Imagine a person who is struggling with depression. Are they unable to get out of bed? Failing out of school? Spending all of their time alone? Are they always crying? This is the picture painted for us by pop culture and the pharmaceutical companies – and it’s a real problem.
High-functioning depression sometimes looks like this. More often than not, though, it’s more complex.
Depression can hide behind bright smiles and good grades. It can live within social butterflies and athletic success stories. It can raise well-behaved children, maintain a clean house, and cook fantastic meals. It can double a company’s quarterly profits. It goes to class, hangs out with friends, and shows up to work on time. Really, it can look like anything. It makes an art form of blending in. It hides within us, and it hides from us. It carves out holes in our being. It eats us away from the inside, before we even know it is there. All too often, it doesn’t show on the outside at all.
High-functioning depression is insidious because it is quiet.
It hides beneath layers of perfectionism. It feeds off of denial and shame. It convinces us not to get help. We don’t look like the hopeless and unkempt women in the anti-depressant commercials. We are breadwinners. We are caregivers. We are doers. We run the PTA and organize the bake sale. We facilitate board meetings. We go to spin class. We land big accounts at work.People depend on us.
We don’t look hopeless or helpless. We haven’t cried in years. We don’t spend our days lying in bed, wasting away, unable to face the world. We aren’t mentally ill. We’re high functioning! We get things done, for crying out loud!
So we don’t get help.
And the void inside of us continues to grow.
We lose more of our lives to this disease. We attend our children’s soccer games, but we aren’t really there. We grit our teeth and hide our irritability. Our inner world grows more desperate. With the exception of the occasional dark joke or sharp comment, we keep it bottled up. We don’t get help, because nobody would ever believe that we needed it.
We don’t believe it ourselves.
Our depression may isolate us from the people who care about our well-being the most. It causes us to withdraw. It can prevent us from showing up for the ones we love – even when we are physically present. It may irritate us into making hurtful comments or cruel jokes. “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad,” wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There are many ways our depression can make us lonely. There are many ways our loneliness can make us depressed.
“The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived,” explained Katie McGarry.
Getting help is not the same as admitting defeat. In fact, it is just the opposite. Asking for help is a difficult thing to do. It makes you strong. It just might give you your life back.