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When Your Depression Stops Being 'High-Functioning'


I fought against my “high-functioning” depression for years without the slightest clue of what was wrong with me. I never knew depression was an illness that could affect anyone, so I didn’t understand where the feelings of dread and despair came from. The sense of hopelessness began in high school, so I figured it just was a result of sub-conscious stress connected to college and charting a life path. Everyone seemed to know where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do, but I had no idea where my life was leading. So, I tried to rationalize my despair by blaming it on the unknown of my near future. I figured once I decided on a college and a major the feelings would go away, and everything would be honkey-dory.

That’s not what happened.

Depression persisted over the years, and I constantly tried to explain it away for one reason or another. I could only do that for so long though. Eventually, it was going to catch up with me and I wouldn’t believe my own explanations. But, for the entire time I did believe a cure was just over the horizon, I performed at a very high level.

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Do you ever suddenly stop and realise how much of your life your mental illness has taken away from you? #CheckInWithMe

I ended up going to Penn State and studying chemical engineering, which was no walk in the park. It took a lot of work. On top of that, I was involved with THON (an organization that raises money for kids with cancer) and had an active social life. I was busy, but almost always in a good mood. I enjoyed the high-stakes environment of college — the freedom, the blistering pace, the challenge. I was on cloud-nine and did my best to bury the burgeoning storm of depression within. But, because I ignored the illness for so long, I didn’t notice it chipping away at my foundation all those years. Eventually, I collapsed like a dilapidated old building.

I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t hold a thought in my head. I lost weight, and the light of life drained from my eyes. I was a shell of my former self, and for the first time since the depression began, I couldn’t successfully hide my battles from those around me. Everyone could see something wasn’t quite right, but no one knew what was wrong. It had happened so quickly. To the outside eye, I was “fine” one day and broken the next. I had made the transition from high-functioning depression to major depression, and it was shocking how little I could do.

I was used to firing on all cylinders, flying high and working till the job got done no matter how long it took. Now, I could barely get out of bed. It reminded me of an article I read about a girl named Madison who took her life suddenly. Her sister was quoted saying something like, “Madison was happy one day, sad the next and gone the day after.” I got it. I felt like that’s essentially what happened to me. Even though I struggled with depression for years, it didn’t feel like I did since I was able to function so highly. But then I was just broken all of a sudden, and that was a bitter pill to swallow.

Thankfully, I reached out. I told people I was struggling and got help. I have my life again, and I’m back to functioning at a high level. It took time, patience and enormous effort, but it’s not impossible.

If you are in a deep depression and don’t see anyway back to a normal life, I beg you to please hold on and trust that you’ll get there in time. I never thought I’d live a full life again, but now I’m living more fully than I ever have. There’s another side to depression, and on that other side is a rich, beautiful, fulfilling life that you deserve, so please hold onto it.

Getty image via Victor_Tongdee