What Does It Mean to Be High-Functioning, and Does It Matter?


If every morning I can’t remember how I can continuously put my feet flat on the ground and face another day, is that high-functioning?

When time passes, my energy slowly depletes. But I can mirror your actions. I can mirror the actions society tell me isn’t depressive. I can mimic those who thrive and I can adopt the visually appealing habits of those who internally succeed. What about that — is that high-functioning?

My thoughts race around in my mind, bringing with them baggage piled with burden. This is what I’m trying to bring to you. This is what I try to dictate, to trace meaning with words.

I live with depression and anxiety. I live with them — they attach themselves to my brain wherever I go.

Can I be high-functioning?

I moved to Uganda in April, running from my own story consisting of chapters filled with uncertainty and hurt. It was time for something different and for a place that had proven in the past to fill my soul with pure, non-materialistic joy.

I had been to Uganda before for short periods of time. As a traveler, my mind is able to temporarily rest in false consciousness; perhaps this is what encourages me to be categorized as “high-functioning.” My mind is stimulated by unfamiliarity and a culture shock that allows attention to divert from inner struggle. I didn’t take any baggage with me when I came. I journeyed with a backpack and the mindset that depression and anxiety couldn’t exist in a space so distant from our home. I could be whole. I could be the person I imagine exists and reach for every day. Functioning, at its most basic level, would be simpler.

I soon realized that what I was running to was a ghost. It was a figment of desire and falsehood, and was not awaiting my arrival. What is it exactly that we run to, reach for every day to feel the ultimate and surreal happiness? It’s a completeness, really. It’s a state of being we believe exists, but sometimes think that we, ourselves, fall short of. The level of functioning I appeared to rest at was much higher than the one I recognized within myself.

I’m here to tell you I’m tired of running. I’m tired of desiring, tired of reaching and falling, tired of trying to be “high-functioning.” This makes existence a burden. I’m here on our earth as a temporary visitor, as we all are. And to be temporary is to savor.

As we exist here, let us dig ourselves into the earth beneath our feet. Allow ourselves to run, to function, but allow ourselves roots as well. My soul isn’t formed with poetic language or the constant critique and questioning that I can put in my writing. It survives. It breathes as you do — it sits solitary and it wonders how everyone around it is able to get up every day. I sit with you, as a one who finds strength in knowing my inner self survives with others who also sit and survive with depression and anxiety.

As a runner, I feel as though I hover above the ground, not planting and not showing roots in fear of pain. My face is one that hopes to please and hides an inside that is far less joyful, far less optimistic. Inside, I exist, and outside, I appear to thrive. Survival is coasting. It’s following the lifeline precisely.

As my appearance is overjoyed and my inside rides along an emotional flatline, I’ve decided it’s time for them to meet. I owe the earth my roots, but I owe no one a false display. And I refuse to apologize for making my outward appearance a mirror of my inner appearance.

The being behind this survival is breathing. It’s existing, it’s functioning. And it’s still figuring out how to be.

So yes, I don’t understand the phrase high-functioning. To be honest with you, I simply function. I function and I mimic. And I hurt even when I appear to be the so-categorized “high-functioning.”

To classify one as “high-functioning” seems like you are inherently assuming they are functioning higher than perhaps what they seem to be capable of. This is what I personally think of high-functioning: showing the world a face that isn’t truly yours. It’s a mask. It’s playing pretend. It’s becoming so busy you forget what is in your head. It’s playing with your anxiety. It’s using it to run yourself into the ground. It’s overworking yourself.

But to be purely high: now, that is the goal. It’s to feel so at home with what you are doing and who you are becoming.

In many ways, I’m a searcher; a searcher for commonality and pure enthusiasm. I have found this can come in a couple of different forms. It can come from human connection or it can come from a commonality in passion or in a way of living life. I have finally found commonality with humanity here in Uganda. I’ve found those who have similar interests and find joy in a similar way of living life. And for that, I feel right at home.

It’s hard to write to you because this is me giving up my mask. It’s me claiming to no longer aim to please, but rather aim to be honest in appearance. And I hope someday you’ll want to join me.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via zahar2000


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.