The Dangers Of High-Functioning Depression And Anxiety

The Dangers Of High-Functioning Depression And Anxiety

High-functioning depression and anxiety, when left untreated, pose a danger to people who experience it.

It’s been 8 years since I was diagnosed with depression and 5 since I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety. For many people when I tell them, it comes as quite a shock. “Wow, you don’t seem depressed” or “I’ve never seen you panic about anything” is a rather common response. Reflecting on this, I can understand why it would come as a surprise. I graduated high school with above a 4.0 GPA because I loaded my schedule with Advanced Placement courses so I could get ahead in college.

I participated in sports, I volunteered, I had a job, and generally seemed to be doing pretty well. I was accepted into the colleges I applied to and started school in the fall, where I also excelled and became involved in many activities around me. I was functioning as a “normal” young adult, so how depressed or anxious could I be right?

My depression and anxiety seemed like a war going on inside my head, reeking havoc on my physical health and general outlook on life. You would never have known by looking at my grades, my endurance on the soccer field, my performance at work, or my interactions with peers. It was easy to go about my daily life and excel in public, my mind was too busy to be sad or nervous, but when I returned home I entered a different world.

I was inconceivably sad and overwhelmed reflecting on the day I had. I knew I had a list of things I needed to complete before I could fall asleep in good conscience, but I lacked all motivation to complete a single task. On the other hand, not completing anything made me irrationally fearful that I would not succeed. I was sitting in the shell of my body unable to do anything.

Do your homework. I can’t. If you don’t you’ll be a failure, you’ll never be accepted into a good college. I’m too tired to do anything tonight. If you don’t do anything tonight, your grades will plummet; your teacher will be disappointed with you.

I'd go back and forth with myself until I forced myself to agonizingly and poorly complete something.

The physical toll on my body was no less. My back hurt immensely, I experienced migraines frequently, my panic attacks made me feel like my heart was going to be ejected from my chest, and my outbursts of anger toward my family were uncontrollable. And despite my insisting “nothing was wrong” my mother took me to see a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist informed me that I experienced high-functioning depression and anxiety, which is not uncommon, especially in teens and young adults. High-functioning illnesses are scary in the fact that its easy for people who experience them to convince themselves that everything is fine, that they are just going through a phase because every other aspect of their lives are relatively normal.

Due to the “normal” levels of functioning in people who experience high-functioning depression or anxiety (or both), these people often go undetected by themselves, family, friends, co-workers, even medical professionals, and therefore don’t receive the treatment they need. Prior to receiving treatment, I was excelling in my personal and academic life, which made me question: what was the point in seeking treatment at all?

Our society is becoming more aware and accepting of mental illnesses, yet it is too common that people put the symptoms of mental illnesses in a box. I want to be explicitly clear when I say mental illnesses affect each person differently, not one experience with mental illness is identical. From therapy to medication to natural remedies, many treatments exist to help people who have depression or anxiety — but not receiving treatment often worsens the issue.

Many mental illnesses are invisible ailments, and high-functioning illnesses can often be silent, but that doesn’t mean they are not felt. We often hear that the people who fall victim to suicide “led perfectly normal lives” or their friends “had no idea they were sad enough to feel suicide was their only escape.”

Seeking treatment is not only a preventative measure to ensure symptoms don’t further progress; it is a proactive way to better your quality of life. As cliché as it sounds, with some simple ways to be proactive about your mental health, managing depression and anxiety is 100 percent attainable.

If you or someone you know experiences depression, anxiety, or a combination of both here are some ways to be proactive about your health and some important tips for when you are feeling low.

1. Know your body.

There are typically warning signs – bold or subtle changes- of when you are about to experience a little more of a struggle with your mental illness. Pay attention to these changes so you can take preemptive measures against your symptoms.

2. Have a solid support network.

Struggling with depression or anxiety is not something to be ashamed of. Millions of people are experiencing the same thing as you. Lean on people who can relate to what you are feeling, or find someone you trust that you are comfortable explaining your situation to. It’s good to have someone you can call, text, or talk to when you need a quick pick me up.

3. Give yourself some well-deserved attention.

Pamper yourself a little sometimes. You work really hard in your daily life and you manage your mental illness, appreciate yourself. It’s okay to have an extra helping of ice cream, buy those concert tickets, or just plain old relax for an afternoon. If you don’t take care of yourself, how are you expected to be able to perform at your best?

