If you were to walk into a party or an event that I was attending, it wouldn't take long to find me. In my home, a friend's place, or in public, I am usually easy to locate.
I am the one proposing a toast in a group. I am the person selecting a playlist that will enhance the atmosphere. I am your unofficial bartender. I am with—or am—the first person on the dance floor. I am willingly making a fool of myself because someone else feels foolish. I am filling awkward silence with a funny or embarrassing moment of my own. I am introducing the person that no one knows. I am making sure you have enough to eat and that you are comfortable and I will tell you when someone you do know has arrived.
Hell, I'll will even go on a freakin' search for toiletpaper for you if it has run out.
I will do every damn thing I can to ensure that it looks like everyone is having a good time—including myself.
Want to know another little fact about that hospitable and outgoing girl I just described?
She has been battling depression for over a decade.
Damn. That was even harder to admit than I thought it would be.
It's not groundbreaking news to say that a vast majority of comedians battle depression and addiction. We have lost comedic geniuses like Chris Farley and Robin Williams to it, and a long list of others—like Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Carrey, Louis C.K., etc.—have openly admitted to struggling with it. (See the full list of household names that have encountered the disorder here.) It is also commonly found among actors, singers, and other public figures.
It's pretty safe to say that if you are performing in order to brighten the worlds of others, there is a good chance you are living in a rather dark one yourself.
Actor and producer, Steve Coogan, was quoted saying that a comedian's skill comes from their ability to "make their pain relatable". Now that is a statement I can personally relate to.
I may not be a professional actor or comedian, but I know a thing or two about putting on an act. In fact, I think a lot of us are familiar with the process. For some reason, it is a lot easier to pretend something isn't happening, or doesn't exist, than it is to face or embrace it.
I was 19 when a doctor first told me I was depressed. At the time, I wasn't surprised. Not only had I recently lost a friend, I was witness to the events that took his life. Months later, when she delivered her diagnosis, I couldn't help but roll my mental eye.
So, I'm really, really sad? No shit, Lady. What am I supposed to DO about it?
Like many doctors do these days, she handed me a prescription for antidepressants.
I filled it—a bit hesitantly—and went home with my "happiness" in a bottle. I remember staring at the tiny blue pill and thinking to myself: Is this really the answer? Is finally achieving a state of happiness as easy as popping a pill once a day?
Spoiler alert: It wasn't. At least, not for me.
I've heard that prescriptions for mental disorders have worked wonders for others and that's great! If it works for you, then keep workin' it.
But, as for my experience, I hated it. And I do not toss around the H-word lightly.
I felt like, well, like I couldn't feel. I wasn't upset, but I also was not happy. I was groggy, but not grumpy. I was hearing those around me, but not really listening. I was in a cloud of indifference. Suddenly, I didn't have an opinion about much anymore and that really bothered me. I have always turned to writing during difficult times and, as a writer, it is sort of important to have a clear opinion on what you are writing about.
Needless to say, my bout with antidepressants was a short-lived one. I decided I was going to deal with this super sad "thing" on my own. It was a part of me now and that was all there was to it.
C'est la vie.
The strange thing about dealing with something like depression on our own terms is that it usually means not dealing with it at all. At least, that's the brilliant plan I decided to implement in my life.
I had decided that my doctor was wrong. I wasn't depressed! Why? Because I had NO RIGHT to be.
I had a great family. I had a lot of friends. I didn't have any "serious" illnesses. I lived in a free country. I had access to food and clean water everyday, all day. I had a nice car and a room of my own with a warm bed waiting for me in it. I had a life that many in this world can only dream to experience.
Who did I think I was to claim to be depressed? I had it MADE. I just needed to remember that and get the eff over myself. I was simply being ungrateful. I needed to shut it out of mind and move forward.
Fast forward ten years, and here I am in front of this computer screen still "dealing" with it.
Denying that I am depressed because I have deemed my circumstances too favorable to be has (obviously) not been doing the trick. I think it might be time to come clean.
Cue imaginary group therapy cirlcle:
Hi. My name is Charlotte. I love my life, but I don't always love myself. I am currently battling depression even though there are other people in this world that have more problems than I do. And I'm still learning how to be OK with that.
Phew! Can you pass me the complimentary coffee and donuts now, please?
You see, that's what was wrong with how I was "handling" it before. I wasn't allowing myself to admit that I was sad on an unhealthy level. By not facing that sadness, it became even harder to deal with my depression when it showed up. When the darker days came, not only was I sad, but I would go ahead and spread a layer of guilt and shame for feeling that way. Then, for the cherry on top of this unhappy cake, I would decide not tell anyone and vow to "fake it until I made it".
I was good at that. I could act happy. I could make people laugh. I could put on a believable smile. Eventually, it would stick. Right?
Not so much.
For the past few moths, the "faking it" has been what I dwell on. I mean, how could I pretend to be a happy person when I was still so, so sad inside? Much less, tell others they deserved to be happy, too.
