If I were to ask you to picture and describe a depressed person, what would you envision?
Someone having trouble getting out of bed every day? Someone who calls into work sick because they can’t leave the house? Someone who isolates themselves from friends and family?
Or would you envision someone who seems very put together.. has a great job, a wonderful family, a good group of friends and a long list of accolades to her name, but wakes up each morning with a gripping sense of anxiety that no one can see.
Let’s face it: you’re probably thinking the first person I described is the depressed person. But to be honest, they both could be suffering from depression. The only difference is that person number two is someone dealing with what’s come to be known as “high-functioning depression.”
There are nine different types of depression a person can be diagnosed with, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). While “high-functioning depression” isn’t an official term for any of them, it’s what many people, like me, use to describe their condition.
Someone who deals with high-functioning depression may still be able to get up and eagerly go to their job, be in a romantic relationship, post the believable smiley photos on Instagram, regularly get together with their girlfriends for happy hour and generally handle all the logistical adulting stuff of their life — passing for someone who doesn’t “look depressed.”
But inwardly, this same person may be gripped with a challenging set of symptoms invisible to those of us who love and know them.
Dealing with high functioning depression
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood. It runs in the family, and I feel as though I’ve been treated with every depression medicine known to mankind. Some have worked, some haven’t.
Although I’ve never been to therapy or counseling, I do try to “counsel” myself in different ways such as exercise, self-care daily, and I’m adamant about reading my devotional every night.
If there’s anyone who sympathizes with those who suffer from depression and anxiety, it’s me. What never occurred to me, however, is that I am different. I have high-functioning depression which is described by the Mayo Clinic as “a continuous long-term (chronic) form of depression.”
When you’ve had an underlying depression as long as I have, it becomes so much a part of you, that there’s no longer a distinct line where I end and the depression begins.
While not the “typical” embodiment of someone depressed, the high-functioning part makes it that much more complicated. For example, I can go out in public and look like I’m having the time of my life and be all smiles, but it’s almost like a ticking bomb waiting to go off once I’m behind the scenes.
Having high-functioning depression means learning new ways to navigate each day, around the illness. As a mother and wife, I’m aware of how this disease affects my family, which is why I talk about it every chance I get. I thank God every day for an understanding and supportive husband.
With that said, here are some things that you should know about someone dealing with high-functioning depression.
1. I may not appear depressed, but I am
Surprise! I’m fully capable of having moments of pure joy, laughing along and carrying conversations that seem normal. I perform in ways that make friends, family, and society so comfortable that you’d never know I suffer from depression.
The complexity of high-functioning depression also lies in the variables. I could be genuinely joyous about something for a moment and right up until the lingering sadness washes it away, usually when I’m in private..
2. I don’t just look tired, I probably am tired
Carrying around the weight of this disease all the time takes its toll on my physical and mental health. It’s a mental fatigue that morphs into physical symptoms like anxiety. My grandma, bless her heart, makes it her mission to tell me when I look tired. Although I normally will just laugh and brush it off, she’s actually right.
3. Unfortunately, I can’t just “snap out of it”
At any given moment, I have intrusive, negative thoughts that attempt to pull me from my happiness, no matter how deserving.
Sometimes onlookers won’t know how to respond to my depression, so instead of getting into the gritty specifics, they’ll throw around these phrases like “choose to be happy” or “think positive.” As great as those things sound (and believe me, I’ve tried), they don’t apply to someone with a mental illness. It has to do with chemicals inside the brain, not a lack of positive affirmations.
4. My anxiety is crippling at times.
From a very young age I’ve had bad anxiety. The “what ifs” that pop into my head can ruin my mood in an instant. Just this weekend I was supposed to be enjoying some time away with friends but I had such debilitating anxiety worrying about my son who was back home staying with my parents, that I couldn’t even enjoy myself. I cried both nights away from him because of my “what if” thinking.
5. My coping mechanisms aren’t always obvious
Everyone has some kind of coping strategy. Obvious signs of depression (or those stereotyped on TV) might be indulging in ice cream, crying in bed, or ignoring self-care to the extreme. I’ve done those things at moments, but with my daily life, I cope in less obvious ways.
I’ll try to exercise. I’ll blog. I’ll find peace in a hot bath.. Any activity that can calm my brain down, is good for me.
6. My guilt is off the charts
I feel guilty for everything I’ve ever done, for the things I’m doing now, and things I’ll do in the future. I feel guilty for not being the best mom or wife or daughter or sister, honestly, the best anything. In talking with someone, I might pass it off as less than it is, but rest assured, a high-functioning depressant is consumed by guilt, regardless of whether or not it’s within our control.
7. I still feel like I’m an amazing mother and wife
Despite carrying so much around everyday inside my head, I know I’m a good mom and partner. I may not be all the things I wish to be, and I may not deal with life the same as most, but living with high-functioning depression is a constant reminder that I can give my all to everyone and still not feel good inside.
Luckily, when I look at my husband — someone who tells me how beautiful I am every single day and tells me I’m doing a good job — I know I’ll never stop trying to get there.