Depression, Negativity, and Monotone
I was repeatedly told by my boyfriend and a former “friend” that I am “always depressed” and “very negative and pessimistic” and “that’s why [I] don’t have any friends.” Nice, huh? (That last one is courtesy of my former friend, a narcissistic and generally terrible person who derives sick enjoyment from preying on the good-naturedness of others she considers weak).
These are not the only instances that I have heard these things; since I always spoke in a sort of monotone pitch, they were common themes while growing up. My friends started calling me Eeyore. More recently, my boyfriend started calling me Eeyore, though he had no prior knowledge of my old nickname and, for some reason, being reminded of the first times I was really misunderstood by my peers just really pissed me off and I yelled at him to NEVER, EVER CALL ME THAT!
Things I heard a lot of growing up: “Gees, don’t sound too excited about it” (sarcasm). “Why are you always depressed?” “Don’t be so negative.” “Why don’t you smile more?” And the biggest annoyance of all: “What’s wrong? Something’s wrong. No, not ‘nothing.’ Why won’t you tell me? I thought I was your friend and I want to help! Alright, fine. Go be sad by yourself then!” (The problem with this last one is that there was nothing wrong with me; I felt perfectly content in my surroundings, but by the end of such an irritating and untoward exchange, something became wrong because now someone was mad at me for purposely shutting them out by not telling them all about the “nothing” that was wrong with me)! So I started to fabricate “somethings” just to appease them and get them to shut up, thus furthering their perception of my depressed and negative state of mind.
Being a person who considers myself as generally content with life, an optimist by default, and not lonely or lacking in friends, these assumptions always come as a surprise. I guess if a person does not walk around wearing some sort of smile-mask, something is perceived to be emotionally amiss. If I am not eager to join in on a conversation with a group of people I don’t know well who are discussing the lives of other people I have never met, or work issues at a place I have never worked, I am “being antisocial,” “depressed,” or “too shy.” If I have nothing to say on the subject of handbags, I should “come out of my shell more.” If I am not dancing at a place where this is common behavior because I have less grace than a rhinoceros and prefer not to look ridiculous, I am “in a bad mood.” Finally, if I choose not to join in on the making fun of a total stranger for doing nothing wrong besides existing in their own perfectly acceptable way, I have “no sense of humor.”
In middle school, I went through a particularly awkward puberty and a lengthy stint where I was tormented by my peers on a daily basis. As a result, I was, understandably, a bit depressed and withdrawn. My mom sent me to a counselor who diagnosed me as “an adolescent girl,” gave me some pep talks about self-confidence, and sent me on my way. Some time passed and I was fine. Later, in high school, a lot of traumatizing things happened at practically the same time (including a friend’s suicide, my grandmother’s slow death from lung cancer, and my first “heartbreak”), that led me to a series of meltdowns that landed me in the office of a certain quack of a psychiatrist called Dr. Oh. This quack of a doctor spent about five minutes with me, and without any knowledge of the context that led me to his office in the first place (my mom forgot to mention the specific events that inevitably led to my irrational emotional and behavioral reactions, and I, being there against my will, defiantly said very little), told my mom I had bipolar disorder and needed, at the age of 14, to be placed on a dangerous mix of mood stabilizers and anti-seizure medications.
After a couple years of that nonsense (and after unexplainably gaining about 20 pounds—the absolute last thing an already awkward teenage girl needs to have happen her sophomore year of high school), I refused to take them anymore. In addition to the unappreciated, inexplicable weight gain, they had this bizarre side-effect of making me act extroverted in a way I did not like and that typically led to my feeling even more socially anxious. It was like the hypothetical filter separating the random thoughts in my head from my mouth had been removed, and I became this loose cannon who lacked the ability to stop talking about whatever nonsense popped into my head. It’s not that I was “shy” and afraid to express what I was thinking and feeling and the meds helped me to come out of my shell, it was that not all thoughts are supposed to be spoken out loud, I don’t like sounding stupid, and what the hell happened to my self-control?! My mom protested and tried to convince me I was thinking irrationally—that talking constantly is healthy and what normal people do and that I have this debilitating mental illness and need to take these to avoid the inevitable though yet-to-be-witnessed “manic episode.” To me, the closest thing I’d ever experienced that even resembled the clinical definition of a manic episode was the loss of control over suppressing my speech, which the medication seemed to be causing. I don’t know if she ever really believed what I was saying, but I’m hoping she finally read something about bipolar disorder and realized that none of those symptoms were ever present in me.
I refused to take the meds anymore and I was fine. I lost the 20 pounds within weeks over the summer before my senior year, which automatically gave me an enormous confidence boost, and did not succumb to any form of debilitating psychosis. I approached my senior year with newfound optimism, grew up, and was no longer “depressed” beyond the normal reactions to sad and stressful life events, such as breakups and finals week.
I do sometimes still experience meltdowns, but those are for another post.
The thing is, when people consistently tell you that you are one thing at a time when you do not yet understand how to decipher the inner workings of your own mind and can’t think of something better to come up with, your sense of self-awareness takes even longer to develop as you begin to just believe them over what your own instincts are trying to tell you. It required some serious introspection over a period of several years for me to realize that, if I step back and really try to assess my state of mind, which is often not an easy task, I will conclude that I am not depressed. I am perfectly fine and always have been, with the exception of an awkward and difficult adolescence. The idea of being depressed in any clinically concerning way never even entered my mind until other people put it there, and I don’t appreciate being told how I feel by someone who has no idea what it’s like to be inside my head in the first place. I am not lonely because I prefer to spend time alone; I know this because I know I enjoy doing whatever it is I’m doing while alone, I don’t feel lonely, and I have no desire to accumulate a huge circle of acquaintances I would have to worry about communicating with on a daily basis lest they start to think I hate them (how do people do that? It sounds exhausting)! Also, I do have friends—actual friends who know me and get me and don’t try to tell me I am things that I’m not—they just don’t live close by anymore, and that is also fine; we communicate just often enough to fulfill my social needs without causing overwhelm and exhaustion. Finally, I do not need to “smile more” to assure other people whose opinions I couldn’t frankly care less about that there’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need to try to convince these people of my happiness if I don’t feel like it, and I don’t need to fabricate some imaginary grievance just to appease them and get them to stop bothering me. It took a while, but the boyfriend has finally come to realize that that’s just my face and just my voice and no longer badgers me incessantly when I tell him nothing’s wrong.