With Depression, the Wounds You Can’t See Cut the Deepest

young person sitting by tree trunkI recently spent four days in the hospital recovering from surgery. I have a pretty large incision that’s visibly healing well. But the cut is not where the greatest damage is.

Most of what was cut and stitched and cauterized is completely beneath the surface. They’re my invisible wounds. And when my doctor forbids me from lifting things, it’s not the visible cut she’s worried about—it’s the internal damage.

The outside of my body does not show the degree of injury and healing that is going on inside. I am very limited in what I can do in these early weeks of healing. I can’t work. I can’t drive. I can’t push a vacuum or carry groceries or even pick up my child. Although I may feel good and want to help, if I do so my body could reinjure itself and require more surgery, more time off, and even more healing.

When you’re a person who is struggling with a mental health issue such as depression, you may look well on the outside. You probably find that people aren’t very sympathetic or understanding of how hard life is for you. People may tell you to “just get over it already.” They may accuse you of not trying hard enough. They may say you’re overreacting, that things aren’t that bad.

Like the hundreds of stitches that are holding my insides together right now, mental health issues are often hidden.

A close friend of mine was in the hospital at the same time I was. She was there for a different reason. She was severely, agonizingly depressed. She was suicidal. We were both healing and recovering. But the similarities stop there.

While I felt free to talk to people about my hospitalization and received much support and help, I’m not sure she felt the same way. She didn’t feel comfortable telling people in her life about her depression and hospitalization.

I posted updates on Facebook so my friends and family knew when I was struggling and could support me and cheer me on, and caution me to take care of myself and not overdo it. My friend didn’t. I had people bring my family meals and help with household chores. She didn’t.

I was not expected to bounce back when I came home. I’ve spent much time resting and allowing my body to heal and recover. My family and friends understand when I leave the room to rest. No one is shocked that Christmas cookies weren’t baked. No one has complained that laundry is piling up.

Contrast this with people who have severe depression. Too often they receive little to no help, not much understanding, and no one tells them to be careful and not jump into life too fast.

If you’ve been depressed, has your experience been one of compassion and understanding? I would hope so, but my experience with people in therapy has shown me that this is not the case.

As time goes on and my outside incision heals, it’s my job to remember that my insides take longer to recover. I have to be respectful of what my body is going through and force myself to take the necessary time to rest.

When you have depression, you deserve to take care of yourself, whatever that means to you. It might be taking your medications, being aware of your triggers, finding supportive people, and allowing yourself the time to heal.

Your healing may be in the form of getting a sitter once a week so you can take a long walk in the woods. It could be saying “no” to obligations you don’t want to fulfill. It may mean making yourself call that supportive friend, sibling, parent, or spouse when you find that your depression is getting worse and you’re scared.

Mental health issues should not be treated as shameful. And when you find yourself in a deep depression, you should feel as if you can ask for help and receive it from those who care about you.

It disgusts me that even in this day and age, mental health is treated so differently than physical health. Just because someone does not show wounds on the outside does not mean that there are not wounds on the inside.

Everyone is fighting a battle. Everyone deserves support, respect, and compassion, wherever the wound is—in the body or the mind.

For those of you who are struggling, my hope is that you can find someone to share your story with. We are not meant to go through life alone.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ann

    Ann

    January 20th, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    Your last sentence really hit home. ” We are not meant to go through life alone”. Yet with depression comes a great sense of isolation. I encourage others who cycle through depression to have a safety net in place before the next event hits. A psychiatrist, therapist and specific friends who you can trust and who empathize are a good place to start. Have a plan in place so people know how to help and have therapists you already trust to call. Often people who have never experienced mental illness don’t know what to do. However, when those of us who suffer are in a good emotion space, that is the time to educate them and make our illness less scary for them.

  • Jenise Harmon

    Jenise Harmon

    January 20th, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    Thanks for your comment, Ann. You make a great point that people who haven’t experienced mental illness don’t know what to do, and that we can make the illness less frightening.

