What is it like to be depressed but high functioning? It is fucking terrible. When you tell people you are depressed, they don’t always believe you. When you find yourself finally comfortable enough with someone to tell them exactly, and not the carefully fabricated lie you had been trying to live, but exactly how you feel and they tell you it is too much for them it actually feels like clutching glass in both hands. There is no word for someone who suffers from depression. We are not Depressists or Depressionics; we have no title for the completely debilitating mental state of our core. Owning up to depression while trying to remain optimistic and cheerful like everyone tells you to do is mutually exclusive. They tell you not to bottle up your emotions, but when you try to release the carbonated gasses from your head you are told to shut it down.
The problem with being depressed but high functioning means that your friends, family, and coworkers all have a certain expectation from you. Some people may even envy you, falsely thinking your life is grand and beautiful like an Instagram at face value.
That is what being depressed but happy feels like, whatever void Instagram is. It is pretty and filtered and not the truth.
We have all come to accept that our social media lives are not our real lives, but we put a lot of effort into crafting a world in which we get to live out the lives we want. I packed up my things, quit my job, and moved to Australia with my best friend. I posted photos of the time I fed wild dolphins from the side of a boat, and of how silly adjusting to an accent was, and of my new, hot Australian boyfriend. I really did those things, I had those experiences and in those small moments I did feel some elation close to bliss. I could sit on the sand and look out at the ocean and try to describe to myself what color I was seeing because I hadn’t seen it before. The ocean was blue and green and gold and red all at the same time. I had moments of serenity and calm and complete happiness. I have a memory of sitting on said boyfriend’s couch watching David Attenborough documentaries with my legs curled over his and my head in the crook of his neck and shoulder and I experienced perfection. True, honest, perfection. He heard every word I said and he laughed every time I tried to be funny and he made my body feel lighter than air. We were a bit wild and unencumbered.
However, even in that beautiful, picturesque moment, I was depressed. Even when I was feeling like I was falling in love, I was still in fact falling. I was questioning. I was fearful. I was clinging to the moment, so afraid of the future. We broke up so shortly after that, for many reasons of which neither of us hold against the other. We were symptoms of “bad timing.” I still hold my very attractive and courageous ex boyfriend in high regard. (He made me describe him that way, but of course I would be lying if I said I didn’t see him that way, too. And if he’s reading this, thank you for those moments.)
Depression is like a cancer of the mind.
It just happens to some people, and the fight against it can sometimes kill you. People around you who begin to see your sickness become disgusted by you. They cannot understand what you feel, or why you feel it. They say to not dwell on the bad things, but don’t they understand that you are not dwelling, but battling? Do they not understand that warfare must require participation? My depression is fighting me, stabbing me, bleeding me dry, how can I just close my eyes and not feel that pain? Depression physically aches the body, not just the mind.
When you are high functioning, people assume you are crying wolf when you say this. They assume you are desperate for attention. Maybe you are starved for attention, but that is additional, and the depression is not make-believe. I have a theory that extroverted people, not outgoing personalities but the people that truly draw energy from being around others, are more likely to suffer depression and are more likely to mask it well. We cannot be alone; we actually don’t know how. I am a serial dater. The longest I spent being single was a period of eight months after I ruined what I am convinced of to this day was my one chance at true love and happiness ever after. I ruined it when my depression became out of control and I stopped masking it. I could only be around the people that didn’t know me and didn’t care to know me because the ones who cared for me asked questions I didn’t want to answer and demanded me to be better than I wanted to be. I wanted to be pathetic for a while. I was so tired of pretending I was adequate. Those eight months were my penance, in a way, and were miserable. Now my average time spent being single is about a week.
I get a strange high from new relationships, but it comes with a lot of secret anxiety. I hate the beginning with someone when you are getting to know that person more intimately and go on fun dates. That part is usually the part people love the most, but not me. It makes me crazy. I just want to be comfortable with a person, and thus the weird high. It feels so good getting to know someone that I get too comfortable too fast, and so it ends prematurely and so I hate the beginning of relationships. I want to fast forward to the intimacy and the trust, things you can’t fast forward to. That is when I truly feel safe and when my depression feels conquerable, because I am not fighting alone.
I’ll say it again because I think it is fitting and worth remembering: being depressed but high functioning is like clutching glass in both hands and pretending like you aren’t bleeding, like you then have to cook and clean with your gored palms. Your family is hungry and you must feed them. It is not crying wolf, and we are sorry it is too hard for you to hear about our sadness. We are sorry it is so draining for you to be the one we unload on all the time. No sarcasm, I swear. We are truly sorry. We need friendships, which means telling you the truth, finally, is the most liberating feeling in the world. It isn’t the same to say it to a therapist, though that really does help, but to tell someone we love the truth about our sick brains and to be loved still, to be loved in spite of it, is healing. We are sorry, that as our friend we may require that cross for you to bear.
We would take it away if we could.