THE BLOG

High-Functioning Depression And Me

08/05/2017 16:37

It was fairly recently that I allowed the phrase, "high-functioning depression," to enter my realm of consciousness. I've lived with depression, ranging from mild to severe, since I was 15 and 'managed it' to greater and lesser degrees. Yet in this time I have never had a breakdown or taken more than a day or two off work. Instead, I have been described as, "resilient," "strong," even, "lucky," by people close to me. Things always seem to work out.

But the older I get, and the more I learn about myself I wonder what the cost of all this 'luck' has been.

My depression has been normalised all my life. As a teenager I was repeatedly told that, "We all feel that way," and to just, "Get on with it." I remember being thoroughly confused as to whether that was true. If it was, what was the point?

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It's only now, living with an ever-increasing understanding of my reactions and responses, that I am able to look back with a greater sense of perspective. I finally feel able to give adequate weight to traumatic parts of my childhood without acquiescing to my desire to play them down: I carry the burden of my gender which is disproportionately heavy due to expectations placed upon me before my birth; aged seven my parents had a messy divorce; and then, only a few years later, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. (It is widely recognised that chronic medical conditions are associated with depression, particularly high-functioning depression.) I wasn't equipped with the tools to deal with these life-changing events at such a young age; until I discovered alcohol I simply buried myself in books and school work as a coping mechanism.

In writing this, I'm not trying to one-up anyone else who knows me or who felt or feels the symptoms of depression. But this new perspective tells me that what I felt wasn't 'normal' and what I continue to feel isn't either. I wish I had known this earlier.

To me, this is how high-functioning depression continues to manifest itself in my day to day:

  1. Because my default is to play down my feelings, and I have objectively been fairly successful, I often feel like a fraud, like my depression isn't "real" or "debilitating" enough to be called depression. Any days off work I do take are accompanied with crippling guilt. And people close to me can't comprehend how difficult things can be for me because I function.
  2. Or because I avoid them: I make well-meaning plans then cancel. Work often takes everything that I have and then some. So - even if I love you - the thought of seeing you, or even speaking on the phone, can be completely overwhelming to me. I want to, I really do, but I can't. And then the guilt kicks back in...
  3. In fact, guilt is perhaps my biggest burden. I still feel guilty and ashamed of things I said and did as a teenager. I remember them like they were yesterday and they invoke physical reactions in me. Every day I find new - and rationally insignificant - things to feel guilty about. And saying, "no," (and meaning it) is always a battle.
  4. Guilt leads to worry, "mental restlessness" and constant self-criticism: the feeling of never being good enough or, conversely, being too much.
  5. So I find solace in sleep. I sleep too much. Evenings are most difficult for me; if I make it up past 10 pm it's a miracle.
  6. I hide myself away in hours of shit TV. And I mean shit as in Vanderpump Rules and Teen Mom shit. It's completely mindless. I lose myself and it allows my brain to finally switch off. Even reading - my first love - can feel like too much hard work. When I'm not feeling depressed I still watch these things, but I am able to enjoy them in moderation and for what they are, rather than escaping into them.
  7. My other vices rear their heads: I binge-eat and have done since I was a teenager. I drink too much: alcohol helps me sleep but it can also act as a doorway through which I let out some of the anger and frustration I hold so carefully, but unintentionally, inside. The amount I eat and drink waxes and wanes, but it is often an indication of my mental wellbeing.
  8. I constantly feel like I'm wasting time, even if I'm resting (sometimes the line between self-care and feeding depression is so fine that I can't discern its presence). My mind can't rest and there is always something I 'need' to be doing. If I am not doing something that I deem worthy of being described as 'busy' I feel even more guilty which feeds the worry which, in turn, nourishes the guilt itself.
  9. I can be highly irritable. Sometimes with other people but mostly just with myself. This mainly comes about as a result of keeping how I'm really feeling inside in order to function 'normally'.
  10. And all of this, if you put it together? Well, honestly, life becomes hard work. And I still ask myself, often, "What's the point?"

But then some of these feelings relent, the fog lifts - even just a little - and I am able to remember some of the things that make me feel more able to cope. So perhaps I am lucky, in that I am still here and learning to use the tools that help me to manage.

I've learned about - and am getting to know - my "inner bully". She's incredibly powerful and very, very mean. But the more intimately she and I become acquainted the more easily I recognise her and hold her to account.

And I've realised what it is that actually enables me to function. What's happening is a continuous and bloody battle between my depression and guilt. Guilt still wins the vast majority of the time: dredging up past misdemeanours; labelling self-care as laziness; prodding me when I can't face socialising and forcing me into work on those days that I really shouldn't be there.

It's a daily struggle, but with knowledge comes power and I'm learning to wield more and more of it slowly taking control of both my inner bully and my guilt.

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All images used are taken from Creative Commons.
Coming soon: The keys to contentment that help me fight depression.

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