Vitality | My Secret Life


I feel like secret is the only way to describe it and what I'm describing is depression. There's no other way to explain what having depression is like. At first it starts as a secret because it's so rarely spoken about that people don't know how to recognise it, even in themselves. I've been 'sad' for a while now, somewhere from my teenage years. Like everyone around me, I put it down to hormones. Of course, I was a teenager! The extent it has effected me has only really hit me now that I'm beginning to recover. I'm seeing and most importantly feeling the difference and it's beautiful.

Through school I was always a high flyer, I never really had to try. My general knowledge of things was pretty good for my age and I picked things up quickly. The best thing of all though? Was that I loved, absolutely loved to learn. After school I'd set myself little projects, mum and I would be testing science experiments. When we lived in the take-away, she gutted the chickens and fish. These were my home school biology lessons. Soon though, my grades began to drop, my weight shot up and I struggled to make friends. All normal things to happen to anybody really. I'm not sure when it came, I can't pin point it. All I know was that for a long time, I wasn't me. There are numerous factors that could have caused this, hereditary and/or environmentally. That age old argument of nature or nurture. I believe it's a cocktail of both. This isn't a stab at my upbringing, but just observation and of course an unavoidable part of life. Thoughts of telling the younger Erica that she'd struggle to get into university, she'd repeat numerous times and be behind her peers. Not in a million years, you've got the wrong Erica. Nonetheless here I am. Welcome to my confusion and frustration.

The secret life I'm talking about is the one I live behind closed doors, off-screen and away from the public eye. This secret life has been fuelled by the fear of labelling and being outcast by friends and society (because you're crazy, duh). Being open about any mental illness is like running head first towards a double edged sword. What people don't realise is how constant it can be and how spontaneously it can occur and for this reason, it can be seen as attention seeking. "Oh how convenient for this to affect you now." Well, yeah that's the reality. There are triggers and then sometimes your just so sad that any little thing could tip you over the edge. Then boom, tears and house arrest for days or even weeks. This is why it's a secret, you don't need to know that sometimes I'm a little crazy. Then you wont like me or think I'm a little weird, or maybe you'll catch my crazy!

There are many different ways people hide depression, even from themselves. Over time, I've started to become aware of my concealing and these are the masks I've uncovered.

Mind set 1: Pretty girl
On a whistle-stop tour of my down phases the first station, the inability to dress myself. This includes no showers, sometimes brushing my teeth , no changing of pj's. Yeah, I'm secretly pretty freaking gross. I stink, but I'm blissfully unaware or rather, I don't give a s**t. There's too much negativity, pounding and white noise in my brain for these things to concern me right now. Quite the contrast to the usual done up girl you see walking around huh? It's a defence and disguise tool I established, after people questioned my well-being when my appearance and hygiene began to decline. (Depression is so sexy.) Instead I draw on my eyebrows and a fake smile and off I go.

Mind set 2: So healthy
Then the perception of my body morphs, it's no longer something I respect and tend to. It barely exists in this world, so here the binge eating begins. As does the smoking, previously binge drinking and constant partying etc. Goodbye money, hello financial problems. I constantly worked part time jobs through uni to fund this coping mechanism and blissfully unaware it went on for a few years.

Mind set 3: I'm so sorry
Finally, here comes the shame and anxiety! Ah, my old friends. I see you there self-loathing, don't you play coy with me. Their arrival means I'm no longer able to communicate with my support network of close friends and even family. "Why am I like this? How can I be so damn ungrateful? Why am I wasting my time, my whole life away? I'm so needy and emotional, this must really p**s people off. I should stop wasting their time." It's a back and forth of should I message them to warn them? Or will they think I'm purposely backing out? No, I can do this. Ha, no you can't. Until it gets too late to be acceptable notice and people think your just incredibly rude. It's a vicious cycle, so here comes the I'm sorrys. This line of tormenting questioning would continue until I ran out of tears or I fell asleep. Eventually I learnt to lessen the crying, but it's still something I do that at times makes me think, "Jeez girl, suck it up!"
When your feeling like this, you want to do anything in your power to keep your secret. Social media has become a perfect way to do that, which is only masking the problem. That's not the 24/7 reality of life. That's probably 1/3 of it. 1/3 is being depressed and the other 1/3 is being confused and being depressed but enjoying discovering therapies and happiness. Which is love and honesty, quite simply.

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
― Stephen Fry

So as Stephen Fry has put it, when my sunny days are here. Oh boy am I out to enjoy them! Depression and mental health has become such a prominent part of my life and I need to share it. It makes it real when it's spoken and put into words. When other people can relate and that connection that we all need and crave is satisfied, its warming. It's an explanation to what I understand must be hard to see. I spent so long trying to mask it, that eventually I even fooled myself. Opening up, being honest and making a stand about this is extremely important for me, so here it is:
My name is Erica Henderson and I live with a mental illness. x

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