By Dr. Margaret Rutherford/The Huffington Post
A person may seem perfectly fine on the outside, but may be actually living in despair privately.
You have seen her.
She looks great. Smiling. Not overly done up. Has what looks like a good marriage, maybe a couple of kids. Maybe she has her own career outside of being a mom, maybe not. If she does, her life looks balanced. Still close with her parents. Involved with the school, knows what’s going on with her children. She’s in organizations that help others. Maybe church-based, maybe not.
She’s in a book club. Goes out with the girls. Talks about needing to lose a little weight. She looks like she’s got it all together.
Maybe you are her. Or some version of her. Know someone like her.
Her friends will tell you, “She’s a fantastic friend. Always there for you when you need her.” Strangely enough, they don’t seem to know what kind of deeper issues she might have.
No one really sees her.
There’s nothing innately unhealthy with the picture I have just painted. A woman who is devoted to being a mom. A daughter. A wife. A friend. A professional. Maybe someone who is more introspective. Less likely than others to be vulnerable.
If it’s a choice. Or is she trapped?
She might be a Perfectly Hidden Depressed Person. PHDP. Or almost perfectly hidden.
We all develop a persona of how we handle ourselves in public. I myself have the persona of “jokester.” I try to make people laugh to ease my own anxiety. People do other things. There are “wall huggers.” “Big talkers.”
The PHDP is more likely to be the “hostess.” To take care of everyone’s needs. She doesn’t make anything about her at all.
Perfectly hidden depressed people feel trapped by their own secrets.
They finally may end in my office. “I don’t know why I am here. My life is so blessed! I think I am just whining.”
Then the tears begin to flow.
You can have blessings in your life. And feel their weight. Just because you are admitting that doesn’t mean you are not grateful for those same blessings.
If I won the lottery, that would seem to be huge blessing. Would I also feel fear? Anxiety about that? Sure. If you are a great beauty, our culture would deem that a stupendous blessing. But would it be hard to garner all that attention? Yep. Doesn’t mean you’re not grateful.
“I have many close good friends.” “I have four wonderful kids.” “I am extremely involved in my career.” “I survived breast cancer.” All great things.
They can involve anxiety at the same time.
There is another extremely important aspect of PHDP. Frequently, something has happened before all these “blessings” occurred. Something painful that has never been healed or even addressed. That, coupled with the energy it takes to maintain the perfect-looking life? It’s a set up for someone trying to look fantastic on the outside — and feeling quite another way on the inside.
The PHDP needs understanding, coping and self-care strategies as much as the next guy.
It’s learning to balance. To accept. To admit vulnerability. To talk.
If not to a therapist, to one another.
So please, count your blessings. But know that you don’t have to hide.
This post was made extremely poignant in the last months. A well-known woman took her life in our community that apparently no one, or few, knew was struggling. I didn’t write this post in response — it was already written. My thoughts and prayers are with those who loved her and were loved by her.
If you experience these feelings, please talk to someone. Send the post on if you know others who struggle with admitting fatigue or anxiety, or who are beginning to have even darker thoughts. As always, my gratitude for taking your time to read. Please comment below or send me a private message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will answer!
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.