The hell of high-functioning depression

If you’ve never experienced this, it’s hard to understand. (I imagine chronic pain is similar. I imagine high-functioning autism is similar as well.)

Everyone (I assume) occasionally doesn’t feel like doing some task. It takes a little get-up-and-go to get it done. The bit of internal oomph that pushes you over the threshold between doing and not doing.

In a bout of high-functioning depression, most of life is like that.

Getting dressed, brushing teeth, making meals, cleaning up meals, drinking enough water, going to work and Doing the Thing, taking care of kids, meal planning, grocery shopping, exercising, reading, cleaning, moving from one space to another, making phone calls, paying bills, etc., etc., etc.

Unlike full-blown depression, these tasks are largely doable. There’s just no juice left at the end of it. Or maybe the light under the butt burns out at the end of what’s necessary but before achieving important-but-not-necessary. Or maybe “necessary” becomes redefined more strictly.

I have struggled with depression off and on since I was at least in high school. 10th grade is the first time I remember feeling suicidal. The rest of it probably goes back farther than that, but I don’t remember specifically. (My mom has told me repeatedly that I’ve been a problem since kindergarten; I remember her talking to my 4th grade teacher, not knowing “what to do with [me]”; I suspect the effects of all of that manifested in less than ten years.)

Being in the depression pit is awful, but I’ve slid down that enough times that, for the most part, I know what the top of the slide looks like and how to keep myself out of it. And there are a few friends who can be helpful with an SOS.

When I’m depressed and barely functioning, I feel like just a shell moving through space. I don’t think anyone would mistake me for happy—especially people who know me pretty well—though most wouldn’t assume the internal mess to be as bad as it is. (Social media has changed whether or not I might be mistaken for happy.)

But that’s not high-functioning depression. (I’m going to call it HFD for the rest of this post, for simplicity, though it’s not something I’ve ever seen with initialism*, so maybe don’t go using it with other people and expecting they’ll know what you’re talking about.)

I was caught up in HFD for years before I moved to Arizona. I was playing in a community band, and I brought a book with me to read at rehearsals during down time. The book was The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon.

Someone else in the band noted it and said something to the effect of, “You can’t be depressed! You’re always smiling!”

That sums it up.

(Honestly, if he had just assumed I was reading it because it was interesting, it would have been better than directly dismissing the possibility that I was depressed.)

In that space, I am struggling. Hard. With making everything in life happen.

Putting on a happy face and powering through has always been a skill of mine.

Letting go of garbage and not forcing life to happen lubricates the downward spiral. Can’t just sit at home and relax. It’s not relaxing—it feeds the demons.

The other piece, at least for me, is that it’s somewhat chronic. I’d optimistically estimate that I have a 50-50 split. Recent years have been harder than average. Even after a lot of therapy, a lot of work on myself, a deep interest in psychology and brain plasticity, and hyper-self-awareness, I’m still triggered fairly easily by people and situations who treat me like my mom did. Which, unfortunately, is a lot of people and situations. And it’s not good.

Friends burn out on being supportive, which I both understand and despair. Another compounding issue? Social isolation is probably my biggest trigger, so there’s a giant looming downward spiral right there, too. I can’t reach out because I can’t hear “no.” Especially if it’s in response to two or three or four or five “help”s in a row.

I saw a meme that resonated with me a while back. “The worst part about being strong is that no one asks if you’re OK.”

I wonder sometimes if no one asks because I’m strong, or if no one asks because they don’t want the answer.

Strong. Resilient. Qualities I’m glad to have but tired of needing.

Exhausted. Lonely. Words that are really pretty scary to put out there to the world. Especially when the world is tired of hearing about it.

(I wrote this about six months ago and was very much not feeling OK when I wrote it. I’m editing and publishing it today, but today, I’m feeling more or less OK. It’s not an all-call. It’s just talking about how life is sometimes.)


*Unrelated, except that I looked it up for this post: initialism is when you make an abbreviation from the first letter of each word in a phrase. An acronym is the same, but you pronounce the subsequent abbreviation as a word. (e.g. FBI vs. NASA)


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