Have you ever had a moment that left you determined to share your story, educate, and open up discussions about something that’s rarely spoken about? I had one of those moments after a disheartening experience at the doctor’s office last week.
I should start this by saying that the doctor I had this experience with has only seen me a few times over the years and doesn’t know my full history. Despite this, I was shocked to see this type of behaviour coming from a health professional who should know better. If he is thinking this way as an educated professional, how could I expect others with very little background on the topic to think any differently?
So here is what happened…
After a lot of thought, I recently decided to come off my antidepressants. I went to see the doctor to seek advice on how to do this properly since it’s dangerous to stop them abruptly. The doctor, who I thought would be empathetic and understanding, made a remark that hit me like a ton of bricks: “You can’t be depressed because every time I see you you’re always smiling!”
He’s not the first person who has said something like that to me, but I don’t know why it particularly struck a chord this time. Maybe because he supposedly has years of medical experience, including mental health education, yet was making such an insensitive and uninformed comment to someone making a big decision about their mental wellbeing. He said it more than once throughout the conversation and I countered by just saying “You don’t know me”, which is true. He doesn’t actually know me, so his opinion doesn’t matter and I don’t need to prove myself to him or to anyone else.
This experience with my doctor served as the catalyst for this blog post. It ignited a desire to share more about my journey, educate others, and create a space where we can openly discuss the complexities of mental health. I will share a little about my experience taking antidepressants and going through antidepressant withdrawals, and highlight the importance of understanding that mental illness doesn’t always look the way we may expect it to.
The Art of Masking
People are not always what they present to the world in social situations.
Did you know that it takes incredible effort for people battling depression to keep up that facade of happiness? The technical term for this phenomenon is masking1. Masking is a coping mechanism that involves concealing inner emotional turmoil by projecting a facade of contentment and cheerfulness to the external world. This emotional self-regulation takes persistent effort, depleting valuable psychological resources, and potentially obscuring the genuine emotional struggles that lie beneath the surface.
This isn’t just about smiling, though. It’s about crafting an entire persona to hide the pain, sadness, and anxiety. We learn to laugh at the right jokes, engage in conversations, and make it look like everything’s okay even when it isn’t. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting. It’s like having a full-time job on top of everything else life throws at you. Every day, we spend so much energy maintaining this mask that it leaves us with very little left for ourselves. It’s a survival tactic, a way to make it through the day. But it doesn’t erase the pain or the battles being fought beneath the surface.
So to anyone reading this, one thing I hope you get out of this blog post is that depression doesn’t always wear its pain on the outside; it’s a misconception we need to shatter. It doesn’t always come with tears and sadness; sometimes, it hides behind a smile. We all have our battles, and the more we acknowledge that the better we can help each other out in this rollercoaster of life. Let’s keep in mind that people who seem the happiest might be carrying the heaviest burdens. You never know what someone is going through beneath the mask they portray to the world and that’s why it’s crucial to be empathetic, understanding, and supportive in all situations.
Some people reading this may not have even known that I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety since I was about 11 years old.2 I’ve had a lot of experience masking my emotions over the years and I’m sure if I went back and asked my teachers, coworkers or acquaintances for a character reference, they would all say I was always happy and smiling. I still remember the first time someone took the time to ask the right questions and slowly peeled off the layers of my mask; it changed everything. Since then I have started to become more open and vulnerable about my personal struggles and don’t mask as much as I used to once I get more comfortable with people. Some of my best friendships started after they saw my vulnerability as an opening to share their experiences with me knowing I would be empathetic and understanding of their situation.
Over the years I’ve begun to realise that this is what it was all for; so I could grow through this journey and help others through their own. On that note, I thought this would be a good opportunity to briefly share what my journey has looked like so far so that anyone who may be feeling lost and hopeless through their own struggles can find some comfort and courage to reach out.
