What it is & How it Looks
High-Functioning Depression is a form of the illness that is not intense enough to noticeably affect the ability to perform daily responsibilities such as work and domestic duties but can persist for years, leading to more functional impairment over time than acute episodes of major depression.
What does it feel like to live with high functioning depression?
High functioning depression can hit you at random times. Most of the time you are living your best life, functional and moving through your day as most people would. You get up, you work hard, you play hard. The unfortunate part is when the functions of normal day to day operations end, those feelings that you have been keeping at bay can come up like bad food. It almost feels like it’s about to regurgitate at any given moment. So you try to stay busy and work hard until you are so exhausted that you sleep in those empty moments instead of being left with energy, space, and time to deal with those emotions that cause fleeting but powerful depression symptoms.
Describe a good day/bad day.
A good day is being so busy and full with positive things to consume your life with that you have no time or energy to feel or deal with any amount of sadness, anxiety or depression that may surface. A bad day can start with those negative feelings that you are not enough, that it doesn’t matter, that no matter what you do, this sadness won’t go away.
You wake up with a lump in your throat, heart palpitations, in tears not even knowing where they’re coming from. It requires immense effort to pull yourself out of bed and emotionally force your day to day actions until you are out of that rut. Everything can bring you to tears… even good things because that feeling of eventually losing it overtakes the joy that you have from having it. Family, kids, financial security, health, all feel like it will be taken. Hopelessness & helplessness are conflated into one overwhelming, all-consuming emotion. It can get scary.
How do you get through the workday on a bad day?
Sometimes, nothing gets done. I can literally be in a long drawn out daze all day or it takes all day to get a few items complete. For me, because I am in public relations and I work with individuals and companies that champion a great cause or true story, it can take me into an even deeper depression. I can be working on a story or a pitch and while I’m typing, writing and thinking I have tears streaming down my face. That may actually work to the advantage of my client because I have so much heart and passion around meaningful stories but it’s pretty scary because the emotions run so deep. Do you go with it? Let it drive you and fuel your ability to convey the strength of the message?
Because I have lost people to suicide and drug addiction, it’s very scary to allow myself to feel the depths of the emotions that are going through my mind and heart. I personally think I have found a way to pull back before it crosses a line but you just never know. I realized with the help of a friend that when we are dealing with deep emotions and anxiety, sometimes we forget to breathe. The first thing I do when I realize that I’m sinking is to start to take deep breaths. That immediately brings me back to reality and the current situation.
What is the difference between depression and high functioning depression?
I think that depression itself can be temporary and short-term. It can be temporarily treated with medication or therapy. High functioning depression is a permanent state of living where you actually have to build your treatment into your lifestyle. I think it takes a huge reality check to come to terms with the fact that there are some things that have happened in your life that will never go away. (ACE) adverse childhood experiences leave a permanent stain on many individuals. It cannot be erased. It can be regulated with medication but, who wants to take medication for the rest of their life?
In essence, you must find a way to deal with these fleeting thoughts and emotions that will come up at times based on situations that you may go through in your adult life on a regular basis. High functioning is not allowing those feelings and emotions to take you into a permanent place of disability like substance abuse and self-mutilation or even violent behavior or criminal activity.
Any thoughts or tips for people who are struggling with this but haven’t admitted it to themselves or asked for help?
Those heart palpitations and that tightness in your throat, the random stomach aches when you’re not physically sick, those headaches that seem to come and go when nothing has happened to cause them are reasons to go speak with the doctor. When a doctor can’t find medical reasons for your issues, your next step a mental health therapist. I was placed on medication for extreme migraines for over a year. I didn’t like how the medication made me feel and I wanted to get rid of the symptoms permanently so I had to acknowledge what was bringing those headaches on.
Know this for sure, there is a cause and effect for everything. There’s a solution for every problem. My headaches were a problem. I was not willing to have medication be a permanent solution. So, I had to finally acknowledge the emotional mass that I had been avoiding that was causing the headaches. I changed my approach. I change my lifestyle. I changed my coping mechanisms. Most importantly, I acknowledge that there would always be something that would trigger my depression and anxiety. Knowing that those feelings don’t scare me as much as they once used to. Now, I deal with them head-on.
Any other insights?
I want to be honest in regards to exercise and working out. More than anything, getting your body and mind in the best shape possible is the most effective combatant to negative emotional feelings. The endorphins that are released by exercise and maximizing your body’s capabilities is one of the best medications for depression, anxiety another negative feelings. If you are capable of some sort of physical exercise exertion, do it. Commit to it. Commit to your health and wellness, body and soul. It’s better than any medication.
I have been dealing with long-term clinical depression for almost 20 years. I witnessed a murder when I was almost 5 years old. Both of my parents have been addicted to drugs and alcohol. I have been assaulted twice. My mother passed away due to an overdose. I moved back home to raise her 2 daughters that found her on the kitchen floor. There are days that I cannot even lift my arms due to the weight of the depression. I have taken long baths to camouflage my tears in case my husband saw me.
With all of this weighing down on me regularly, I have been able to successfully raise 4 children, raise my 2 sisters and be an active member of our community. I am the first African American woman elected to the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, on the executive board on another business organization and successfully married since 2001. I penned a memoir earlier this year and people that have known me for decades never knew that I suffered from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. This just lets you know, people wear masks all the time. You just never know what a person has been through.
Tonya McKenzie is a PR Consultant and child advocate. She is the author of A Child’s Memories of Cartoons & Murder, owner of Sand & Shores PR.
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