This Is What Life With 'High-Functioning' Mental Illness Looks Like

First off, I have to say that words don’t do it justice. And I’m angry. Because of all of the words that exist, I can’t seem to find any that quite fit. They are either too big, or too small. Unnecessarily complex or too simplistic. What I’ve heard and will say, at least to start, is simply that “my insides don’t match my outsides.” Internally, I feel blinding pain. It feels like the only thing I know. And yet, I know Monday will come and I will start my week as if nothing is going on. And no one will ever notice.

You see, on the surface, I appear totally calm. I am both functioning and barely functioning at all.

It takes everything just to keep my eyes open. Just to eat. Just to shower. Even just to watch my favorite TV show on Netflix, believe it or not. I am so tired I feel like lead. I am so tired I can barely live. I hardly feel awake, but I am. Simply because I know it’s expected of me. I know I have to be. Because who will take care of my family and home if not me? Who will go above and beyond for my boss if not me? I feel the pressure to be perfect, to keep up the illusion I’ve created for years of being healthy, productive, happy. Deep down, I think I hope if I push myself just enough, I will be those things. But I push and push and push until I can’t. But even when I break, I can’t bring myself to stop. I simply cannot let others down. The thought alone fills me with dread. And I can’t let myself down any more than I already have. I have to function. It isn’t optional. I have people to take care of, people to work for, things to do. I am dizzy as the world keeps on spinning when I desperately wish it would stop. Even just for a minute. Just so I could catch a breath. Life can’t stop just because you’re broken, I tell myself.

For me, what comes with being “high-functioning” as some say, is emptiness. Overwhelming emptiness. Feeling terribly, achingly empty. Hollow, and superficial. I fake normalcy, I fake every single emotion, and it goes undetected. I know when I should look sad, concerned, angry, happy or whatever else is appropriate. I know how to look like I feel those things, but I don’t know how to actually feel them. I know how to be outwardly productive, but nothing rings deep. Nothing is registering deeply enough for me to be able to identify what I am feeling. I want to feel so badly. I want to cry, scream, maybe throw something and just feel OK again. I want to let it out. Even if it bursts and it’s messy. But instead, what is inside simply feels stuck behind my “perfect” mask, just lurking beneath the surface as I’m forced to go on. It just sits on my chest like a parasitic king, draining me of all I have. And I suffocate alone, unbeknownst to anyone.

I pick myself up, day after day after day. I tighten and my mask and get on my way to work or school or wherever else I need to be. I separate from this sad, broken person I am and have to pretend to be one of the shiny ones. I dread it. But I’ve perfected the
act. And I’m baffled by how easily people are convinced by this facade. No one sees through my smile, but it feels fake to me. Ironically enough, it’s something I’ve gotten complimented on: “You’re always smiling!” But I overdo it, don’t you see that? I’m so tense I haven’t moved an inch during our whole conversation – don’t you see that? It is written all over my face. It is screaming from my eyes. It is right in front of you all. But no one knows what to look for. So no one sees it. 

This is my truth, and it is eating away at me to have to function when I am in pieces.

Unsplash photo via Pedro Mamore

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