Popular culture often depicts depression as vocal suicide and a lethargy that rivals Garfield’s Monday naps. People assume that all depressed people outwardly express this existential dread, whether through memes, self-deprecating jokes or sleeping 20 hours straight.
However, plenty of people undergo depression in complete silence, leaving no indication of their suffering, sometimes until it is too late. High-functioning depressives tend to be overachievers, but they might just be trying to save face.
You know the type: straight A’s or captain of the soccer team, the role model holding a family together or the kid just trying to meet their parents’ expectations, the scholarship kid or the perfect brother. They don’t sleep in until noon because they have convinced themselves that they can’t and that they couldn’t survive the imaginary, spiky bludgeon to their carefully crafted image.
No matter the pain, these silent high-functioning depressives won’t tell others the truth of their suffering, and the stress can come out in massively self-destructive behaviors that gradually snuff out their sense of internal humanity until they feel like a machine: a robotic husk that can relate to Spock, Castiel and the toaster more than actual human beings.
Even if not ready to “come out,” a high-functioning depressive can improve their quality of life with these three tactics:
1. Take a Break
Yes, you need to do “the thing” ™, but your brain will perform better if you take a quick break. You might work as if you’re a machine, but ultimately you’re a fleshy one that needs socialization, food, exercise and sleep.
Try doing something for 15 minutes in order to take your mind off it, but if you need more time, be honest with yourself: how well can “the thing” really go if your brain is fried? It’s okay to do something else for an hour or two, and it’s okay to go to sleep if you can’t function properly anymore.
“The thing” doesn’t have to be a homework assignment; sometimes you just need a break from a stressful task or that person you can’t stand but put on a smile for. If they can’t be avoided, these energy vampires are fine in moderation, but too much time around them will suck the last ounce of energy you were saving for yourself after schoolwork and other obligations stripped the rest away.
2. Reevaluate Your Priorities
Priorities are what you value, rather than a goal. Take a shower and think about what is important to you, not what you should want, not what you think you need, but what you really value. Be honest with yourself: in order to achieve that, do you really need to take full-time courses, do two internships, play sports and work a part-time job all at the same time? Probably not.
If your only goals are to have perfect attendance, grades or some other quantitative measurement of self-worth, then your mind is probably drying up if it hasn’t already become a vapid desert. To get an idea of what neurotypical people’s priorities are, ask one out in the wild.
They’ll probably say something sentimental like “helping people” or “I like writing,” rather than drawing a blank. Others might be more specific: “save people in the Air Force” or “become a successful sci-fi novelist.”
Once you realize your true priorities, focusing energy on them can improve your mood and sense of future. If you can only spare a little energy, that little spark could be just enough to change the way you perceive your life.
3. Talk to Someone About It
Yes, here it is, the one you were waiting for. If things have gotten so bad that you’re looking up articles about depression in an attempt to make yourself even more miserable, you need help or at least could benefit from getting out of your own head.
You’re probably not very good at talking about your feelings, so stumble through this with someone,“Hi (insert favorite human’s name here), do you have a second? I really need some help… I’ve been feeling like crap lately because (insert struggle here).”
If you genuinely believe that no one in your life cares about you (a lie crafted by your overworked mind), and you have the resources, you can hire a therapist who will listen to your existential angst and teach you all the fun psychology terms for the lies you tell yourself, which are, you know, the thoughts that make you feel like a heaping pile of dog crap: the kind with white fuzz and the stench of death, one so pervasive that you learned not to be afraid of it anymore.
It’s not easy to deal with high-functioning depression since admitting that you have it is hard enough, not to mention seeking help. These strategies all suck, and you will hate them, but they help.
All of these little things remind you that you have a personality and needs and every other character flaw that screws with the ideal perfection you’ve worked so hard to attain. Unfortunately, human brains can’t work mechanically and they need breaks, purpose and connection.
If high-functioning depressives apply themselves to recovery as earnestly as they mindlessly devote themselves to their obsessions, they lose nothing and gain everything. Letting go of the emptiness inside takes time, but allowing patience and passions and love to fill it revitalizes the self back into something resembling a human.
Depressives have nothing to lose but their lives; those are the stakes. Whether that life is their physical being or emotional vitality, depression steals lives and riddles the world with zombies and ghosts. These aren’t monsters, though. They just need to get out of their head because they’re still very much human, even if they feel like an incarnation of Mr. Spock.
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