Surviving Your High-Functioning Depression

We all know the model. We know how depressions supposed to look. Smelly clothes and messy hair. Unread texts and ready meals.

We’ve probably all been there too, from time to time.

But what about our high-functioning cousins? Surely they deserve some recognition too. After all, they suffer just the same.

The first time I encountered a high-functioning depressive, I must admit I was struck that they’d even entered my therapy room at all. After all, they were early. Smartly dressed. Firm hand-shake. Warm facial expression. Not my usual clientele.

What is High Functioning Depression?

Well, according to Mayra Mendez, PhD, psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California “Depression may inhibit the desire for activity and action, but high functioning individuals tend to forge ahead in an effort to succeed with goals,” says . “The drive to accomplish often sustains action and moves high-functioning individuals towards getting things done.”

I think that makes sense. Both sets of depressive-types struggle under the surface, but those that are high functioning’s drive-system, outweighs the desire to rest.

What Does High-Functioning Depression Look Like?

As the session continued I was fascinated to learn that they actually struggled to hold themselves together. Their demeanour was so relaxed. Their hair and make up was flawless, and their laces neatly tied. It was truly hard to comprehend.

They spoke of their family life; the struggles they’d had with their husband and their children. The pressure they were under at work and how they’d been juggling for nearly a year now and basically, they were getting tired.

But they never faltered. And that’s what always stuck out to me. Their routine was impeccable; followed to the letter. Their work performance was superior and their home immaculate. If I remember correctly they even went to the gym several times a week and had a keen interest in cooking. So why then were they feeling so depressed if their life appeared so perfect?

I guess on reflection it’s just how you cope with it. The philosophy given was very much: “I’d rather be depressed in an immaculate house, than one full of Pizza boxes and dog hair”. Fair enough, I thought. But how do you summon the energy? Like I said, all my depressed clients couldn’t find the drive to get things done.

It seems that although on the outside they appeared very differently, both sets of depressives were tormented by their internal world. In this case, they couldn’t stop being like this. It would physically cause them more anguish not to be high functioning. It was not their tonic but rather their difficulty. The treatment plan began to feel more clear the more the session went on.


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How to Survive Your High-Functioning Depression?

Step 1: Talk

You should probably start by telling someone how you feel. It’s not going to change anything, you’re still going to be you. But people should probably know. It’s not obvious to anyone especially when you’re a proficient at hiding it as you probably are. Get off your high horse, and let them know you’ve been struggling.

Step 2: Let Go

Despite the effectiveness of your cleaning routine, and despite the fact your skin routine is absolutely on point, and despite the fact you easily surpass 5 fruit and veg a day; something’s got to give. You are not going to die if you miss the gym this week. You are not losing any years from your life if you just stop. Stop and learn to rest. Learn to not be so perfect all the time. Learn that your family can actually cope without you running around crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ for them. Learn to let that laundry pile up and those dishes soak. I know it’s going to feel uneasy, but believe me this is a damn site easier to deal with than what’s round the corner for you if you don’t learn to rest now.

Step 3: Rest

SLEEP. You must sleep. Start going to bed early and invest in a great book. Go to bed an hour before your partner just so you can sit there and read in silence. Just be alone for a while away from your chores and achievements. Just read, drift off, and get enough sleep. Make this a priority above any housework or emails. You owe it to yourself.

Step 4: Reward

Buy yourself some ‘me-time’. Chances are you’ve been holding the fort. It’s a lot to hold all by yourself. It’s no wonder you’ve been depressed. You haven’t had any time to catch your breath. It’s been a lot and there’s a lot of respsonbilty riding on your shoulders. But – as the old adage says – you cannot pour from an empty cup. Maybe you do do more than your fair shar around the house. Maybe others don’t do things to your standard. Either way, these things do not compare to you feeling like you again. Buy yourself some me-time and get back to being you again. ASAP!

Step 5: Thank

Thank yourself. Thank yourself for being you, and for being so hard working, and despite carrying around all the weight of other people’s expectations this whole time, you never wavered. You always held up your end of the bargain and you never let anything slide. You should be celebrated. You deserve it. So, go on. Thank yourself. treat yourself. Bring some compassion online just for you. Your family is richer for having you, and now you deserve a pat on the back. This might feel weird at first, but just now that you deserve it.


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