When first starting most careers, the term “fake it until you make it” is thrown around a lot in reference to not knowing how to do every aspect of your job and learning on the fly. Just try your best to look like you know what you’re doing and eventually you will figure out how to do it.
Despite the efforts and advice of some, that does not work for depression.
When I started one of my first jobs working with kids at a summer camp, my supervisor told me – along with the other counselors in training – that sometimes you just have to “fake it” and pretend whatever personal issues you are dealing with don’t exist while you’re at work, for the sake of looking after the children. I naively thought “Great. I’m really good at ignoring my feelings and pretending everything is alright. This is going to be easy”.
It was a weird thought that sort of stuck with me at my next job, and my next, and really every job since. And I thought it was a good thing – a good quality to have about myself.
Maybe that was the right call from my supervisor at the time, because I do think working with kids requires a person’s full attention to properly to the job and those years ignoring my own problems to focus on helping the children with theirs were some of the most rewarding of my life.
However, training myself to ignore my own feelings and emotions was not a great idea for the long run.
It has taken years to break out of the pattern of covering up my feelings and emotions. It still happens all the time. To the point where I often have to question, which me is the real me?
The guy who doesn’t let anything or anyone bother him because he has a job to do, or the guy who paces around his apartment late at night unable to enjoy the snack he got up for because he’s worried about dying alone? (I suppose the real answer is somewhere in the middle.)
That “good quality” to have for working with kids is not helpful to deal with depression. It makes things too easy ignore your mind telling you it is unwell. It makes things harder on your friends, family, coworkers, or whoever else might be willing to help if they knew there was a problem. It might help you get through the day, but it is really just kicking a can down a road – the issue isn’t being solved.
Recently, I took about a week off from work because I needed it. I had been masking my depression for probably a couple months, fighting to get by but giving less and less of a shit about everything each day. Not until it was physically affecting me did I clue in that this wasn’t normal and that I couldn’t exactly remember the last time I had been close to normal.
I had been faking it for a long time and it didn’t make for anything good.