I can’t remember the first time I felt depressed or exactly how depressed I was when I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 14. But what I do know is that over the years, my depression has gotten worse. 4 years after my initial diagnosis of depression, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II and Major Depression.
However, I don’t always “seem” depressed. You couldn’t pick me out of a crowd and say, “She looks really depressed.” It’s not that I'm trying to mask my depression – though I do hide it occasionally – it's that I have high functioning depression. It's not an actual diagnosis, but instead, it's more of a way of life. I can get out of bed, get ready for the day, work, and spend some time with my friends and family even when my depression is weighing me down. This doesn't mean that those days are easy, or that I'm not depressed, it means that I have taught myself how to function even on my bad days.
Like many other people struggling with depression, there are days where getting out of bed seems even harder than running a marathon. Some days, I feel like there are heavy chains around my ankles and that I'm running on an empty tank. I get through nearly every day with a smile on my face, completing *almost* all of my daily responsibilities and activities. But believe me, on those days, I can still feel incredibly depressed. On those days, I just want to lie down and cry. My energy tank is completely empty, and sometimes I get to be so sad that I'll begin to feel numb. It's not on a daily basis that the depression gets this bad, but when it does, going through everyday motions seems like an impossible task. However, most days, even if I'm still feeling down and depressed, I always try to get to work, and again, I try to keep myself busy. Whether that means having a girl's night or being around my family, I still muster up the energy to make time for others and myself.
There are many days I feel that my depression isn't as severe as it's diagnosed as. So in November, I did a mental health log. Every night throughout the month, I'd color in my calendar for how I felt that day. When November 30th came, I looked at the log I had created and I realized that I really do have the correct diagnosis regarding my depression. Almost every day in November, was blue (which meant I had felt sad that day). There were other days in the month that weren't completely blue or even blue at all. But I noticed that blue encompassed most of the days in November. This log I completed validated my thoughts and feelings that I do live with Major Depression. On some of the sad days, I tried to find little things that helped me feel a little happier, even if it only lasted an hour or so; whether that was meeting a friend for coffee instead of cancelling or getting up early to go to the gym rather than hitting the snooze button and crawling back into bed.
I continue to struggle with Major Depression every day, but I'm learning how to live and function with it. It definitely isn't easy to stay busy and get out of bed in the morning. And yes, I do allow myself to have time to cry or sleep in and rest all day or do whatever I need to do to get through the day. Sometimes that means taking a day to myself with nothing on the calendar and other days it means doing things I genuinely enjoy that don't have to get done in a timely manner or aren't on my to-do list.
Being able to function highly even with the diagnoses that I have has also proven to be difficult. I started believing that I wasn't really "that" depressed, even after seeing the mood tracker log I did and completing several assessments with my doctor (which all indicated that I do have Major Depression). But because I have taught myself to function so well, I began to believe that no one would believe me if I said I was depressed, which only made me try harder to keep functioning and living the way that I had been.
So, yes, I can get out of bed and function as a seemingly "normal" person - if "normal" is even an actual way of being. I still go to work, spend quality time with my family and friends, and get things done. But that doesn't mean that I don't struggle with depression and everything that comes along with the disorder. Living with high functioning depression has been a constant battle with myself. When I get through the day with seemingly no problem, I doubt my diagnosis. But when I really stop and think of all the things I did that day, really realizing how well I functioned, I start to realize how overwhelmed and exhausted I feel. It's a constant back-and-forth internal battle I have with myself.
Living with high functioning depression is both a blessing and a curse. I'm glad that I'm able to function and not spend my days in bed, even when that's all I really want to do. Since completing my mental health log in November, I take time to validate my feelings. I can appreciate how highly I function given my diagnoses, and I can also remind myself that it's okay to be depressed and it's okay to take a day to rest. Living with high functioning depression has not made my depression any less real. It is not a coping mechanism to "mask" my depression from those around me; it has just given me the opportunity to find the strength to work, spend time with friends, and find the motivation to do things that I love to do even when my depression gets bad. This "way of life", as I like to call it, is complicated. I still feel all my feelings but I still manage to get through the day and get everything done in a seemingly timely manner. It hasn't made my life easier but it hasn't made it harder either. When I muster up the energy to get through my bad days without staying in bed all
day and I get up and moving, I'm grateful I can function so well when running on empty.
As I said before, my depression is still real and can be debilitating at times, but living with high functioning depression helps me get through the day and enjoy time with my friends, or doing what I love. It honestly is both a blessing and a curse, living with high functioning depression, but it is a way of life that I choose to embrace.