I’ve seen a couple of posts about high functioning depression lately, and wanted to give you my spin on living with the ups and downs of the condition. High functioning depression, sometimes referred to as dysthymia, is generally characterised as someone who suffers from the typical elements of depression, but doesn’t necessarily display these characteristics in the same way as “normal” depression. This person often hides their depression or anxiety very well – hidden by a successful career, a strong relationship and a good social life. But they still lie awake many nights mulling over all the things they did wrong years ago, crying silent tears.
This is me. I was afraid for a while to use the label “high functioning” because I thought it sounded a little self-indulgent, but the more I read about it the more I realise how accurate it is. I’ve suffered from depression on and off since the age of 17. Now 30, I’ve been on my longest stint of treatment for the condition, having been diagnosed with post-natal depression just three weeks after the birth of my son in November 2015. My other half was well warned to watch me for the signs given my history, and in fairness to him he persevered as I insisted that I was fine, and drove me to the doctor on a dark, rainy evening in late November.
It’s not really considered post-natal anymore, almost 20 months on, but my body and mind never really recovered from the trauma, and so I remain on medication and probably will do for another year at least. Not many people know this of course, just my family and close friends. Why would anyone even guess, really? I have a full-time job that I love. I run two freelance businesses in my spare time. I’m a loving mother to a gorgeous little boy. I’m planning my wedding to my wonderful fiancé Sean in just under 10 months. I meet with my friends and go out as often as I can; I like to shop for pretty clothes and eat nice things.
So what’s wrong with me? Why, you ask, am I on medication and in counselling, when my life looks like it’s going so well?
My life is good. I know that. I don’t doubt that I’m a good mother. Funnily enough, while post-natal depression often affects women in such a way that they think they are not good enough for their children, I was the opposite. Being a mom was the only thing I could cope with back then. I had to show everybody that I was capable of looking after him, I didn’t want to let him down. So I didn’t.
Usually, it happens in the evenings. I’m sitting on the couch after a day of work, the little boy is in bed, and my other half is sitting beside me. All of a sudden I am overwhelmed. I feel tears brimming behind my eyes, and I bite my lip to try and stop it. I breathe deeply in through my nose to stop them from spilling out. But I can’t stop it. I seem to have a never-ending supply of tears. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to be left alone, I want to lie down and sleep. Mostly, now, the thing that sets me off is a memory of my brother, who died in January. Out of nowhere comes a memory of the phone call from my sister to tell me. Or the three hour drive to get home. Or my parents and remaining siblings hugging in a circle in our sitting room that night. Or seeing him in the coffin.
Other times, I feel like I’m losing interest in the things I love. I am usually ambitious and enthusiastic at work – but sometimes I feel numb towards it and don’t want to try. I know it’ll pass in a few days, but it’s not a nice cloud to dwell in for those few days. I don’t want to sabotage my good life, and sometimes my “high functioning depression” wants to do that to me.
So remember that sometimes a friend or relative may not always show the typical symptoms of depression. We want to show how good we’re doing, so we put on a brave face. It’s nighttime that it comes in, or early morning, when the world is silent or still.
Everyone talks about it being “ok to not be ok”. I say the opposite. It’s not ok. It’s not always just little things. Sometimes it’s very big things that can cause earthquakes in your mind. The thing I do know, is that there is always help available. It may be in tablet form, it may be a friend whose shoulder you can cry on, it may be calling your mom and bawling down the phone for 30 minutes, just to let it out. Don’t be ashamed to ask someone for help. Talk to your doctor, call Aware, tell a friend. Don’t let it all build up inside. The only reason I can be “high functioning” is because I’m getting the help I need to cope – I might not be coping 100% of the time, but at least I am coping.