Shakespeare said that all the world is a stage—and man he was right.
I know because I’m a master thespian. I am but one in a large company of great actors surrounding you right now.
Every single day we put on the most brilliant performances, and no one watching has any idea that it’s all theatre; an improvised tragic comedy staged in real-time in their midst.
There are plenty of us out there doing this work where you live and work and browse, but you’ll probably never realize it—that’s how good we are.
We don’t do it for the recognition, in fact it’s because of what we so desperately want to hide that we’ve been forced to choose this vocation at all. Our gift is crafted out of necessity; a required skill honed in the crucible of awkward moments and buried sadness.
One of the things you learn when you live with depression, is that everyone has a capacity for compassion, and even the most long-suffering people usually reach theirs well before you stop hurting. At some point your pain eclipses their ability to carry it and you realize that your despair is a problem—for them.
This is where the performance begins.
Because you don’t particularly enjoy being you, you can empathize with those who seem to grow weary of being around you. You learn to read people’s body language, to recognize their ambivalence, to sense their impatience, and you endeavor to play the part of someone else: someone who isn’t depressed.
And when you do, you don’t even need to be all that convincing to sell it. People are usually more than happy to suspend disbelief in order to keep you in character. They’ll play along because that storyline is far preferable to the one where someone around them is perpetually miserable without good reason.
Often people around you will be willingly complicit in the charade; choosing not to look too hard, not to notice the cracks in your facade, not to catch you breaking character in the shadows.
I’m asking you to not be one of those people.
I’m asking you to choose to really see us.
When you ask us how we are and we tell you we’re fine—pause to make sure we really are.
Refuse to be fooled by our best, most believable efforts to fool you.
The word hypocrite originally meant “actor”. It once denoted a person who played a part; someone who wore an actual mask upon a stage for the entertainment of others. It wasn’t as derogatory a word as it is today, alluding now to some intentional moral duplicity; the act of showing one person and being another.
And though our deception is not sinister but survival in nature, it is heavy and hurtful and it is never far from our minds. We feel the crushing weight of our duplicity every day. It sits there on top of the already present sadness, compounding it all; adding to the depression the guilt of trying to pretend we aren’t depressed.
And here’s the deal: we probably aren’t going to call “cut” and let you see the real us at this point. We’ve long ago realized the consequences of that kind of authenticity and so you’re going to need to do it for us.
You’re going to have to be the one who sees through the mask, who steps into our space, who looks us in the eyes, and who tells us we can stop acting. You’ll have to be the one to assure us that life doesn’t have to be great and everything doesn’t have to be wonderful and we don’t need to be fine for us to be close to you or welcome in your presence.
The question, is whether or not you believe that:
Are those who are deeply hurting allowed to hurt deeply around you?
Do other’s wounds need to make sense to you in order for you to validate them?
Is there a place in your midst for honest casualties, even when smiling liars would be easier to bear and more fun to be around?
After you’re exhausted by someone’s sadness can you find a deeper reservoir of compassion to draw from?
Because trust me: as tired as you are of our depression, we’re far more tired of being depressed and pretending we’re not depressed.
This performance is exhausting.
We’re ready to retire from acting—for good.
Help us exit the stage.