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We Need to Talk About 'High-Functioning' Depression

You may have seen articles on social media talking about “high-functioning” anxiety. “High-functioning” anxiety is a difficult thing to walk through. It needs to be talked about, not brushed under the rug. I’m glad it has been, to some extent.

Today, I want to talk about high-functioning depression. Because I feel alone. I feel like there is no one in the world that can understand how I feel on a day-to-day basis — but I know that isn’t true. Depression affects approximately 16 million American adults in a given year, and more than 8 percent of young adults (ages 18-22) annually report experiencing a major depressive episode. Depression is also twice as common in women as in men.

Depression’s annual toll on U.S. businesses amounts to about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs. Depression accounts for close to $12 billion in lost workdays each year.

You would think with numbers like these, that depression would be talked about more, that access to care would be more of a priority in health care reform, or that there wouldn’t be such a stigma associated with it.

I think one of the hardest things for people to get is that depression is not a choice, and it never will be. You can’t just wake up and choose to not to be depressed. If that were the case, I would have done it a couple of years ago. If that were the case, no one would struggle with it.

If you haven’t walked through it, you can’t really understand. You may have had a close friend or family member who has walked through it. But even still, it’s not the same as personally experiencing it.

I’ve always been an emotional person, but clinical depression is so much more than a feeling. It’s a state of being.

It wasn’t until the onset of my eating disorder that I was diagnosed with depression. Depression runs in my family, in addition to addiction, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. My genetic gun was (and will always be) fully loaded, however, the trigger wasn’t pulled until various environmental stimuli pushed me over the edge.

Environmental triggers cannot always be pinpointed, but I have been able to nail down a few of my own through therapy and reflective journaling:

1. Food restriction

2. Compulsive exercise

3. Diet culture

4. Work/Life imbalance

So there isn’t one single cause for my depression — just as there is no quick-fix. Medications can help, but they can also have adverse side effects. Therapy is awesome, but it isn’t the magic cure.

So what do I do? I hide. I hide my depression because I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to be the co-worker who can’t get her life together. I don’t want to be the sorority sister that isn’t having the time of her life. I don’t want to be the mother who lacks joy three weeks after her baby is born. I don’t want to be the wife who has lost interest. I don’t want to be seen as dramatic, or needy, or weak. I don’t want to explain, I don’t want to complain and I don’t want to make things worse than they already are.

How do I hide?

I get up each day, get dressed, grab some breakfast and head out the door with a smile on my face and a heart and mind that is aching.

I push through it, because that’s the only thing to do.

I’ve become really good at faking it, because saying, “I’m fine” is a lot easier than trying to explain.

I have what I would call “high-functioning depression.”

I graduated college with a 4.0 and am currently enrolled in the Dietetic Internship Program at VUMC. I am active in my community and spend time volunteering for Renewed Eating Disorder Support. I love my husband, I love my family, I love my friends and I love my church. I love taking pictures and serving others. I like to work out when I can and blog when I have free time.

But I also have trouble sleeping at night. I also wake up each day and have to fight to not feel numb or irritable. I have lost interest in a lot of things that I used to enjoy. I cry often, sometimes without reason. I am always tired and lacking in energy, and I constantly have headaches. I carry a lot of guilt on my shoulders because I know that right now who I am is not who I am meant to be. I’m trying, I really am. But there is only so much that I can do. There is only so much that you can do.

Most people don’t know this about me. I’m open about my story, and talk about my experiences with anxiety and depression — however, most people don’t know this is my daily reality, and they wouldn’t. Because I’ve become good at putting on a smile that may not really be reflective of my heart.

I wrote this blog because I wanted to be a voice for individuals who struggle with this but don’t have the strength to talk about it. To those people, I want to say two things:

1. You’re not alone
2. There is hope

I also wanted to raise awareness and educate others on this issue. You never know what someone may be going through, which is why am such a big advocate of vulnerability and transparent friendships. Let’s move past the “How are you? Good. What about you? Good.”

I am also a big advocate of therapy. There’s something that is so freeing about being completely known, yet still accepted and loved. Therapy can help dig out deep roots of depression and plant seeds of hope. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of hope. No matter how “high-functioning” you are, depression is no joke. If your life and peace has been stolen from you, seek help.

To close, I wanted to end with this quote: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”

Follow this journey on the Beautifully Broken blog.

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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Getty Images photo via kevinhillustration