4. Exercise and eat right.

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times but it is a miracle what eating right and some exercise can do for your body. I love to think of the mantra “feel good, do good” because it's true; the better you feel the happier you behave. When you feel good it is reflected by how the people around you behave and leads to positive reinforcement.

5. Discover a hobby.

Finding an activity or hobby that you really enjoy can serve as a very positive distraction for negative things, and a mood boost for when you're feeling above average. Find a group of people

6. Five sense distraction.

If you are in a public place and feeling overwhelmed, you can use the five sense method to calm down. Focus and examine: 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, and 1 taste. Try to breathe through your nose as you complete this task and you will feel relieved in no time!

7. Don’t give up.

Treatments are typically not a quick fix, they take time, and yes a little energy. But the outcome is well worth it. Don’t give up on your treatment plan, on the people supporting you, or yourself. You are a powerful, resilient individual.

You can do this.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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The Truth Behind High Functioning Anxiety

How I plan to develop a new relationship with my anxiety.

I am just a girl. A girl with dreams. A girl with worries. A girl with so much love in her heart sometimes it hurts.

I am a girl that gets frustrated but not sad. A girl who complains a lot but is so grateful. A girl who loves creating inside jokes with complete strangers almost as much as the pursuit of making eye contact with every soul that passes by.

So it surprises people when I am physically unable to dial a simple seven-digit number and make a phone call. When I am physically unable to concentrate on anything important until I hear my teacher make it to my name at the bottom of the attendance list, as I rehearse in my mind whether or not I will say "here" or simply raise my hand. When I am physically unable to ask a store employee where to find an item I'm looking for because I'd rather waste 20 minutes trying to find it myself.

There are times where I feel totally alone. Don't get me wrong, I am surrounded by so many communities that play a role in my overall happiness as they support me in every area of my life. I have my home family, my home-friends family, my school-friends family, my education department family, and my diabetes family. As grateful as I am to have so many families that draw on my strengths and help me overcome my weaknesses, none of them specialize in anxiety. They find a way to help me through every other struggle in the whole wide universe except for this one. And that is what makes this so incredibly lonely. So incredibly lonely.

I feel like there's something wrong with me. I feel like I'm always overreacting when I find a task to be daunting because others don't even bat an eyelash. I feel like I'm making excuses and justifications and my reasons are almost never good enough, or at least not understood. It is exhausting to pretend you're okay with something that gives you anxiety, which you have to do often because you're afraid of the judgement you may receive as a consequence.

It is my biggest insecurity.

It's confusing, you know? I have worked so hard to build an empire of self-confidence. It started as a little box that looked like this [ ] and over the last couple of years I have filled it with leadership skills, perseverance, dedication, and courage. If you read one of my latest articles, you know I am an ambivert. Being an ambivert with anxiety is like a double whammy- my heart faces a lot of inner conflict as these aspects of my personality overlap, contradict and reinforce one another. I am just beginning to put the complicated pieces together.

But here's the thing. When I looked up "high functioning anxiety" online, I found so many things that do not apply to me. I am not a workaholic. I am a perfectionist but not in a Type A kind of way. I do not struggle with depression or have a hard time getting through each day. I don’t have any abnormal nervous habits. I do not avoid eye contact (remember, it's one of my favorite things), I do not hate making small talk, and I do not isolate myself (unless I'm introverting;).

But I worry. A lot. More than I should. About the future, things I can’t change, the unknown. I can’t fall asleep at night because my brain doesn't know how to shut off (apparently). I put too much pressure on myself to exceed expectations. I overthink I overthink I overthink. I don’t let little things go. I analyze conversations. I have trouble concentrating so I procrastinate. I have a crippling fear of letting people down. I am always thinking three steps ahead. I hate calling for take-out, going to the pharmacy, and navigating huge crowds. I hate driving on the highway, driving to anywhere I've never been, driving in the snow, and driving in the dark. I hate public speaking, I hate taking tests, and I hate when there is too much waiting time because I will think and worry and think some more.

This is what I tell people: if I don't have enough time to let myself think or worry about something and I just have to do it, then I'll do it. Sometimes I'm able to flip the switch and pretend I can do it until BABAM, see it wasn't that hard. But it was hard. I just have to pretend it's not.

