaking a foreign language but I think she covers that better than I ever could. If you’re still with me, here goes.
Shame. Let’s haul out the dictionary and look it up to make sure it’s the word we’re looking for. Dad taught me that that’s always a good place to start. Shame: noun meaning “distress or humiliation caused by consciousness of one’s guilt or folly”. Interesting. And apt. It’s part of the definition that the one who is ashamed is actually at fault. That belief is definitely at the heart of the problem, at least for me. Being depressed, feels a bit like having two people in my head. One Cait feels crushingly sad and lethargic, and the other one is watching that Cait and saying, “what the heck is your problem?” I think I then take this self criticism and project it onto others. After all, if I can blame me, of course anybody not actually living in my head must also. Here are the ways I judge myself, and the resulting reasons for wanting to be secretive.
First I worry that my depression will be held against my loved ones or my life choices. Someone will say “well of COURSE she’s depressed, she’s had four kids in five years!” or “her husband must not be supportive enough.” or “she’s oppressed by being a stay at home mom.” I am fiercely proud of my beautiful children, and marvellous husband. I am confident in my decisions about how to spend my time and talents. They bring me joy and hope every day. To call myself depressed and lay my family open in any way to undeserved censure feels like a betrayal. I owe it to them never to let down my game face.
Along with that last feeling goes one of disgust at my own ingratitude. Clearly, with a life this good, being depressed means I must be horribly ungrateful. Being sad = being unappreciative, selfish, unloving. This guilt intensifies as depression symptoms spike postpartum. Blessed with a happy, healthy baby I am sad and tired. I must not love him or her properly. As my husband steps up to help more and more it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. Look how much he does for me! I beat myself up for being coddled and then feel worse and weep about it. He kindly comforts me, which makes me feel even less deserving of all his patience. I once talked to a priest about this; he laughed and said he wished more people had to confess having a husband who was “too generous”. That helped put things in perspective but this sensation is still quite a strong one. Being depressed means I don’t deserve what I have.
I also feel frustrated by my lack of control. Nobody likes to feel they aren’t in charge of themselves. My pride is offended by the idea that I can’t just pull myself out of a funk on my own. And most of the things I struggle with look an awful lot like character flaws, vices rather than medical symptoms. The Cait watching sad Cait is quite suspicious that the whole depression theory may just be an elaborate excuse for plain old laziness, or ill temper. Even my distinterest in activities I once enjoyed could be put down to intellectual sloth. Incidentally, this was the area where I felt the most relief after medication. The fact that I suddenly had more energy and could write again, or think about interesting things, showed me quite clearly that there was a chemical element to the problem. It also left behind the things that were actual character flaws, making them easier to identify and work on. (More on things that help in a follow-up follow-up post)
All these self indictments translate into two distinct fears about the opinions of others. On a good day I worry that if I say “I suffer from depression” all people will see is Depressed Cait. I know that there’s so much more to me. I know that Vibrant Cait is the real me, that I’m a functional and essentially happy person, and I don’t want to be defined by a scary word. The bad days are much worse. On the bad days I worry that everyone will catch on to the elaborate con I’ve been running fairly successfully for years. I was once told during a messy break up that I “used to be fun” but “wasn’t anymore”. Part of me realizes this was a tossed off comment, not meant to be taken to heart, and also totally unfair and untrue. It sticks with me though because it echoes my own fears. On a bad day I’m convinced that if I’m not very careful, Mike and everyone else I care about will wake up and realize that the intelligent, confident, outgoing woman they thought I was, is really just a pathetic mass of neuroses and thoroughly unpleasant to be around. On a bad day it is I who thinks Vibrant Cait is the fake, and I’m terrified of being found out.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to wrap this up. That’s rather a grim ending right there, but I think I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the husband. I was telling him about this essay and about trying to determine which of the two Caits was the real one. In typical Mike fashion he immediately cut through all the BS that complicates my thinking. He laughed and said “I don’t love happy Cait or sad Cait. There isn’t real Cait and fake Cait. There’s just you. I love all of you.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love all of him too.