You have seen her.
She looks great. Smiling. Not overly done up. She 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. She’s 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, and goes out with the girls. They all talk 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. Maybe you 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’ve just painted — a woman who is devoted to being a mom, a daughter, a wife, a friend or a professional. Maybe she is someone who is more introspective, or less likely than others to be vulnerable. Or maybe he’s a guy, with a very similar lifestyle.
If it’s a choice, that’s one thing. But could she be intentionally creating this persona?
She might be experiencing Perfectly Hidden Depression. PHD. 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.”
Someone with PHD is more likely to be the “hostess,” to take care of everyone’s needs. She doesn’t make anything about her at all.
People with Perfectly Hidden Depression 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.”
Tears may appear, but not always. I hear about self-loathing or thoughts that creep into her thinking of simply driving off, or going away.
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 might seem outstanding. 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 4 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 PHD. 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.
Someone with PHD needs understanding, coping and self-care strategies as much as the next guy. Whether man or woman.
It’s learning to balance. To accept. To admit vulnerability. To talk.
Before your depression gains more power.
So please, count your blessings. But know that you don’t have to hide.
If you would like to see where you fit on the spectrum of PHD, take this questionnaire.
About The Author:
Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, has practiced for over twenty-five years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her work is found on her own website, as well as HuffPost, Psych Central, Psychology Today, The Good Men Project, The Gottman Blog and others. She’s the author of “Marriage Is Not For Chickens”, a perfect gift book on marriage, and hosts a weekly podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.