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7 Excuses I Have Used Rather Than Admit I Have Depression

A black dog ate my homework.

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Chances are if you met me when I was feeling low, you wouldn't know.

Naoise Dolan for BuzzFeed

Chances are if you met me when I was feeling low, you wouldn't know. I wear the mask of a healthy person incredibly well, because I've always lied about my depression – and I've got pretty damn good at it. At first it was out of a warped sense of shame. Because what I was suffering from wasn't visible or quantifiably measurable, I felt like I was making a big deal out of nothing. Now I lie because I'm scared people will have the same viewpoint I used to have.

So I make excuses. I treat my depression like an embarrassing middle name and pretend it doesn't exist. It's called "Cornelius Herman" and it has the personality of a Sith Lord on bath salts. I don't tell potential employers in case they don't hire me. I don't tell current employers in case they see me as a liability. I use the age-old "I have the flu" line when I'm too depressed to come into work, my head dangling off the edge of the bed to give that authentic plague-ridden sound. But there's only so many times you can use that before people start to question your immune system. So, you need to think of other excuses...

1. Shit Happens

Naoise Dolan for BuzzFeed

If we'd had awards at drama school I would have won "Person Too Busy Shitting Everywhere To Turn Up To Class." My volatile arse became a running joke, because almost every single time I was depressed I would ring in with the most graphic description I could muster of problematic bowels. Regularity, consistency, velocity: I'd paint pictures of my body voiding itself so brutal that it would make a choleric Victorian squeamish. Why?

Firstly, if you launch passionately into a verbal description of diarrhoea, the majority of people will go: "OK, it's fine, just shut the fuck up, I don't wanna know." Secondly, giving someone the image of my pasty frame clutching a toilet bowl was infinitely preferable to admitting the truth. That I was so sad I couldn't move. To me, the truth was more pathetic, and far less believable.

Let me point out now that my teachers did know I had depression. I'd made it clear to them from the outset, and they were supportive of me. But I still made excuses because 1) I was embarrassed about it despite them knowing and 2) I didn't want my classmates to find out. I was afraid if they did they would treat me differently.

Since then, I have plucked up the courage to tell a handful of my friends what was really keeping me from class – the only thing that's changed about our relationship is that they don't suggest I have IBS as often.

2. Death

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No one fucks with death. There's a mass grave that exists in my head filled brimful of imaginary dead relatives. Bleak, right? But my head tells me that I'm pathetic for being sad, and that other people will think I'm pathetic too – better to off a few made-up relatives instead. Logically, I know this isn't true. But when I'm depressed my logic is like Captain Hook working as a gynaecologist: terrifyingly useless.

A lot of the time, I can't give a reason why I'm sad or crying, and my worry is that telling employers this will get me fired. You can't ring up your boss and go, "Hey, I can't stop crying. Oh, no reason. I'll come in tomorrow maybe. If I can get out of bed that is." But having a dead relative is an equation anyone can work out: (Dead Person + Karl) x Closeness of Relationship = Amount of Sad. The ridiculous thing is, there IS a reason: a certifiable illness with its own spot in a medical book. But sometimes inventing dead people is a lot easier than trying to explain that.


3. I've Woken Up In Hospital And I Have No Idea Where I Am

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In fairness, this did actually happen to me. On 1 January 2015, I woke up in a hospital somewhere in London with a mild concussion, my favourite coat (which I still mourn) cut all the way up the sleeve, and no clue what the hell had happened to me. Apparently I pissed on a Boris bike, rolled down Primrose Hill, and tried flirting with some Mexican women, all the while insisting I spoke Spanish ("You, me, il perfecto" is not now, nor will it ever be, Spanish, and if you are reading this, Mexican women from that night, I am profoundly sorry).

In the immortal words of Lenny from The Simpsons, "Nothing like a depressant to chase the blues away." If you only take one thing from this post let it be this: Do not drink when you're depressed. I have done it. I sometimes still do it – I'm not a fucking saint. But know that it always makes things worse. I love me some gin, and I will probably always drink, but I'm learning to drink just for pleasure rather than to try to numb how I feel.

