Why 'faking it' can be helpful when you have depression

Depression often has made its way snugly into the brains of people you’d least expect.

Depressives are really great actors a lot of the time, and most have mastered the art of pretending that everything’s fine and funkyfresh when in fact their brain feels like it’s on fire and they’re dying on the inside.

Learning that someone who you’ve always seen as upbeat, funny and energetic is actually silently grappling with inner doom can be absolutely heartbreaking.

It can make you think that this person perhaps doesn’t love you or trust you enough to be their true, sad ol’ selves around you, and send you into a guilt spiral as you start to over-analyse your past behaviour and talk trash to yourself for not noticing that they were struggling.

But this is the thing; the depressed person was very likely keeping it from you on purpose. If you hadn’t realised they were crumbling inside it’s because they were putting every effort into being shiny and ‘together’ on the outside, which is a surprisingly, oddly helpful way of managing depression, to be honest.

Speaking as someone who’s had the delight of the depression demons setting up camp in their brain for years, if I actually stopped ‘pretending’ in front of people then I would never get out of bed.

It’s the pretending that keeps me and many others functioning (I know this because I spoke to a lot of people with depression for this book that I wrote about it), and the having-to-be-ok-for-other-people that forces good behaviour out of us which, somewhat annoyingly, can help.

I spent the first two coronavirus lockdowns on my own and could have been the brand ambassador for The Great Stoned and Unwashed Tramps, if there was such a thing.

I had nobody to show up for and there was nobody to judge me, so when I felt down (which was often) there was no pretence whatsoever, which only made things get worse. For the third lockdown, I self-isolated and then moved back in with family, which is forcing me to do previously monumental tasks like ‘wash’ and ‘get dressed’, and is actually helping me feel more on top of my mental health.

I know that I can be myself around my family, sure, and especially now they’ve all read my pretty honest book about living with depression, they are fully aware that I’m a sad sack of potatoes shaped vaguely like a human, and wouldn’t question it if I did want to stay in bed and in the dark all day long. Instead I just retreat for naps/lie-downs, but keep the razzle dazzle going most of the time otherwise.

While I’m a big advocate for giving yourself time to feel your doom feelings and know from experience that if you ignore the depression demons and pretend all the time you’ll just exhaust yourself and make it all worse, it seems that if you’re able to truly feel them all the time and not have to put on the fake jazz-hands you’ll end up in just the same amount of crusty mess.

So it’s about balance, which everything seems to be, but I suppose there’s a point to it. If you ‘pretend’ all the time and never allow yourself to accept and acknowledge your gloom, you’ll get worse and the depression will be buried and you’ll feel unbearably down.

If you never act-up or pretend (because it’s bloody difficult and exhausting), and instead spend every day lying in bed in the dark, you’ll also get worse and feel unbearable.

Personally, I try to look at my days or weeks and see when I have lots of required ‘jazz hand time’, which I know will be tiring, so make sure I have time to go and have my lovely lays in the darkness. Lockdown cancelling all plans for the foreseeable has made this a lot easier.

What I’m trying to say in quite a rambling manner, is that ‘pretending’ can sometimes be very helpful to someone with depression, and allow them a bit of time to feel like they’re more in control and aren’t letting the depression demons win.

There’s no need to feel bad if you feel like someone is ‘putting on a show’ for you, because they’re probably doing exactly that so they don’t spiral into complete misery. Equally, don’t feel bad if someone ‘pretends’ with everyone else and shows their true gloom around you and only you.

Depression looks different on everyone, and everyone has different levels of comfort and different things that can help them through it. There’s really no ‘right way’ to manage your mental health, we all just have to try to find what helps us.

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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