I know that to get through life, there are times where that is my only option. Just pretend, persevere, and get it over with. And everybody gets nervous about things they've never done before, but then it gets better for them with time. Since I have high functioning anxiety, though, just because I prove I can do something once doesn't mean I'm suddenly cured of all my fears and next time will be an anxiety-free experience. It doesn't work like that. I don't work like that. I just have to keep pretending. It's not about the final product for me; it's all about the process.

I will have you know that I am quite the badass and I am very aware of how capable I am of accomplishing anything I want to- that part of my confident box is at an all-time high. But it's how I get there that matters to me. I know I am capable of reading a paragraph out loud in class. I know that I am very capable of putting gas in a car. I know that I am capable of driving to a nearby place that I've never been to before. But once I begin to overthink it- and I really can't help it when this happens- it's over. The anxiety may lessen in certain situations over time, but I'm beginning to accept that it's not something I will "outgrow" or that will just stop happening to me.

My anxiety is simultaneously the most inconsistent, confusing, constant, and pressing aspect of my life. It has made a nest at the top of my brain and contains wispy vines that laugh as they tie around my ankles. Every single day.

If I matched the descriptions and characteristics online, I suppose I could try medication or therapy. But the reality of accepting that as my fate is absolutely terrifying. Because that's not me. Textual evidence guys, it's not. But then where does that leave me? I'm like in between everything, always, for the rest of my life.

Then I came across the words, "develop a new relationship with your high functioning anxiety". Anyone that knows me knows how much I love developing relationships. I love to invest in, upkeep, and maintain healthy relationships with other people. And all those families I mentioned earlier? They allow me to maintain a healthy relationship with myself. But as you know, anxiety is the exception. This one I have to do on my own.

It's time for me to develop a new relationship with my high functioning anxiety. One that is accepting. One that is kind.

I'm done pretending it doesn't exist when it does. I'm done treating it as a lighthearted joke because I'm embarrassed when people don't understand. I'm done feeling bad about myself when I feel like I can't do something as simple as asking the waiter to give separate checks. I'm done telling myself I won't succeed at something as important as my MTEL tests because I'm letting my anxiety take over. I'm done. I'm done. I'm done.

It's time for me to develop a new relationship with my high functioning anxiety. One that is understanding. One that is productive.

I'm going to start accepting that sometimes things are harder for me overcome. I'm going to recognize the things that trigger my anxiety and focus on how to set myself up for success in every situation I'm faced with. I'm going to focus on my breathing and not on my thoughts. And everyday when I wake I'm going to tell myself: You are a badass warrior and you can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

I've tried to write this article countless times over the past two years, and we all know I've shared some deep and personal stories with the Odyssey Online. But I can literally write about my diagnosis, my guardian angel, my heartbreaks, and my inner core all day every day. This insecurity of having anxiety has suffocated me in ways that nothing else ever has.

But now I am developing a new relationship with my high functioning anxiety. One that will allow me to breathe. One that will allow me to thrive. Into the confidence box it goes [ ]. The first step for me is being able to write about it.

In case nobody has told today that you that you are a badass warrior, know that I think that you are. And I always will.

P.S. You can do this. <3

Cover Image Credit: Hannah Withee

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7 Things That Happen In The Mid-Semester Slumps

This is definitely something we all face in the middle of the semester.

It's that time of the semester where you just came back from break and all that stress is back. There's so much that needs to be done and you have no idea where to start.

1. Your workload somehow becomes endless.

I just came back from break and before I knew it, I was writing an essay, studying for a midterm, and studying for multiple quizzes when I got back. And everyone else I knew was on the same boat as me—there were some serious study parties at the library.

2. You are tired of food.

No, you’re not tired of eating but you’re tired of the food that you’re surrounded by (AKA dining hall food). You crave specific things from back home even though there is no way you’re going to get it right now.

3. You cope with your troubles with sleep.

It becomes a real problem when you schedule your naps, but you also nap when you aren’t supposed to.

4. Your room looks like a tornado hit it.

It’s funny how my room is so messy when I haven’t even been in it. And there is absolutely no time to clean it so I just sleep in the mess.

5. You give into retail therapy.

You feel the need to buy everything and don’t think about the fact that the money in your bank account is not unlimited.

6. You are stressing all the time.

There are so many things to do and so little time. In fact, there isn’t even time to stress because you can’t afford to waste a minute.

7. You want to go home and forget all your worries.

I wish I could click my heels 3 times and be back home where I can forget all my worries.

We're going to get through this. Right?

Cover Image Credit: Pxhere

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