So I missed World Mental Health day this year because I was ill, physically but even though I’m a couple of days late I really wanted to talk about high functioning depression precisely because there is a lack of understanding and awareness of it even from people experiencing it. It flies under the radar, affecting the people we would least expect it to and though it shows itself in different ways to what we think of as depression it is every bit as serious.
So what does depression look like to you? Not being able to get out of bed? Living on nothing but crisps? Crying at the drop of a hat or being unable to carry out basic tasks?
For many people this is their experience of depression – chronic, all encompassing and debilitating. But there is another type of depression that can go unacknowledged and untreated because it doesn’t present with such severe symptoms. People experiencing high functioning depression get up, go to work, collect their kids from school, laugh at jokes and go out with their friends. They just don’t enjoy those things quite as much as they feel they should.
Here are just a few symptoms of high functioning depression but it’s different for everyone who experiences it…
Trouble feeling happy: while it seems others are enjoying life you are living life in a bubble, your feelings of happiness are dampened, muted. You’re not be sure when it started but the things you used to love and enjoy now feel like an echo of an emotion. You feel you should be happy but you just aren’t.
Self-critical and hostile in your thoughts about yourself: “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be grateful for what I’ve got?” “Why do people put up with me when I’m miserable all the time?” And even when you achieve it’s not quite good enough, “well that was lucky, I got away with that one!”
Short tempered or easily frustrated: You solve problems at work all day, you comfort your friends and solve complex year 3 maths problems when your kid spills his juice you feel like you’re going to explode, it feels like a massive overreaction. But at least you’re feeling something!
Everything makes you tired: Activities that you once enjoyed suddenly seem like really hard work – socialising, spending time with family, work is so exhausting. This is because you are expending a massive amount of energy perform your task while simultaneously hiding the dread and anxiety you’re feeling.
Anxiety: You’re worried about the past, things that you can’t change but that you regret and that cause you to cringe, you worry that other people remember them too and that that’s how they see you. You worry about the future, if you can feel like this when things are going well how will you cope when things go wrong?! So you worry, plan, agonise. Happy things make you feel sad, because you can’t join in with them or because good things can’t last. You’re worried that you’re going to drop the ball and then everyone will know that you’re not good enough.
Increasingly turning to escapism: Substance use, film/tv, gaming an increasing reliance on your phone. You have to keep your mind occupied all the time, always doing something because when you slow down the sadness and emptiness starts to creep in. This level of escapism can not only fuel disconnection with those around us but also separates us from ourselves.
Isolation: On the outside you look like you’re doing great, you’re achieving, your getting the kids to school on time, you’re making your own christmas cards (and they’re ace). In addition to criticising yourself for feeling low there is the fear that no-one else will understand, there’s no way that anyone can see that you’re struggling to keep your head above water. There’s no-one you can share it with because “what have you got to be sad about?” “count your blessings” “you don’t look depressed”.
Many people live silently with functioning depression, not recognising it or not feeling able to ask for help or worthy of it. But in addition to it being a hollow, miserable experience it can also lead to a more debilitating depression. High functioning depression can make you feel trapped and hopeless but there is support available.
Counselling can help you to understand your feelings and recognise what is happening to you so you can learn to respond to yourself with compassion rather than criticism. Identifying your triggers and reducing their impact can bring more balance into your life can help reduce the symptoms of depression so that you can start to experience positive feelings again, helping you feel connected to your friends, your family and yourself.
If you see yourself in this post and feel that you’re ready to reconnect with your life please get in touch with your GP or a therapist for more information and support.