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How I'm 'Forced' Into 'High-Functioning' Depression

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Ever since I was young, society, coupled with my own life choices, has forced me into being a high-functioning depressive: even though I am far from high-functioning; I am just pretending to be. Trying to live up to expectations from the world around me, whether it be society-based, work-based or home life-based has forced me into a life of hiding my depression. Each day putting on a mask and grinding it out. I am constantly pretending nothing is wrong on the inside when really my inner voice is screaming out for help.

I have a major depressive disorder and have struggled with it since I was a teenager. Some days are totally unbearable and all I want to do is lay in bed all day and hide from the world. I long to shut off the alarm, pull the sheets up over my head and close my eyes again. Then the feeling of dread hits me. I must go to work. I must pretend to live life, put on my fake smile and get up and get going. If I stay in bed any longer the guilt will set in, the ruminations will come back and I will feel even worse. This becomes a vicious cycle; depression makes me want to do nothing, but then doing nothing makes the depression even worse.

During high school, the depressive feeling was always there, though not quite as bad and easier to hide. I excelled in school, got incredible grades, was in the honor society and had my choice of colleges. Life was great, or at least it appeared that way. I went undiagnosed until I reached my mid-30s, but always knew there was something wrong with me. I always had lower self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. Living with a nagging feeling that I would never accomplish anything worthwhile. For as long as I can remember, achieving a relatively happy place has been a lot of work for me.

As I got older, the anchor got heavier, the depression wearing me down more, making each day more exhausting and harder to get through. The negative thought process became much harder to overcome each day. Constant thoughts of imminent failure and how it would eventually lead to my sad demise made a never-ending cycle through my head.

As I acquired more responsibilities in life, the obligation to face the world and put on a happy face grew stronger.

Forced Into High-Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression is a form of depression that falls on the spectrum, but is on the milder end of things. Meaning, those with this type of depression still experience many of the same symptoms; poor sleep, fatigue, irritability and hopelessness. The main difference is, those with high-functioning depression are still able to perform daily responsibilities at work and at home well.

Even though I am diagnosed on the more severe side of the depression spectrum, I still need to pretend I am on the milder side to maintain my lifestyle, keep my job, keep my relationship alive and try to live a normal life.

Obligations and Responsibilities

Like many out there, I am an average working-class schmuck. I have accumulated debts, accrued responsibilities and have expectations of me. I am expected to perform at a high level at work, make minimal mistakes, have thoughtful engagement and be charismatic. I am expected to be a caring and loving boyfriend at home. Required to be attentive, involved and intimate (which by the way, I am all of these, most of the time).

I am expected by society to be a willing participant in life. You know, act like a “normal” human being (this one I want to neglect more often than not). Things like work meetings, assignments and daily responsibilities at home don’t just stop because I have major depression.

If I don’t work, I don’t pay bills: and that is the root of the problem. These obligations and responsibilities force me to attempt to live a normal life, forcing me into high-functioning depression.


Stigma is a huge part of being forced to show up every day, pretend everything is A-OK, why I pretend like there’s nothing to see here. I don’t want to be labeled the “headcase” at work. There is a certain scarlet letter associated with mental illness, even in our more enlightened world.

I imagine my co-workers thinking I am damaged goods. I imagine being passed over for assignments and opportunities. I think about people avoiding me and judging me behind my back. These thoughts make me and many like me reluctant to speak about mental illness.

Because of this stigma, my alarm still goes off every morning, I still roll out of bed and show up at work. If asked, most would say I am doing great, a model employee and terrific boyfriend; they have no idea what is really going on inside.

Hiding All Day

Being forced into high-functioning depression has made me develop a mask I wear every day. I feel like Batman, only with a depressed, run-down Bruce Wayne under the mask. No one can know my secret.  Laughing in response to a co-worker’s dumb joke, making small talk around the office, simply focusing on my assignments — it all seems impossible.

I don my mask and grind through it because I have to. I don’t have a choice. Some days are easier than others, but many of my days it’s absolutely grueling to get through the workday, to make it seem like I am totally normal.


Guilt plays another integral role in being forced into high-functioning depression. It runs rampant on days when I do muster up the courage to call out from work, to take a break. Almost at the onset, as soon as I make the call and return to bed, I can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about what I am missing, and the ruminations start the downward spiral.  Ruminations — about what I will miss at work, how my good-standing will be affected, the pile of work waiting for me upon my return and what people will think of me — are never ending.

Even though I am considered a good employee, I tell myself I will likely be let go, all because of one silly day off.  Straight down the rabbit hole I go, guilt-ridden about missing work and how one day off will affect my entire life.

I am almost better off showing up and struggling through the day, rather than sitting home and have my day off ruined because of the endless guilt.

Stay home — be miserable; go to work — be miserable. I can’t win.

Unrealistic Expectations

While living with major depression, many of us also live with unrealistic expectations placed on ourselves. Although I am depressed, I am also a perfectionist. I constantly yearn to please other people, to make my work perfect. I place this heavy weight on my back, my own cross to bear. My loud inner critic can be brutal. Even the smallest mistakes are blown out of proportion in my brain. I am never worthy enough, never going to accomplish everything I set out to do.

I live most days knowing I am working at 70–80 percent of my potential. Even though I often gain compliments at work, the accolades for my accomplishments fall on my depressed ears. I will never live up to the expectations I place on myself.

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I am utterly exhausted every day from the amount of acting I perform. People don’t realize how draining depression can be. How soul-sucking pretending to be normal can be. Even the smallest task can pull the life out of you. Returning emails is an unbearable task, but it must be done. Making dinner after work should be relaxing and bring joy, but it feels like just another task to complete when all I really want to do is lay down and shut the world out.

It all must be done, life must go on, whether I want it to or not.

I know I am not alone in my fight, not alone in being forced into functioning depression. I am by no means an expert or clinical psychologist but I have grown a unique ability to spot others with the same plight as me. I can see it on their face, in their actions, in their sarcastic, self-deprecating remarks. I try to be as compassionate as I can be for those in the same boat.

I do have things in my arsenal to help me out. I am seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. I am taking multiple medications, one for ADD, two as mood stabilizers, and an anti-anxiety medication. I practice meditation and yoga. All of these things help, but will never completely take away the depression I feel. They also don’t take away my obligations and responsibilities.

I know that eventually, I will find a way to make life more bearable. I will be able to take my mask off and be my true self. This thought is the only thing that keeps me going some days. I will someday be able to lessen my depression if I continue to take steps to help myself in this fight. In the meantime, I will be forced to pretend to be high-functioning.

I continue to tell myself that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I just need to keep moving towards the light.

Getty image by Visual Generation

Originally published: August 4, 2020
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