When I rang into work on New Year's Day I told them the truth, but it was only a half truth. I told them what had happened, not what was wrong. I should have told them what was wrong.

4. A Seagull

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Once upon a time, I was supposed to go to a leaving party. Spoiler alert: I didn't go to the leaving party.

I find most parties hell, and the prospect of going to a party when depressed is a special kind of hell that's worse than Transformers 3 (but only just). I was anxious at the thought of being around people, but felt guilty about not wanting to go even though I knew my friend would be leaving the country. Stuck with two conflicting thoughts screaming in my head, I had a panic attack. Now, I don't know if it was because I'd recently watched The Birds, or if it was because I'd always harboured a deep distrust of them, but in my anxiety-addled brain there was moment of clarity: "Blame a seagull."

I was so ashamed of how I felt that rather than be honest, I told my friend a seagull had gotten trapped in my bedroom and that I couldn't leave until I'd got it out. This is, of course, utterly ridiculous and actually just made me feel worse. Not only had I lied, but I'd lied really fucking badly. Of course, my friend is not an idiot (for the most part). He was smart enough to know my story was bullshit and smart enough to know I really needed him to believe it. So he did, because he's great. About a week later I got a postcard telling me everything would be OK. I'm always hesitant to impart wisdom (I am not wise, I do not think I will ever be wise) but if you're depressed, give your friends the chance to shine. You'll be surprised.

5. I Only Have One Kidney

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During the summer of 2012, I worked as cleaner at the Olympic rowers' village. It was great. The people I worked with were fantastic, and my boss was friendly and understanding. Of all my memories working there two stand out above the rest. One is trying to clean a kitchen while the entirety of the Dutch male rowing team were chilling out there, bollock naked and insisting it was fine for me to carry on. The other is lying about my medication.

I don't know why I lied, I just did. There were security checkpoints to get into the village. No bags allowed, only certain sizes of water, no assault know, the usual. When I got frisked on the very first day, they found my antidepressants. It's not a crime to be sad, but I felt suddenly on trial. Panicking, I told them I only had one kidney, a lie as unbelievably huge as the size of a Dutch rower's penis at full flaccidity. In reality, I could have been carrying arsenic – they didn't give a damn either way – but even now I get angry at myself for not just saying, "They're antidepressants."

6. I'm Busy Being A Hero

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Consider this a confession. For our 2015 Christmas party, me and a bunch of the guys I work with decided to go as the Spice Girls. I had an evening shift beforehand and my plan was: buy my costume, work my shift, wear my costume, work the room. That all went to shit, though, when my housemate dropped a kettle of boiling water on his bare foot and I had to carry him to the hospital. I turned up super late to my shift but I managed to get to the party.

Only, none of that actually happened. When I emailed work saying I would be late, I was actually sitting on the Oxford Street pavement in the rain clutching a yellow crop top and crying. Though, silver lining, while sat there weeping I made £2.37 because apparently I'm shit hot at having a mental illness. Eventually, I picked myself up and made myself go into work, because I couldn't bear the thought of letting anyone down. l lied about it, and have continued to live that lie, which feels like utter shit.

For the record: I make a hideous Sporty Spice. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

7. I'm Depressed

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Not once have I ever rung a friend or a place of work and said, plainly and simply, "I can't come in today. I'm depressed." I would rather spew all the weird bullshit above than actually give a legitimate reason.

A friend once said to me, "People who talk about their depression are usually faking it; it's the people who don't talk that you have to worry about." Take a minute and step back from the screen so that you can fully take in the idiocy of that statement. And that's just one example – I have hundreds. It's hard enough as it is battling your own demons, but when the world around you seems to be pre-programmed to treat what you suffer from as not real, what the shitting hell are you supposed to do?

The stigma of mental illness doesn't just come from healthy people. It's something that everyone, healthy and unwell, internalises. And when we hide our illness out of shame or embarrassment, we help perpetuate the idea that depression, anxiety, and all other mental health issues aren't legitimate illnesses.

When it comes down to it, the only "excuse" I should need is this: I have depression, it sucks, but I'm trying my best. I know that's easier said than done but hell, I'm going to give the whole honesty thing a go.