Friday, 10 June 2016

High Functioning Depression

I think it's fair to say I don't really talk about my depression. It's something I see posts about a lot, on social media. Mental health acceptance is the new 'trending topic' - it even has it's own trendy tattoo. It's perfectly okay now to admit that you're struggling, that you need help, that you need people to cut you some slack, especially if you're a part of the mummy culture wars in which everyone silently judges everyone else whilst shouting at the top of their voices that people need to stop judging them.

The truth is, people tend not to realise that I have depression. It's trendy to talk about it, but I don't. My depression has lost me jobs, friends, hobbies, homes, and very few people know about it. My therapist told me that this is because I am a "high functioning sufferer". I am a high achiever. For all intents and purposes I look like I'm coping. Beautifully. I have two young children, two and a half years and four months old respectively, and I am a pinterest mom - we create oceans in bottles, play with homemade play dough, do treasure hunts in the back garden. I have a good job, a lovely home, a wonderful husband, a normal life. At first glance, and second glance, I don't seem to tick any of the boxes of a person with mental health challenges. I don't have days where I can't make it out of bed. I don't have break downs, I don't self harm, I don't stop doing things or seeing people. 

But my depression is pervading. It eats away at me, making it impossible to look in the mirror, tricking me into believing my family would be better off without me, eating away at my patience and fuelling my frustration, twisting every word spoken to me into poison daggers to use against me, sending my brain into overdrive as analyse and re analyse every moment of every day; what I could have done differently, how I could be better, how can I do more. 

I am not the only person I know who suffers from this particularly invisible version of an already unseen illness. In fact I have a close relative who is in the same predicament. When we each found the other was in therapy it came as a great surprise, despite the fact we see each other regularly. We are known as extroverts, the life of the party, the orators, the opinionated. But in reality we are fuelled by our insecurities, our self doubt. At times, our self loathing. 

So why am I choosing to say something now? Why open up about something I have tried to be private about for the best part of 15 years? I have deleted this post four times already, each time deciding that it is the same attention seeking behaviour that makes me cringe when I see it plastered all over social media. But then I change my mind, and I wonder where I would be now if someone I trust hadn't looked at me and seen it. Seen beyond the veneer and pointed at something I knew was true but had buried, ignored, fooled myself about for years. Because I think there are far more like me than I could even guess. I think there are hundreds of people slipping through the cracks, because their depression doesn't fit the mould, because they function on an every day basis as though there is nothing wrong. 

There are so many options now for those living with depression and anxiety, but for those who do a fantastic cover job, it's almost impossible to access them. Mental health services tend to want to put people in boxes, tick off symptoms, assign labels (see above!), and if you don't fit, it's difficult to find help. But it does exist. Asking for it is the first (and often hardest) step.

If any of this rings a bell - if you have been stretching a version of yourself over your depression, or if you think you might recognise this in someone you know, please don't stay silent. There are so many options. CBT has been life saving and life giving for me. Just start a conversation...

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