  • Silda

    Silda

    January 20th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    There are still so many people who do not understand depression, what causes it and really even what the symptoms are when someone id suffering. To be a good friend though, we have to do a batter job at trying to open our eyes and ears just a little more, to try to understand the pain that someone is feeling even when it is something that is beneath the surface and not really anything that we might personally be familiar with. All I think that those who are depressed are looking for is someone who will listen, who will care, and who will encourage them through their recovery.

  • Jordy

    Jordy

    January 20th, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    We just have to keep trying to get the word out that mental health care is just as important as other types of health care and keep trying to reduce that stigma and shame that many still have to face.

  • V wilson

    V wilson

    January 20th, 2015 at 8:25 PM

    this is so true!most people have easily support and offer help to someone with a physical health problem.but it completely changes when it comes to doing the same for someone with a mental health problem.

    maybe it’s the prejudice,maybe it’s the culture,but it needs to change.if we consider some of us less deserving of help just because the wounds do not show then that is deplorable.

  • Kamryn

    Kamryn

    January 21st, 2015 at 3:38 AM

    I recently had surgery and should be feeling so much better, and I guess that in some levels I am but there are so many things that I can’t do for a while, so many physical limitations that I feel like my life has been pulled away from me. I should be thankful that I have been given this chance again but I don’t know there is something that doesn’t feel right and I wonder if I could be depressed.

  • Jenise Harmon

    Jenise Harmon

    January 21st, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    Kamryn, sometimes medical problems can lead to depression. I strongly suggest you contact your surgeon and your GP and explain. It could be that you need some help until your life gets back to normal.

    It’s possible to be grateful for surgery and depressed. They aren’t exclusive. Be gentle with yourself.

  • Kamryn

    Kamryn

    January 21st, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    Thanks Jenise.
    I think that there are times when I am brutal on myself instead of gentle, so that’s really good advice that I needed to hear.

  • Lucia

    Lucia

    January 22nd, 2015 at 3:42 AM

    I think that this is a big reason why so many people ignore their obvious symptoms of depression, because everything still looks ok on the outside so how could there be anything wrong? I think that people who struggle with overcoming depression are often just as anxious and scared about what is going on as the people around them are, because it feels so different from the way that they are accustomed to feeling.. you know that there is something wrong but it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is.

  • sienna

    sienna

    January 23rd, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    which then makes it so much more difficult for them to share that pain with others

  • Frank

    Frank

    January 25th, 2015 at 5:53 AM

    If there are those so callous in your life who are telling you that you should just get over it, then I am pretty sure that this is a person that you do not need in your life anymore. So you can’t actually see what is hurting someone. Does that give you the right to be so critical of them and ti inflict even more hurt upon them? I don’t think so. Put yourself into their shoes and think of how you would wish for others to respond if you were experiencing the same thing. I think that when we can step back and look at things in that way sometimes it will open our eyes to a whole new perspective.

  • Laurel S.

    Laurel S.

    January 26th, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    I honestly believe that if more people could come up with a way to talk about depression without feeling so ashamed then it could make such a huge impact on how we think about the disease as a whole. But right now I think that there are still those who feel ashamed that they cannot tackle this alone and therefore they keep quiet and they struggle with shame and guilt over what they are feeling. No one should ever have to experience this alone and yet there are thousands who do every day.

  • Greta

    Greta

    January 28th, 2015 at 3:50 AM

    I know that I have been guilty of thinking that if I can’t see it then it must not be real, not really understanding that pain that suffering from depression is actually like.

  • Jennifer D

    Jennifer D

    April 27th, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    Hi,

    I know how it is, I have depression, anxiety, but I try to express it through poetry, but all I hear is, go talk to someone.. that costs $250.00 and that’s just the first visit..I wanted to try mindbodytherapymn.com and see Susan Boardman but she charges sooo much money.. I don’t make 6 figures.. so us lower class people have to settle for free therapy with people we don’t want to see.

    We can’t say we have depression, it’s a bad word.. maybe I will just deal with it my way,rather it’s safe or not!!

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