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When It Takes Years to Admit You're a 'High-Functioning' Depressive

I’m 31 years old. I’m in recovery.

Nope, I’m not an alcoholic. And no, I don’t have a problem with drugs. My ailment? I’ve spent the past 16 or so years as a self-denying, “high-functioning” depressive.

For 16 years I battled, to varying degrees, in silence.

Not literally. I’ve cried. Lord I’ve cried! Hell, I’ve positively wailed at times. I’ve wasted hours, days of my life even, curled in a ball in various places. My bed. The bathroom floor. I’ve sobbed so much my body convulsed. I’ve scared the shit of those I love. Sometimes I wonder how I haven’t shriveled up and disappeared from sheer loss of tears.

But everybody cries, right?

And I’ve never been alone alone. My family loves me and I have some of the greatest friends on earth. I have a cat (even if she is a dick) and she follows me around when I’m down, biting me occasionally to check if I’m OK. And I’ve spent very little of my adult life single. I’ve always been in company. Looking to those around me to dry my tears. To reassure me that I’m worthy — and worthwhile.

But everybody looks to others for self-worth, right?

On paper, I’ve achieved a lot in the past 16 years. I’m the first in my family to go to university and one among many to get a decent degree-related job off the bat, where I’ve steadily progressed to a pretty senior role. From the outside looking in, I’ve done alright.

But it all felt a bit fuzzy. Like watching someone else’s life through a goldfish bowl. A piranha infested goldfish bowl. Through the murky waters of achievement came those toothy little bastards to ruin the viewing experience completely. “It’s just a fluke,” they’d whisper. “You don’t deserve any of it.” And so, I’ve never really felt like I’ve accomplished anything at all.

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t felt joy. There have been times when I’ve laughed and, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, even cried from feeling happy. On occasion I’ve felt pleased with myself and, once in a blue moon I’ve even felt proud. But joy? I can’t think of a moment of sheer overwhelming delight since my parents bought me a puppy when I was 10 years old.

And then he died. Sorry, black humor.

But the point is, I’ve spent a long time feeling rather flat. At times I’ve known I was “depressed.”

But everybody “gets depressed,” right?

Sure, I’ve been prescribed a veritable smorgasbord of drugs over the years. SSRIs, MAOIs, those horrible buggers that knock you out for days. Medicine to keep me calm. Sleeping tablets. “Take these,” they say, “These’ll see you right.” But it’s never long before I reject them. It’s not easy to admit you have a problem. “I don’t need bloody tablets to help me. I can help myself.” And so another cycle would begin.

There have been periods of years (or more) when I wasn’t racked with the urge to hurt myself. Where there was no need to seek help. But the inevitable burden of being blue was never far away.

Over the years I’ve taken an overdose, been dragged to the emergency room by concerned loved ones, met countless therapists and found myself alone in a psychiatric hospital.

But everybody has these hiccups, right?

A few months ago I felt OK. There were no pills, no doctor’s appointments and no creepy CBT guy. “See, I’m fine,” I told myself. “Depression deshmession. I just like to cry.”

But I decided to try something new. I went to see a new therapist as a preemptive strike. Plenty of people look after their physical health, so I decided to give my muddled mind some TLC too.

Fast forward to now and, here I am, writing a thing. A thing to show off how doing the dishes the other day made me cry. You wanna know why?

Because I felt “normal” for the first time in years. I did a “normal” thing. And, for the first time in years, it gave me pleasure. It. Actually. Felt. Good.

But everybody feels good doing “normal” things, right?

Nope. Not me. But, for that one, fleeting, fairly liquid fueled second I had a glimpse of what it felt like to not be depressed. I felt the possibility that I might be able to find joy in everyday life. I realized that a list of achievements, family and friends and even a puppy, aren’t what make you happy (though they help).

And, as cliched as it sounds, as I stood elbow deep in yesterday’s leftover lasagna crud singing along to Elvis on the radio — I realized (and for the first time, really really believed) that happiness really does come from within.

But everybody knows that, right?

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Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration

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