I live with high functioning depression. If you met me casually you would probably never guess.
I am highly social, enigmatic, energized, funny, and warm. I am an includer, making sure everyone in the room is taken care of or has someone to talk to. I am not modest (ha – shocker, I know). Most things in my life are an open book and I share regularly on my blog very personal stories. I am confident, smart, and strong. I am a mom, a nurse, a wife, a daughter, a friend. I handle most of these roles really well, most of the time. But. Sometimes I am just keeping my head above water.
The feelings never really go away, though they do ebb and flow like the tides. I can pretty much always feel my toes dipping into the shallow waters of depression , the familiar signs of not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Eating more. Insomnia but always tired. Irritability. Loss of interest in things I normally enjoy. Body aches. Loneliness. Unexplained sadness. Feelings of being overwhelmed due to the demands of these many roles, even with small things that just should not bother me. Anxiety over achieving perfection and ridiculous ideals. Self critical, unnecessarily critical of others. I need to retreat. I need the isolation. I must withdraw.
Though I may seem like an extrovert, no. I am most definitely an ambivert. I get my soul restoring energy from time spent alone or with a select few. All that energy is sucked out of me when I engage in social demands and activities, even if they are quite enjoyable.
Sometimes, I indulge the withdrawal from the world, though that is not always possible. I will take a nap, I will cancel plans, I will write or read or watch mindless tv. Mostly, I just push on through. Cart the kids around, get dressed, put on a happy face for work, get through that meeting, pick up dinner, bathtimes, haircuts, pay the bills, birthday parties, holidays, and on and on and on and on…. And then sometimes I say NO to all of this.
I have been on medication in the past. It sort of helped, but not enough to make huge differences for me. I will most certainly reach out for help and try medication again if I need it. For now, though, I have a husband, sister, and mom who are (IMO) better than any therapist and waayyyyy cheaper. They know me. They offer fresh perspective. They support me no matter what. When I am on my last straw on a busy day, they pick up the phone and say, “I’m here.” A support system is imperative for me. Without my coping mechanisms in place, I would be in a darker place, much more frequently.
As I have gotten older I have adapted to and made room for the depression. It is never overtly welcome, but I now choose to greet it like an old friend. When you have lived with it for many years, its power over you decreases somehow, at least in my experience. (Obviously this can go the other way, but again, this is how I experience depression from an extremely personal viewpoint).
I know at times it will strengthen, and yet I also know it will improve. I would be worried if it overstayed or exceeded its normal boundries and reach out for more help, but this is just a part of who I am. I stay engaged in life, but I listen better to my body about what it needs during the more intense periods of time. I try to be kind to myself. Sometimes I know a quick walk or jog will boost my energy for the day. And it does, it helps. But other times, I need to crawl into bed and shut out the world. Thankfully, I am usually able to function and get through the days, and for that I am grateful. Those suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, do not always get that luxury.
My husband has adapted to me over the years. He is always understanding, even when he does not understand. At the very least, he accepts me and offers a warm hug when I need it. Kids are easier to distract, but as they get older I know they will ask questions. I plan to speak openly with them about depression and what it is, what it is not. I know I must also watch for these symptoms in their lives, as there is definitely a genetic component involved for us. Mental illness and struggling with emotions/feelings in this household will not be stigmatized. We will chat openly and encourage questions.
At the end of the day, we all are just doing the best we can to get through. We are all different, and different modalities of treatment will work for different people in various circumstances. However, I firmly believe that we do not have to suffer alone. There is always some way to get help, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
Check out these interesting articles on high functioning depression, or dysthymia, if you can identify with anything I have written about. They are informative and interesting, and shed light on this topic that is all too familiar for me. It was eye opening for me several years ago when I struggled to identify what the heck I was going through. Why did I always feel this persistent yet mild depression? How could I be simultaneously so down yet so so high functioning? All along, it has been dysthymia, my dear. And it is a part of who I am, not a failure to think positively or something to “just get over”. I would prefer to not deal with it but since it always occupies my mind, I choose to embrace it and look for opportunities to educate and help others.