We all know what depression is, right? If you feel helpless and hopeless, find it tough to get out of bed, feel apathetic about activities, you are depressed.
But some depression goes unrecognized. Why? Because the symptoms are atypical. Depression can be concealed in several ways.
- Depression can be hidden. “I’m overwhelmed with work and have no time for social activities” or “I’m a social butterfly and only feel okay when I’m with others.”
- Depression can be faked. “I’m feeling fine. Just a bit stressed.”
- Depression can be displaced by anger. “There’s nothing wrong with me. Just get off my back and leave me alone.”
- Depression can be masked by addiction (drugs, alcohol, food, sex). “I just need a drink to help me relax. Yeah, well tonight one drink didn’t do the job. So, I needed a few. No big deal.”
When depression is masked, it’s difficult for others (as well as the person himself) to recognize what’s going on beneath the surface.
Mike did not know it but he was depressed. In his mind, however, his only problem was his wife’s constant nagging. He told me, “She just doesn’t leave me alone. She’s always got some complaint; something’s wrong with me or I haven’t done something right. I’ve just about had it with her.”
“Certain things need to be addressed”, retorted Lydia.
“Right! You’ve always got some problem with me. Miss Perfect here knows all the answers.”
“I’m only trying to say that there are some things wrong here that we can’t ignore any more.”
Lydia turned to me and said, “Mike has been working too hard, drinking too much, and blowing up at me for no good reason. He claims that nothing bad is going on at work and that he’s not stressed over anything. I’ve been wondering if he’s been having an affair because he’s not interested in sex. But he denies it, and truly, I don’t think he has the energy for an affair, even if he wanted one.”
I looked at Mike. His muscles were tight, he looked incensed.
“Would you respond to what Lydia just said?” I asked him.
“What do you want me to say,” he said avoiding my eyes.
I shrugged. “Whatever you want to say.”
Mike fell silent.
After a few minutes of silence, Lydia said, “See there’s nowhere you can get with him. He’s either silent or evasive. Or, he blows up over some minutiae. This is no way to live.”
Two months later, Lydia decided to make good on her threats of divorce. She asked Mike to leave. When Mike realized that she was serious, he was distraught. With tears welling up, he pleaded with her to give him one more chance. “I’ll change,” he said. “I’ll do anything to keep our family together.”
“If you really mean that,” said Lydia, “I’m willing to hang in there. But you’ve got to recognize that you need help. You need to address what’s going on inside of you.”
“I know,” whispered Mike, “I know.”
It’s difficult to help someone who doesn’t admit that he’s hurting. It’s difficult to help someone who won’t talk about his state of mind. It’s a Herculean burden to keep throwing a lifeline to someone who is blaming you for all his problems.
And yet we must strive to understand masked depression and help those who are living with it know what’s going on.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow