What 'High Functioning' Really Means


I’ve come to understand that “high functioning” followed by a diagnosis often means little more than “amazing actor.”

High functioning depression.
High functioning anxiety.
High functioning autism.
High functioning ADHD.

Even my own level of health and personal struggle are often based heavily on appearances. Invisible illness and disabilities have been  major contributors to delayed treatment or even documentation of my symptoms.

All of them.

My appearance will never convey the struggles within for so many reasons.

You won’t see the endless days, sometimes a majority of my existence, I spend collapsed in a heap of agony and utter exhaustion.

You won’t see the hours I spend trying to sleep comfortably, the constant disruptive aching propping my eyes open against my will.

You won’t see the careful, meticulous planning required for even the smallest activities or the wrench in my heart each time I have to tell my kids I can’t carry them or play with them.

You won’t see me pushing through most every minute of every day while constantly hearing people advise more exercise, more activity, more food, more everything, no matter the cost to me.

You won’t see me collapse the moment I enter my home, desperate for rest as though I were starved of oxygen itself, or the tears this often brings.

You won’t see the depth of impact of a body once capable of so much, now being capable of so little regardless of effort or management. You won’t see how hard it is to accept an entirely new reality and the constant personal work and struggle it takes to adapt while being constantly reminded.

You will see me dressed and looking “normal,” on days I am well enough to comb my hair.

You will see me laugh and smile as though I were trouble-free.

You will see me awake and alive, little to show but this cane I now have to take with me almost everywhere. You’ll see me and wonder why or how I could possibly need it.

You will see me upbeat and mentally energetic as I’ve always been.

You will see me out and about like everyone else, living apparently like everyone else.

I have come to understand high functioning actually often means great acting and people mistake it for the entire picture of that person’s reality.

It means the struggles remain despite others’ inability to see them from the outside.

It does not, however, mean that the challenges aren’t disruptive for the individual.

So let this be…

A reminder for those having difficulty imagining a different reality than that seen in photos, brief encounters, snapshots and limited timeframes.

A reminder for those who speak loudly in public places with disdain and judgment for things they have no concept of.

A reminder for those who believe they have the right to come to conclusions based on shallow information.

And a reminder for those who know these struggles so well but cannot articulate them. You are not alone.

Follow this journey on The Aspiress.

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