A Brief Look at My Mental Health Journey
I’ve often referred to myself as someone who was “born sad.” My journey has been filled with ups and downs throughout all my different life stages, but I can’t really pinpoint the moment I fell into a depressive state and never came back out. I feel like it was something that just gradually crept up on me as I grew up, experienced trauma, and slowly understood the world around me a little better. I thought I was just an angsty teen that would grow out of it, but here I am at 26 years old and it has now become my whole personality.3
I hit a particularly dark period about 5 years ago, which led me to a life-changing decision—starting antidepressants. It turned out to be a lifeline. Medication wasn’t a magic fix, but it helped me regain a solid footing. It was hard at first as I navigated the different side effects and found the right dosage, but as it began to work I could feel it slowly lifting the overwhelming anxiety and sadness I was constantly feeling. I could finally breathe again. Medication didn’t just change my mood; it also improved my physical symptoms, like the fatigue and insomnia that had been my unwelcome companions for many years (and still are today). I slowly started to feel like I could begin to climb out of the dark hole I had buried myself in, and I’ve been stumbling my way up and falling back down every day since.
As someone who’s no stranger to the dark depths of depression and anxiety, fast forward five years to now where I’m in a new phase of my journey. I decided to come off my antidepressants but little did I know that the path to healing would involve confronting a whole new set of challenges — navigating antidepressant withdrawals. It’s a topic I have realised isn’t spoken about enough, and it’s been an unexpected twist in my journey to healing. The physical and emotional symptoms can be intense, and they vary widely from person to person. For me, it’s been a rollercoaster of dizziness, headaches, nausea, irritability, and heightened anxiety. It’s like an added layer of challenge in the quest for stability. It sometimes feels like I have gone backwards in my journey while fighting these symptoms, and I can only hope that as my body gets used to these changes I begin to adapt to a life without the help of my medication.
I am grateful that through the darkest moments of my journey, I’ve found solace and strength in Jesus. He has been my constant companion, a source of comfort and hope when the world felt overwhelmingly sad and cynical. As I continue on my path, I pray that He remains by my side, enabling me to focus on the joy and hope He provides, no matter what’s happening around me or what has happened to me.
In no way does coming off my antidepressants mean I’ve “conquered” depression and anxiety, it’s more like I’ve learned to coexist with it. It’s been a journey of immense self-discovery, and I’ve found strength in my vulnerability and resilience in my sadness. If you have known me long enough, you know I never shy away from talking about mental health. I’ve been blessed with friendships that grew from the vulnerable depths of the darkest moments and my personal experiences have enabled me to empathise and support others through their own unique journey. I am grateful for it all; the highs, lows, light and dark.
People are seas; do not judge their depths when you can only see their surface.
Are there people in your life whom you may be making assumptions about? I challenge you today to go into your next conversation with an open mind and leave all your predispositions behind. Do you really know this person? Have you taken the time to ask them the right questions and genuinely listen to their response? Be curious. Each individual has so much to offer the world through their unique thoughts, feelings and experiences. I’m tired of being tired, and I’m sure some of your friends are too. Help us take off our masks when we are in your company.
My mental health journey is far from over, and it’s a path that many of us travel. It’s filled with twists, turns, and surprising detours. I’ve learned that it’s essential to share our stories, support each other through the toughest times, and acknowledge the progress we make. So, here’s to breaking the stigma, embracing the full spectrum of emotions that make us human, and being there for one another as we navigate our unique journeys toward mental wellbeing.
This is a reminder that you’re never alone on this journey, and no matter how tough it gets, there’s always a glimmer of joy and hope waiting to shine through the darkness. I’m here for you and I’d love to hear about your own journey if you are willing to share.
Until next time,
- Masking is also used by other neurodivergent people, but I will be specifically talking about depression in this example. Happy to talk more about this if anyone is interested in knowing more! ↩︎
- Although let’s be honest, if you even know me a little you’d know I’m a pretty gloomy person. I’m also always posting about mental health and making lots of self-deprecating/dark jokes so I don’t know how you could have missed it hehe ↩︎
- This is just a whole different battle I have to work through – I hate being unable to separate myself from my mental illness. I’ve already started writing another post about this aspect of my personal journey, stay tuned! ↩︎