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When You Aren’t Actually Functioning With ‘High-Functioning’ Depression

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I’ve read a lot of stories about “high-functioning” depression and anxiety — both of which I clearly have. I am a full-time college student, work three jobs, run a service-learning program and somehow keep a 4.0 GPA. I have friends and support. And while I’ve been battling depression for the last eight years, I’m in therapy, currently in the process of finding the right medication and I’m putting the work in. On paper, I am functioning very well. My ability to keep up with school and work is enough for people to assume my depression can’t be that severe. “If she was really depressed, she wouldn’t be able to get up and go to work and school.” But here’s the thing: I’m really not even functioning with “high-functioning” depression.

Sure, I can keep my jobs and go to class and maintain good grades, but there’s a whole side people don’t see. I currently have not showered in over a week. I struggle to change my clothes. I struggle to brush my teeth. I have constant suicidal thoughts. I want to self-harm all of the time and it takes so much energy to continue to fight the urge. The only reason I get out of bed every day is because I have work and school and for some reason, my brain has prioritized those things over the most basic self-care needs like showering and eating. It’s embarrassing and that’s why I don’t talk about it. I didn’t even bring it up to my therapist until this week. She knows I’m going through a severe depressive episode right now, but when I told her about not taking care of myself, she even seemed a little surprised. Because again, on paper, I am still functioning at a high level.

I keep myself so busy so I don’t have to deal with free time, because free time simply leads to rumination and more suicidal thoughts for me. But when I’m this busy, I become so stressed and stop taking care of myself. I stop functioning. I don’t win either way. We talk a lot about “high-functioning” depression and why it’s still just as severe as any other type of depression. But we don’t talk about when you’re “high-functioning,” but still not really functioning. There’s always another side to the story.

Yes, I go to work. I go to school. I go to the required events for my scholars’ program. I go to the gas station and the grocery store.

But I also go to crawl in my car on my break at work and just cry because I get so overwhelmed by depression. I used to go into the bathroom at work and self-harm, and then come out like nothing was wrong and continue to do my job. I go to school but sometimes sleep in class because I am so exhausted. I take notes, but I always have other tabs open looking for inspiration and hope on Pinterest. I go to the events I have to so I can keep my scholarship, but I have panic attacks before nearly every one. I go to the grocery store, but half of the time the groceries sit in my fridge because I can never find the energy to cook.

So, can we stop letting someone’s ability (or inability) to work or go to school determine how severe their depression is? Do we really need to compare? Is that really going to help any of us? We’re all struggling and hurting. Why make it worse by making it a competition?

Your pain is valid. Your struggle is valid. I see you. We’ll get there.

Photo by David Kennedy on Unsplash

Originally published: November 8, 2019
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