One of the things a depressed person has to do most is to perform. To act 'normal', 'strong', 'well', 'confident' etc for the benefit of others… who might be uncomfortable or inconvenienced by your depression.
But acting is tough. I'm not a trained actor and I have no inclination to perform in plays or films. I don’t enjoy the act I put on almost daily for the benefit of others and I don’t like attention.
Yet I do it out of a misplaced sense of duty. Many days, I wake up and feel completely and unbearably unable to go to work, where I must attend stressful and responsible meetings, talk with clients and colleagues etc. But I must do it. Because my role on those days is 'employee', and it's a role I need to do well in order to earn the money to fulfill some of my other character parts.
These character parts include wife (thankfully my husband is one of the few people I can be myself with), friend (I’m grateful that my friends are very supportive), comedy promoter, feminist, activist, writer, critic, homemaker and a million other bit parts. It's exhausting. All of these are roles I must assume at one time or another every day, putting on the costume and acting the part... while inside I'm breaking down, torn in pieces, screwed up with painful fatigue, and enduring self-doubt (sometimes reinforced by others, who don’t understand or realise my illness, and perceive my behaviour or comments, sometimes, as wrong/stupid/lazy/etc).
It’s really tough to hold down a full-time, responsible job while dealing with a mental illness – not to mention the sometimes debilitating side-effects of my medication. On one hand, I don’t want anybody to make allowances for me or treat me any differently because I suffer from depression and anxiety, but on the other hand, I need people to understand that these are very real and serious problems for me that do impact on my ability to be ‘normal’ (whatever that means).
Depression is not always caused by A Bad Thing happening. Sometimes it just ‘is’ because that’s the way a person’s brain is unfortunately programmed – there doesn’t always need to be a trigger. And that’s tough to explain to people who don’t understand. Some people think that if you don’t seemingly have an issue to deal with (eg a relationship problem), then why are you depressed? But when you’re in the middle of that depression, having to justify your mental illness is both impossible and insulting. It may be invisible to the outsider, but it’s painfully evident to the person feeling the pain.
Perhaps I invite the battles. By choosing to be an outspoken feminist, choosing to campaign, blog, review and write, by putting myself out there more recently as a comedy promoter, I'm creating situations for my confidence to be knocked, as well as inventing new costumes I need to perform my ‘acts’ in. But it’s tough, because a lot of the time there are things I want to do and firmly believe in, but it’s frustrating and exhausting that my depression slows me down, mentally and physically.
It's really tiring. Honesty would be so much better. A global understanding and empathy for mental health issues would be amazing. The stigma is stifling. The stigma - and the acting required to avoid the stigma - make the day-to-day realities of depression 100 times harder for the one in four who are like me, and who have some kind of mental health issue.