This month it is Mental Health Awareness Month in Australia. I wanted to publish a post relating to mental health every day of the month so that I can personally raise awareness. You can find all posts, posted & upcoming on my schedule. This post is an expansion from my post about High Functioning Anxiety and why not all Mental Illness looks the same and so we can’t discriminate it as something that only happens to a certain type of person.
In brief, High-Functioning Anxiety is having anxiety or depression but still functioning enough in everyday life that it can be hard to diagnose. I have been living with high-functioning anxiety since at least 2012 when I was 17 and completing my A-Levels. On the outside looking in, I was a studious teen gaining slightly above average exam results but on the inside I was anything but above average.
There are two sides to high functioning mental illness, the first is what people see, the second is how it really is. During the day I was attending college, writing notes in class, revising & eating food. During the night I was hugging myself as tightly as I could, rocking & an insomniac all triggered by stress and my anxiety. The sleepless and restless nights were taking their toll on my mental health. What little sleep I did get was filled with nightmares & anxiety dreams yet I was still going to college and nobody, not even my parents, knew that anything was wrong.
This manifested into guilt. I felt like I had no reason to be battling depression and the fact that I wasn’t displaying the stereotypical symptoms of anxiety & depression all day long, I convinced myself that nobody would believe. I emotionally isolated myself from everyone yet still could act as though everything was ok. This was reinforced by the fact that the only people who I had spoken to had understandable triggers. They had been in (or were still in) abusive relationships, had problems with sobriety, had recently lost a loved one or were unemployed (some had a combination of these circumstances). I thought that I didn’t have any mental illness because I had no reason. That is, until I discovered that Mental Illness doesn’t discriminate.
High Functioning Mental Health tricks you into thinking that you’re coping with it better than others. I wasn’t. By wearing my mask all day long and pretending that everything was fine, I was drained and exhausted. I was more irritable, clumsy & prone to emotional outbursts (not just crying, sometimes the tiniest thing would happen and I would be in hysterical crying fits of laughter that were not appropriate for the situation).
High Functioning Mental Illness is hard to spot. When I talk to people about my mental health (something I’ve been doing a lot more over the past 11 months) I have a lot of people who are shocked, not just surprised. “I never would have guessed” or “why didn’t you tell us” are questions often asked. I even know of one person in my life who said behind my back “but she doesn’t act depressed” and there’s the kicker. What does depression look like? Well, that’s another story.
Mental Illness doesn’t discriminate between people who were born black or white. It doesn’t discriminate between people based on gender, or religion or socio-economic status. It also doesn’t discriminate based on your occupation. You can face a Mental Illness whether you’re a 7 year old child in a happy home, or a 23 year old in their dream career, or a 54 year old doctor who has never had a depressed thought before in their life. High-Functioning or Low-Functioning, it can happen to anyone.
High Functioning Mental Illness is no less severe than Mental Illness that renders sufferers bed bound. Mental Illness cannot be compared. I would feel guilty that other people had it worse than me so I didn’t have a right to be depressed but over time I grew to realise that we would never think the reverse – that other people have it better than me so I don’t have a right to be happy.
It is easy to hide high functioning mental health but you don’t have to feel guilty. Talking about it with people around you can help you to move forward. If they can recognise the signs that you need help, they can give it to you, but remember, telling someone is the quickest way to let them know.
Have you come to accept your diagnosis? I found that I actually started to improve once I had the label that I once feared: Why I Accepted Mental Illness as a Part of Who I Am and Why You Should Too.