One in four people will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives, and most of the time it is a silent battle, so chances are – you will know at least one of us! Whether it is your colleague, your teacher or even that nice girl that serves you your morning coffee with a constant smile on her face, what you don’t see is that behind that smile is screaming.
We all have a stereotypical view of depression and anxiety, a sufferer having to force themselves out of bed every morning to struggle through the day, only to have themselves fail at every hurdle and end up back home again. Returning back to their duvet of self pity to cry and fret about the next day – am I getting warm? Sure, a lot of people think like that, and hell, I’m sure there are plenty of people with depression who do decide to deal with their depression in such a way – and that is fine! There is no right or wrong way to deal with this bitch of a condition, either way it’s going to hurt like hell and there is no point in pretending otherwise, so however a person copes is perfectly valid and acceptable.
In most circles, high functioning depression is seen as more “acceptable” and certainly seen as easier and a “less serious” form of the condition but I must say that I fail to see how this opinion is formed. As someone with “high functioning depression” I can tell you that it is in no way bloody easy! If I were not so vocal about my mental health, then most people tell me that they would have no idea that I suffer with bipolar and anxiety – something which I am unsure how to take if I am honest.
I talk about my mental illnesses openly as I am in no way ashamed of them. Sure, I am aware that some people in my life certainly think less of me because of them, and there are many who treat me with a new sense of disregard as soon as they become aware of my conditions. However, I believe that people need to speak more openly about mental health in general so that we can help to remove this stigma and in doing so, remove the need for people like me to feel they have to hide away and struggle through everything on their own without being seen as weak.
High functioning depression comes with all of the same struggles that come with lower functioning depression, as well as a whole host of new and “exciting” ones. To maintain a (relatively!) normal appearance, efforts must be doubled. Going out to see friends regularly becomes a chore sometimes more than a pleasure and I feel I cannot use my anxiety as an excuse as they will only take it personally, and “I should be able to do these things anyway damn it!”
Going to work every day and maintaining a happy and smiling appearance when sometimes all I want to do is to literally curl up in my bath (personal choice, I’ve spent many an hour crying in an empty bath) and scream into the silence until I stop feeling so intensely. Dealing with urges, as well as the reality of, self harm and thinking to yourself “well I can’t cut there or people will see through my uniform and know that I’m struggling” – I mean God forbid anyone have the chance to offer you help am I right?
High functioning depression often comes with a demand for perfectionism and so is often followed by a lack of ability to give yourself any slack! I refuse to allow myself any leigh weigh when it comes to my mental illness affecting my life, it’s just not happening. If I promised someone that I would do something, or if I have a commitment then I am following through even if it means I make myself ill.
I, like many others, only get through a long shift by having a 2 minute cry in the toilet before slapping myself to get it back together again. Wiping my eyes, pinching my cheeks to draw colour and practising that old faithful smile. It’s funny really that the one feature that people often comment on to me is my smile. That I “brighten their day” as I am always happy and smiling when they see me. The really sad thing is that I actually take great pride in that. Although I know that a large portion of the time I have been smiling I have been pretty much dead behind the eyes, it proves to me that my façade is at least a convincing one and that I am not hurting anyone. That is my greatest fear, that I could possibly make someone else feel the way my mental illness can make me feel sometimes – and that is why I refuse to lay off myself.
As the pace of every day living gets faster and faster, it becomes very clear that more and more people are suffering with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, but that a huge portion of these are keeping quiet and making themselves so much worse. Why is it that we think it is better to slowly kill ourselves by not taking proper care, than to actually ask for help!?
So no, although all kinds of depression and mental health disorders are hell on earth to endure and fight your way through, “high functioning depression” is sure as hell not easier. Just because I may appear to have my shit together most of the time, I assure you that behind this trademark Emmie smile I’m crying 90% of the time…I just like to pretend otherwise!