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I Don't Want to Have a 'High-Functioning' Mental Illness

Many think of PTSD and think of images of soldiers returning home from war. But post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t limit its damage to those who have served in the military. Trauma comes in all shapes in sizes — it knows no boundaries of gender, age or race. Sometimes I want to stop trying so hard to keep it together and just fall apart, so people can see what PTSD is really like. Sometimes I just want to stop doing all the “normal people” things I force myself to do each day and just give in to the overwhelming anxiety and depression — so that then my actions could say what my words can’t. I want to stop being “high-functioning,” so people can see the truth — I am barely functioning inside.

I want to stop smiling and laughing, and look as miserable, depressed, tired and frustrated as I really am. But I won’t, because other people need me to be happy. So I will continue to be their sunshine, their comic relief, their happy place.


I want to never leave my apartment, my couch, my pajamas, my head. I want to leave the lights off and speak to no one. I want to disappear from the world. But I can’t, because other people need me to be strong, work hard and never complain. So I will continue to be their superhero, their overachiever, their go to girl.

I want to cry without reason or rationale. I want to drink myself silly. I want to hurt on the outside the way I hurt on the inside. But I don’t. Because other people need me to be level headed and unshakable. So I will continue to be their port in the storm, their rock, their support system.

I take a shower each day because I know I have to, but it takes so much energy and effort that I sometimes think I just don’t have the strength. I fix my hair and makeup so my co-workers see me put together and looking my best, even when I actually feel my worst. I keep the house clean, the laundry done, the kitchen stocked, even though a trip to the grocery store takes days of convincing myself, and drains me completely. One load of laundry gets restarted in the dryer at least three times before I attempt to fold it. I show up to doctor’s appointments because I know that is what I have to do — and fortunately my health professionals all know anxiety tends to immobilize me, and make even a simple dental check-up feel like an impossible task. If I cancel, they know something is wrong, and I don’t want to worry them — so I summon all my courage and go. Sometimes that means days of planning and preparing for a 15 minute follow up, while my anxiety reminds me I will never be able to do anything ever — but that’s just the way it is. The way it always has been. I don’t want to take medication, because even if it is saving my life, it seems like tremendous work to remember to take it, refill it, bring it on vacation and generally be chained down by it.

My whole body hurts. My heart races. My mind races. Everything seems out of control. My brain constantly tells me to give up. My body usually agrees. I can’t breathe. I’m too tired to breathe. I’m too scared to breathe. I’m too hurt to breathe. Every day there is a war waged in my mind — and in my heart.

I just want it all to end. I want a way out. I want people to understand I am in pain.

And yet, I don’t. I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want anyone to see. I want them to believe the mask I hide behind is the real me — because I wish desperately that it was. So maybe if people keep thinking I am doing so well, maybe one day, I really might be.

woman applying makeup

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Lead Unsplash photo via Trevor Paterson