"I had a perfect childhood." "All of my family is so close." "People call us the perfect family." Whenever I hear statements like the ones above, I begin to get nervous. And I think about people I've worked with who've said similar things, only later to discover what "perfect" really meant. Everything looked happy and normal on the outside, while on the inside, there were unspoken rules of what you couldn't do or who you shouldn't be.
Last year, a local hair salon owner, Shelby Lambidonis, did an apparently simple thing. She revealed what had been underneath her bright smile, infectious laugh and beautifully applied lipstick. She risked telling her real story.
I was in therapy a good deal in my twenties. Most of the work had to do with perfectionism and shame. Someone along the way suggested I read a short, little book called, "How To Be Your Own Best Friend." Its format was easy -- a conversation between two therapists about growing out of your childhood and becoming an emotionally mature person, who is supportive and loving toward themselves. Whichever therapist it was realized that I'd very easily slip into a harsh, critical place in my head, hearing a shaming voice that told me almost constantly what I could've done better -- how I should be thinner, nicer, more successful. My own critical thoughts were often my worst enemy. Sound familiar?
I got in a snit yesterday. You could call it a hissy fit. Whatever you call it, it wasn’t pretty. I was totally over-reacting to what was going on. I knew what I was saying and doing didn’t make a bit of sense, but I was sticking to my guns. I fueled the fire of illogical thoughts with heavy sighs and a dramatic stomping off into another room. I wanted to make sure my husband knew how pissed off I was -- as if that was unclear.
Let's say you're a self-identified perfectionist. You've read about Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD) and you identify with it. You've taken the questionnaire and scored fairly high. You've either contacted a therapist or you've decided to take the bull by the horns and begin to risk some changes yourself. What could potentially get in your way of getting better? What are potential stumbling blocks to commitment you might encounter along the way?
This week, I received another very poignant and eloquent email from a woman -- we'll call her Judith -- who recognized herself as experiencing Perfectly Hidden Depression. She's recognizing that her past, filled with abuse that she's never dealt with, has governed her more than she's ever realized. I'll let her words say it all. "I have always had an overly optimistic view of my life, fervently believing I'm extraordinarily lucky, that my life has been blessed and unusually wonderful. I care for everyone around me, I put other people's problems before mine, and volunteer a huge amount of time to a cause I feel strongly about in my community. I'm constantly studying (an area my perfectionism is very evident) and am self-employed, running my own business. Externally, I'm successful, living a happy and fulfilling life."
The year the world turned 2000, I was 46 and midlife was upon me. And I was experiencing depression. A few people were stockpiling water and supplies, zealous about the potential devastation in the world. Others were impatiently awaiting spectacular fireworks on New Years Eve, toasting one another gaily with Dom Perignon. (Or perhaps a less pricey variety of the same beverage).
Many of us have asked the question this past week, "Why?" Kate Spade, who was was renowned for her taste and rock star creativity, died by suicide. A whole generation of women were caught up in carrying her bags or wearing her latest garb. Anthony Bourdain, who was known for his vivid curiosity and sense of adventure, as well as culinary expertise, did the same. Since beginning research on Perfectly Hidden Depression, I've been afraid we were missing an extremely important question -- a question, that if not asked either of yourself or those you love -- could lead to loneliness. Would you tell anyone if you felt hopeless? Can you reveal vulnerability?
I was at Sonic the other morning -- and once again noticed the picture of their cheeseburger on the menu, enticing me to order the fresh, bursting with flavor sandwich. It looked absolutely delicious. Crisp bacon. Juicy tomato. I smiled, knowing that what I'd likely receive if I ordered one wasn't exactly what the picture suggested, and left with my usual iced tea. That's advertising for you.
Sometimes there's a young voice that finds their courage and tells their truth. Michael Phelps, the off-the-charts Olympic swimmer, is one of those voices. He's now talking openly about having depression and suicidal thoughts after the Olympic games and trying to persuade the U.S. Olympic committee to help athletes make the extremely difficult transition from the mindset needed to achieve and "normal" life. He tried to hide his confusion and depression for years, until it scared him too much. He's not alone.