What It's Like To Be Happy On The Outside, But Hopelessly Sad Inside

by Zara Barrie

It was mid-winter of 2012 when I found myself immersed in the pitfalls of a black depression so crippling, it's darkness so blindingly severe, I couldn't see a way out of it.

There was no trace of light penetrating the steel walls of the cold, black tunnel that became my home.

To the outer world, I was the girl who had it all: I was young and American, living in the vibrant city of London.

I was thriving in my career, earning a relatively lucrative living in the seemingly glamorous industries of commercial acting and cosmetics.

I was only 24 years old and was living a fiercely independent life in one of the most sought-after cities on the planet.

The world was my f*cking oyster, right?

I had an endless supply of stunning and successful girlfriends. The kind of girls who can silence a riotous and noisy room with just their magnetic, effervescent presence.

I appeared to teem with boundless potential. An enviable entity who radiated with the vigorous glow of a high self-esteem.

I never left the house without makeup, and my nail polish never f*cking chipped.

"You're the kid I don't have to worry about," my father, whom I love dearly, would tell me via Skype, his face beaming through the static screen of my worn laptop.

If only they knew. If only they knew. If only they knew. If only they knew.

If only they knew I was swallowing a secret so razor-sharp, its pointed blade incessantly pierced the surface of my heart.

A secret I was attempting to bury deep within myself because I was terrified of what might happen if it were to come crashing to the surface:

I was depressed.

People often ask me what depression feels like. It's different for everyone, but for me, it went something like this:

Imagine each one of your frail, fragile limbs being hogtied with mega-heavy weights, making it so that even the most subtle movement of your littlest finger is direly painful and impossibly hard.

Imagine finding yourself comatose and catatonic on an isolated, dark beach with no other soul in sight, your body stiff and still as icy saltless waves of sadness slowly wash over you, the current so severe, each ripple takes a tiny, little piece of you out to sea until you're nothing but broken parts sifting in dark, muddled water.

Imagine feeling constantly overcome by a loneliness so profound that you feel homesick all of the time, even when swaddled in the oh so soft, familiar arms of home.

The truth is depression is damn near impossible to describe with words.

Depression is visceral, not intellectual. It lives in the heart, not in the head, which is why we're unable to rationalize ourselves out of it.

The heart and brain function on two very different planes.

On top of the all-consuming depression, I had an irrepressible, ever-lingering, ceaseless anxiety.

I've struggled with severe anxiety my entire life, but because I never had the courage to address it -- I fed it. Ignoring the scary monster only fueled the beast.

By the time I turned 23, my anxiety had manifested itself into a clusterf*ck of panic attacks that made me afraid to leave the confines of my apartment.

I was in a constant state of "fight or flight," so much so that life was starting to feel more like a bad acid trip than real life.

Anxiety is a powerful thing. It's akin to an electric shock to the heart that shoots through your body with such vehement strength it propels you into the air.

Anxiety is like taking a handful of dirty speed: Your senses become heightened, your heart thumps with such an elevated ferocity -- the littlest of things become unnerving and jarring.

It makes mundane, everyday tasks such as a simple trip to the grocery store to pick up a carton of milk feel like a walk through a creepy carnival funhouse. Everything becomes oddly distorted and grossly magnified.

It was all a secret. My best and worst quality is I attain the ability to seamlessly execute an image of perfection to the outer world, regardless of the vicious whirlwind that's destroying me from within.

I was seeped in sadness, yet I was convincingly able to emulate nothing but sheer happiness to my family, friends and coworkers.

So what does it feel like? What does it feel like to be happy on the outside yet hopelessly sad on the inside?

When I look back on that time, I realize that during the daytime, I didn't even feel alive.

I was a shell. I was living a fictional life as a cartoon character, a Minnie Mouse caricature of myself.

The surface of my lips would twist themselves around words that weren't my own. It felt like I was reading lines from a script I didn't write. Like I was cast in a bad movie, living out someone else's life.

It was the loneliest feeling imaginable. It was the kind of loneliness that can't be remedied because the disconnect I felt was a disconnect from myself.

So why did I do it? Why didn't I use my very capable voice and ask for help before my life came crashing down into a million little pieces?

Fear and shame, the most dangerous combination.

I feared if I opened up to anyone about what was happening, no one would ever want to be around me anymore. I was scared the pressing weight of my sadness would push everyone away.

And I was ashamed. Ashamed of being a young girl who seemed to have everything yet was so direly depressed.

We live in a culture that stigmatizes mental illness to the detriment of every single human being who has ever suffered. We are made to feel that if we're unwell, we have failed.

Nobody wants to be seen as a failure.

So we suffer in silence, until the pain becomes so unmanageable that we turn to self-destructive methods to alleviate the distress. We self-medicate.

Sometimes with drugs. Or booze. Or sex. Or toxic people who feed our addictions and are inherently bad for us, whatever will provide us with temporary relief from the constant hell we're experiencing.

I chose to drink. While I always enjoyed a few drinks at a party, I had never craved alcohol in my entire life. Drinking was fun, but I could take it or leave it.

I wasn't the girl who drank at home alone. Until I was.

See, when I stripped the Band-Aids of fake happiness off at the end of the work day, I had no choice but to feel the hurt.

The wounds were exposed, and the pain set in. And it felt awful. And a glass of wine (or three) helped. Until it didn't.

One rainy, grey London day, I woke up in a state of such intensive panic that I was actually afraid for my life. Everything scared the living shit out of me.

The textures of the brick on my front porch suddenly looked evil. Negative, disturbing images were stuck in my brain, perpetually haunting me. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep.

And for the first time, I just couldn't fake it anymore. My drug of choice was artificial happiness, and after a year, it had finally worn off, and I was coming the f*ck down.

The depth of the fear I felt on that day was so brutal that it drove me to finally ask for help. It was the first and only time in my entire life I actually felt out of control and terrified of what I might do.

I called my brother from Los Angeles and told him everything. I had been living in such a fake existence for so long that just saying honest words out loud provided me some relief.

I was owning my truth. Now I could finally address it.

The reason I felt compelled to tell the story of my depression is because there are so many people in the world who are adhering their faces with smiles while secretly suffering.

The less we talk about mental health, the more ashamed we feel when we're experiencing dark feelings we can't control.

Shame is what makes us suffer in silence. Silence is what kills so many of us.

The longer you sit and stew in your sadness, the more severe it gets. I wasted years of my life dealing with heavy depression, alone.

When I finally started to talk about how I was feeling with my friends, my family and an amazing therapist I trusted and connected to -- the healing process began.

Never, ever, feel ashamed about your questionable, broken past, or for your fear of leaving the house, or for your struggle to simply get out of bed in the morning or for the terrible people you can’t seem to stop sleeping with.

No life is perfect. No person is perfect. The most creative, intelligent, groundbreaking creatures of the planet face adversity too. It’s the hard things that make us so much stronger when we come out the other side.

But the only way to get out to the other side is to stop suffering in silence. To stop endlessly drowning yourself in a pool of your own shame.

Because it’s the shame and the silence that will stop you from moving forward into the life you deserve.