So as a proud member of the underemployed, and as someone who just generally likes making a little extra cash, I often participate in surveys, studies, and focus groups. At one point I had a pretty regular gig doing vision studies through a research hospital and I felt like they were secretly training me for the CIA–one of the studies tapped into the massive funding available from Homeland Security by having participants look for weapons in luggage x-rays. (Conclusion: the less common weapons are in said x-rays, the less likely a screener is to notice a weapon when it’s there.)
Anyway, many of these require some kind of pre-screening to determine eligibility. For market research this often involves making sure you don’t work for an ad agency. Other studies are looking for very specific participants–say, dog owners who’ve bought several kinds of kibble over the past few months.
Aside from the standard demographic questions, many screening surveys ask about medical history.
And this is where I almost always lie.
I didn’t even realize I was doing it until today, but as I was filling out a screening survey (I didn’t qualify anyway) I noticed I didn’t check the box indicating I’ve ever been diagnosed with depression or any other mental illness.
I have. I’ve been diagnosed twice, in fact, by two different doctors–first for severe anxiety with mild depression, then for severe depression with mild anxiety. (I find these two diagnoses kind of amusing, but maybe that’s just a coping mechanism.) I’ve been on medication, twice. The second time around my depression probably led to some kind of eating disorder, although I don’t know that the symptoms fall neatly into the standard categories. I even ended up in my college infirmary for nearly a week, leading several people to suggest that maybe I should just take a leave of absence from school.
And yet, on form after form, I refuse to admit that I have a history of depression.
Some of this is purely practical–just as admitting to a history of illness can hurt your chances when it comes to applying for health insurance, admitting to any kind of chronic condition can disqualify you from any number of studies and surveys. And while I can understand the reasoning and don’t want to screw up anyone’s data, most of the time I justify the omission by telling myself that my inactive depression doesn’t really have any bearing on the kind of cat food I buy or whether or not I can track a green dot across a screen.
But it’s clearly not just about the practical. I also tend not to mention my psychological history to new doctors. (Again, maybe some of this is practical–does the physical therapist trying to strengthen my lower back need to know I’ve had anxiety attacks? But I get the feeling this isn’t information I would volunteer to a new primary care physician, either.) And that’s actually pretty dangerous. While not every medical symptom will necessarily have anything to do with my history of depression, many of them certainly could–in fact they could be signals of an impending relapse, just as seemingly benign symptoms mean more when you know someone has a history of heart trouble or cancer.
So why am I leaving out this extremely significant chunk of my past?
I’ve been trying to sort it out all day. This is the best answer I’ve come up with: I’m trying fiercely to not let depression be a part of my identity.
When I think back on the way I felt, the way I was when I was actively, painfully depressed, I have a hard time even recognizing that person as myself. At the same time that I see my psychological history as integral to the way I see the world now, I also seem to have this very real need to not see myself as depressed. I’m someone who was once depressed, not a person with depression.
Do other people experience this?