I go out and I have a good time. I eat dinner with family. I go on fun dates with my boyfriend. I meet with friends. I make new friends. I laugh loudly. I shed tears of happiness at weddings. I share what's on my heart in open conversations. I listen intently when others share what is on theirs. I smile at strangers. I jump on the trampoline and play make believe with my nieces and nephews. I tell others how beautiful they are and just how much they deserve their own love.
I do ALL of these beautiful things and I do them often.
So, why does that upset me?
Because I feel like a FRAUD.
Because I have a hard time owning my own love and happiness.
Because I am "faking it" until I make it.
Lately, I have been in the middle of a particularly long episode of depression. For the last past couple of months, many of my days have blurred together.
I stopped reading my books. I quit writing as often. My posts on this blog became few and far between. I ate more terribly than usual and drank more than one should on a weeknight. There were many days that I did not feel the light of day or the chill of the night on my skin because I couldn't find the courage to leave my room.
But, I still managed to "fake it" by forcing myself to hang out and be around others. I paint on a friendly face and I do all of those beautiful things I mentioned before. I even like to think I do them pretty well.
Recently, I was having one of those days. The idea of getting out of bed and facing the world sounded almost unbearable. I had no desire to do much of anything while in bed, either. I didn't want to read. I definitely didn't want to write. So, I decided to avoid my problems with some help from procrastination's BFF: Netflix.
While searching for something to zone out to, I stumbled across a series of TED Talks. I remembered how much I used to love watching them on my breaks at work when I was a server. (They really do help get you through double shifts by reminding you that your have other dreams besides refilling ungrateful patrons' wine glasses.)
I decided to give it a shot and selected the series. I mean, if I am going to choose to be completely unproductive and uninspiring in bed all day, I might as well watch some people that are actually doing something with their lives!
The first talk that came on was by a speaker named Amy Cuddy. It was entitled Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. I thought that sounded like a safe bet, nothing too deep. Good posture is important to me. Well, it is when I'm not laying down in bed hating life. It sounded like a harmless episode that wouldn't trigger too much critical thought.
Boy, was I wrong!
My cheeks were streaked in silent tears by the end of it. The last five minutes of that "talk" provided a breakthrough I had been waiting on for months! (The entire episode is great, but If you don't want to watch it all and skip to what I'm referring to, start at 15:35.)
Particularly when Amy said this:
Don't fake it 'til you make it. Fake it 'til you become it.
There it was. The words I needed to give myself permission to let go of the misconception I held onto so tightly. The misconception that I was a fraud when I was doing all of those beautiful things that made me seem happy, even though I was so sad inside.
In the story she portrays, Amy talks about not feeling like she deserved to be somewhere because of her unfortunate circumstances. For me, I have always felt like I did not deserve to be happy because of my unwanted sadness.
Despite her misfortunes, Amy kept going. She kept fighting. She kept showing up. She kept FAKING it until, one day, she wasn't faking at all. She BECAME it.
Wow. Imagine what kind of happiness we could eventually find by faking it. We just have to fake it with intention is all! And that intention is that our faking it will eventually lead to our creating it.
The veil had been lifted. I finally understood why I was so good at doing things that went against my depression: I wasn't making myself do them because I wanted to be good at faking them. I was doing those things because I wanted to eventually become them.
That person that does all of those enjoyable and wonderful things, that is WHO I AM. Those are the ways I want to be described. Not just by others, but by myself.
For the first time, in a very long time, I wasn't afraid of my depression. It was temporary. Experiencing sadness may be guaranteed, but that doesn't mean that it leaves no room for happiness to return. You just have to keep practicing the things that bring back the hope for it.
Prayer. Family. Friends. Therapy. Reading. Writing. Cooking. Dancing. Walking. Laughing. Relaxing. Volunteering.
Those are the things that bring me joy and make me feel complete.
What I had wrong about that list is that if every single thing on it did not have a satisfactory check mark beside it at the end of the day, then I assumed I wasn't on the proper path to happiness. I needed to do it ALL or I wouldn't allow myself ANY. That's not only an unnecessary way of thinking, it is unrealistic. Thinking that way was the only time I was ever truly faking it.
I want to mention that I have made some great progress in defeating my depression over the last year.
It started by no longer being afraid to admit that it was real. I wasn't brave enough to face it for a long time. I also attribute A LOT of that progress to this blog and anyone that has every reached out to me after reading it. I gain that much more courage every time someone says they can relate to—or understand—where I'm coming from in a post. In fact, there will probably never be a way I can sufficiently describe how much your support means to me, big or small.
But I'll start with this:
For every like, share, comment, direct message, text, phone call, and conversation.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I would put that in 1,000,000x font if I could.
By connecting with so many of you, I have found better—and more enjoyable ways—to connect with myself. Even if you were faking it, I can now see that the love has always been what is real.