The blueberry scones were in the oven and the coffee percolating sent wafts of heavenly scent into my sunlit kitchen. The phone rings, its Jenny. We've been friends and neighbors for a long time. We have coffee Jenny and I, Tuesdays and Fridays. She sounded tired said she wasn't going to be able to make it today wanted to sleep in. Which seemed odd to me considering I was just across the street from her and shes always the bubbly one in her tracksuit and makeup done while I was the one in my robe hair in a bun trying to keep my eyes open. I made a mental note to check in on her later in the day and went on to start my day. It was 8 pm when finally I had a chance to unwind and remembered I had not heard from Jenny all day. I sat down to call her.
Do You Know a Jenny?
Let me tell you about my friend Jenny. She is a successful photographer and artist, married to a great guy. She is the oldest of three girls and an overachiever. Her home looks like a spread out of a high-end interior design magazine, and she is always punctual and well dressed not a hair out of place.
Have you ever wondered what the face of depression looks like? The stereotypical image of someone who can’t get out of bed, who can’t keep a job, and who has constant suicidal thoughts may be one form of depression. But there is another face. It's Jenny's face. It's bright and smiling, its laughter and stimulating conversation, it is manicured nails and a healthy lifestyle. There is a flip side to this. Its a day like today. When Jenny slept in when Jenny didn't pick up the phone. When she didn't open the door to my knocking.
The Many Faces of Sadness
There are two sides to mental health. Someone who isn't motivated to get out of bed. Having a hard time leaving the house to get groceries or pick up the kids at the bus stop. Isolated from friends and family. Feelings of hopelessness and deep dark sadness.
On the other side of the spectrum picture a prosperous, educated professional living a fast life with a great job, a tight group of friends and a long list of accomplishments to her name. The envy of friends and strangers. She still wakes up every morning with a debilitating sense of fear from the pressure to perform to be perfect and juggling all the balls. Underneath her bright smile, her inner voice was screaming self-defacing obscenities at her. The constant struggle to maintain a lie that has become her identity.
This type of depression is called high functioning depression. It is hard to spot and even harder to treat. There are risks if left untreated. People like Jenny suffer in silence and are unable to share their burden because of the way they appear better put together than you or I. Always the one who is the helper never the helped. The one with the answers, not the one with the questions. They find it hard to ask for help when they need it because it would shatter the image we have all grown to know and love about her. Do you know someone like that?
Peter, Jenny's husband, had come home to find her still sleeping only she wouldn't wake up when he tried to get her up for dinner. She had taken some pills she shouldn't have by mistake.
Why It's Important to Talk About It
People who struggle with mental illness suffer in silence. Partly because they can't acknowledge it themselves and then there is the added pressure of the social and societal taboo.
As a parent, a friend and a fallible person myself, I feel very strongly that we can do better for the Jennys of the world. We must. It's also important to know what to look for in our loved ones and in ourselves. To do better, we must know better. Here are some telltale signs of High functioning depression. Look for these in yourself and in others so you can help.
- Finding yourself reaching for your decompress bag of tricks often If you are relying on substances like drugs alcohol or binging on TV just to get away from life and the weighing feeling of underlying sadness and blandness.
- Trouble Finding Happiness Things that made you happy once won't anymore. Whether it is a bright sunny morning at the shore or that tall cup of tea Mom always makes. Your laughing children, your favorite vacay spot. Nothing feels like it used to.
- Self Critical and critical of others You may have an ongoing inner voice that is extra hard on you or others around you and of the world in general. The negativity is out of control and can't be turned off.
- Feelings of constant worry When you wake up with worries about carrying it around all day and lay awake at night worrying this could be a sign.
- Self-doubt You may continuously doubt your purpose. Do you have the right job? Are you a good parent?
- Unable to stop or slow down If you need to clean up, tidy and organize constantly and are unable to slow down and sit down. Afraid of your thoughts when you do slow down you keep on the move.
- Lack of energy. Every day is like climbing uphill with bags of rice over your shoulder. If you feel zapped of energy and have hardly done anything to warrant it.
- Chasing perfection Everything about society is geared to promote striving for perfection. But perfectionism has a darker side where hard work turns into unrealistic demands of yourself and internally bashing yourself when you fall short of the standard you set for yourself. A vicious cycle.
- Excessive irritability and quick temper extreme irritability and anger disproportionate to what provoked it. Constant overreaction propelling you to sabotage your relationships and in general, your life.
Overall well being is all about balance. We cannot have stability without mental, physical and spiritual balance. While the beautiful glowing skin comes from proper skin care, it also exudes from within. Yes, there are many easy to do daily tricks to keep you joyful. Read our blog Finding Happy to learn more.
But finding joy isn't as easy for someone with an underlying cause of depression. It's important to know the difference.
Jenny is home now from the hospital and we are back to our morning coffees. She is just as vibrant and pulled together as shes always been. And I admire her even more for her resilience and most importantly she knows my door is always open without judgment or expectation. Everyone needs that.
If you see someone struggling reach out to them. Even if you don't know how at first, try. It is terrible to be trapped in your own mind with no one to hear you. Maybe, just maybe a lot of senseless violence and bloodshed can be avoided if we could acknowledge, include and respect everyone's struggle in their own space and not marginalize and avoid or judge people for it. Coping is difficult and walking through our day being a little more observant is a great way to be of help.
Embrace the awkward and the uncomfortable and start a conversation that scratches beyond the surface.
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