Even as a therapist, I had never heard the term ‘high-functioning depression’ until I came across this article a few months ago. I read it three times in a row, feeling tremendous relief that someone had finally recognized and named the very real condition that plagued me at two different points in my life.
In the years since my episodes, I’ve struggled with how to categorize and talk about what I experienced. I used to feel guilty calling it ‘depression,’ like that was somehow discounting the experiences of people whose “real depression” causes them to fail out of school, stop going to work, and withdraw from the world.
My life has never visibly fallen apart, but I have absolutely had depression.
The first time was in eighth grade. On the outside, things looked normal. I hung out with my friends. I maintained perfect grades. I never overslept, never missed a homework assignment, and remained engaged with my activities. But on the inside, my mind had turned incredibly dark.
I was never actively suicidal, but every night I wished—in a distinct, pointed way that was almost prayer-like in its specificity—that I would die in my sleep. I woke up each morning filled with pure dread, the next fifteen hours sprawling out ahead of me like a lifetime.
I had somehow become convinced that I didn’t deserve to live. I thought life was a privilege you had to earn by being worthy enough, and I truly believed that every other person in the world had passed the worthiness test except for me. My death wishes were a wish for God to correct the mistake he had made by allowing me to be born.
A series of distorted thoughts played through my mind over and over again:
I have no value.
I’m only alive because my parents wanted to have me; that’s not a good enough reason.
My parents are the only ones who love me, and they don’t count. If they weren’t my parents and just met me as a random person, they would despise me.
It’s difficult to reflect on this. I feel such tenderness toward that young, beaten-down version of myself whose brain was so infested with depression demons. I wish I could wrap her up in a hug (though she would have hated that) and say “You deserve to be here just for the very fact that you are here! You are a nice person who doesn’t harm others, and that’s enough of a reason to exist and be happy!”
The good news is that my depression faded away that spring, which I attribute to three shifts that helped bring me back to reality: the weather got warmer, I started wearing clothes that made me feel pretty, and I was accepted into a fun new group of friends. A boy also started liking me for the first time ever, which didn’t hurt.
^End-of-the-year 8th grade dance
The silver lining to depression is that you emerge a bit tougher than you were before. That summer, while at Six Flags with my new friends, I stood in line for the tallest roller coaster and realized I didn’t feel scared at all, even though I’d always been scared of roller coasters. Thinking my whole life was a mistake was scary, I thought to myself with a laugh as I eagerly watched my lap bar lower. This is just a silly ride!
Thankfully, depression left me alone for a long time after that… but it did pop in for a visit six years later. Stay tuned for part two.