This Is What Depression Can Look Like

Depression.

Depressed.

Someone curled up in bed, hidden under the covers. Sunlight peeking in through the drawn curtains. Phone calls and voicemails ignored. Text messages unread. A dirty plate, and empty, coffee stained mug on the bedside table.

That sounds like fairly stereotypical depression, right? It is. The trouble is, not everyone with depression struggles like that.

What about the person who smiles, and chats happily to friends and family. Who cleans the house, keeps up with chores, and pays all the bills. The dishes are done, there’s food and leftovers from a home cooked meal in the fridge, and the fruit basket is full.

Is that person depressed? If that person is me, then right now, yes. It’s just so well hidden.

I smile and chat with family and friends because I adore them, but I also don’t want to burden them with my sucky (technical term!) mental health. I busily keep up with chores  so I have less time to think about how much I detest myself, my life, and everything about me. Keeping busy keeps me safe. Leftovers in the fridge are from a meal I cooked when I felt like eating. I swing between having no appetite and comfort eating.

No one sees the tears that slip out when I’m finally alone, or on the way home from visiting friends and family.

No one sees the self-hatred, pain, hopelessness, and defeat that flood my mind when I finally stop doing chores.

No one sees the torment that fills my mind over needing to eat, having no food, then ordering groceries, and not wanting to eat.

I usually manage to function until I’m extremely depressed and suicidal. On the way down into that pit of doom very few people know or see that I’m struggling.

Not being able to see it doesn’t mean that I’m not depressed.
Not being able to see it doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling.

Depression looks like many things for many people. Ask before you pass judgement on whether someone is depressed, or how depressed they are.

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Switching Isn’t Always Bad

We’ve been switching a lot recently. Multiple times a day on our ‘busiest’ days, and once or twice on the quieter days. Some nurses (we’re currently in a psychiatric hospital) don’t appear to be very comfortable with this.

This evening Miss 7 was out and had a conversation with our nurse. There was nothing particularly interesting about the conversation until the nurse asked Miss 7 how to get me, Life As A Committee, to come back.

Miss 7 said she didn’t know, but that I’d come back if they needed me. She also said I was tired and that was why I went back inside. I’d also ducked back in to give everyone else some space to write, draw, or otherwise express themselves.

One day another nurse expressed concern about me wanting to switch because of some uncomfortable feelings. It turns out those feelings were seeping through from Miss 19, and switching with her allowed her the time and space to do some journalling, and write a poem. Having the space to express herself eased the uncomfortable feelings, and when she was done I came back.

Please hear me when I say this: Switching isn’t always a bad thing. It’s certainly going to be of concern if a part/alter comes out who is suicidal or otherwise unsafe. That’s not an issue for us at this point in time.

Being able to switch so freely here means we’ve gotten a lot of work done with lots of different parts. Perhaps some nurses are uncomfortable talking to parts/alters, or perhaps they’ve been misinformed, but switching isn’t bad!

Continual Switching

Usually I, Life As A Committee, rarely switch in front of people. I try desperately to avoid switching, and hide who’s out. I don’t want people to see other parts out. I don’t want friends to think I’m strange or weird. I don’t want people to see the crazy.

I’ve been in hospital for two weeks now. For the last week we’ve been regularly switching. No one part/alter stays out for much more than half a day. I’m used to being out for days, weeks, months on end. Everyone else finds it much more tiring, and not because of the body’s physical health issues.

As soon as one part feels tired, or particularly overwhelmed, they tend to go back inside. Then someone who hasn’t been out so recently can come out, and take over for the next few hours. It’s meant that nurses generally have no clue which of us they’re talking to (unless they make the effort to ask, or it’s particularly obvious it’s not me), and our psychiatrist has been seeing a different part each day.

I’ve given up fighting it. Trying not to switch when other parts are desperate to be out is exhausting. Trying to fight a switch means I begin to feel increasingly dissociated, and other’s thoughts, emotions, and urges become overwhelming.

Here, in hospital, I’ve given up caring about switching. We’re switching multiple times a day as different parts find themselves needing time and space to express themselves. This can be through writing, drawing, or talking. Some parts are still hesitant to talk and prefer non-verbal ways of communicating. This doesn’t mean they haven’t been out. It just means if they’re out we’re very quiet, or someone who can talk comes back when there’s a need for us to talk.

Some of our switching is planned. We know what triggers certain parts to come out, and use that to do some more focussed work with them. Other times we discuss everyone’s wants and needs, and work out who’s the best part to be out at particular time.

We’ll be going home next week, and I hope the regular switching can continue. It makes life easier when we switch cooperatively. That’s something we need to have continue.

How To Talk To All Of Us

If you met me you’d see a woman in her mid-twenties who’s friendly, makes good eye contact, and can keep a conversation going. If you met the rest of us it would be completely different depending on which of us is out.

Miss 5 is an initially shy, but sweet, cheeky and chatty girl.

Miss 7 is a very timid, quietly spoken girl who struggles to make eye contact.

Miss 12 is a highly anxious, terrified young girl who’s often unable to move, and won’t talk.

Miss 16 is confident, swears without a second thought, has a permanent smirk on her face, and has the attitude of an unflappable teenager.

Miss 19 is quiet, somewhat reserved, and speaks in a soft voice, often looking down.

If I’m not behaving in a way that is familiar to those who know me, then it’s probably not me that’s out. In public most of our older parts will pretend to be me, and answer to either my name or the body’s name. At home we have more freedom, but still keep who’s out a secret from our housemate. In hospital though? We’re switching regularly.

Nursing staff don’t always notice. Sometimes it’s not particularly obvious. Sometimes they don’t ask who’s our or who they’re talking to. If they did ask we’d usually answer. A lot of the time we’re co-conscious, and other parts will back away and leave me to talk to people.

Sometimes that doesn’t work so well. Miss 12 has been out more lately, and that’s proving to be difficult for both of us. Miss 12 is highly anxious, terrified of people, and scared to talk. Often when she’s out she’ll freeze. We’ll still be conscious and breathing, but unable to move, and absolutely unresponsive. Our psychiatrist has said this state is a dissociative stupor, and we’re all grateful that he understands.

Miss 12 was out yesterday. She was scared, and curled up on our bed then ‘went away’. Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t blinking. Whenever anyone (nurses, doctors, roommate) came in she’d panic, tense all her muscles, and remain rigid until they left. When they stayed she’d begin trembling. Absolute terror and overwhelming anxiety. Eventually she settled, started moving, but still wouldn’t talk.

Thankfully a couple of nurses knew it wasn’t me that was out, but given Miss 12 couldn’t say her name it made it difficult. A nurse asked for advice today on what to do should Miss 12 be out again. Aside from putting our weighted blanket over us, there’s very little anyone can do to comfort Miss 12.

My advice?

If we’re behaving differently or in an unfamiliar way it’s reasonable to ask who you’re talking to. If you don’t get an answer, it’s fairly safe to assume that it’s not me. That’s the time for you to introduce yourself – you’re name, who you are, what you’re doing. It’s also helpful to tell us where we are, and the date. Some parts forget that it’s 2015 when they’re distressed, or get confused because they’re not out very often.

The next most important step is to ask questions. Ask who you’re talking to, and how old they are. From then on the best thing you can do is to respond to that part in an age appropriate way – don’t use big words if you’re speaking to a five year old. If they look scared (or anything else), ask if they are. Be gentle, move slowly, say what you’re doing, avoid physical touch, but ask questions!