The not-so-commercial side of mental illness & how to separate ‘high functioning’ from ‘depression’
I sat down today to talk about something I wouldn’t normally discuss in a public forum. Mainly because of the stigma but also because it’s unlikely that people’s interests are piqued when you say you want to talk about high functioning depression. Let’s just say there’s a drop-off rate for posts like these, but I’m doing it anyways because not only am I literally in university to learn about this but it has been personally affecting me over the last few months and that’s enough to make it worth a chat.
I’ve not been formally diagnosed of anything, but what I have felt for a few months aligned very well with Dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder). This can be colloquially referred to as High Functioning Depression and, in my case, included avoiding social situations because I felt like a lot of energy was required of me to just function in my daily life that I didn’t have much left for socializing. This was a surprising but gradual change for me, considering I would’ve described myself as an extrovert who recharges around people. In addition to that, I was extremely irritable, constantly tired, struggling to concentrate on the simplest of tasks, indulging in unhealthy coping skills such as disengaging, starting arguments and constantly worrying about the past and future. Now to most this is going to sound like quite the average rough patch, but it didn’t feel that way to me. In fact, it felt like all my fears, worries and exhaustion was sucking my identity out of my body and leaving me with a hollow shell. And that was scary, to say the least.
I took a break after my third semester of college and went home for a week because I couldn’t stomach having to navigate my life directly into another semester without a mind-flush (Ha. Apologies for that metaphor). At some point, simply buying groceries, making food, or getting out of bed felt like a chore, and going back home alleviated that responsibility of doing everything by myself for myself, leaving me some headspace and energy to just think about where I am, what’s making me feel that way and most importantly recharge somewhere detached from my daily life.
And this is why I wanted to write this post today. We don’t need diagnoses or specialists or even those around us telling us we have a problem before we address it. There’s no scale for how bad your situation is and there is no need for one, because if you’re experiencing something you cannot handle, that’s all there is to it. You need a little assistance, in whatever form you’re most comfortable with. All these “self-help” and “self-care” trends may seem trivial to some, but you don’t need to adopt people’s ideas of those terms in order to practice them.
One of the forms I got help was a supplement called 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) often used for sleep disorders, anxiety, migraines, PMS, ADHD and even seizure disorder and Parkinson’s disease. Naturally when doing my research, I was very skeptical, but according to my limited knowledge it serves to increase the production of the chemical serotonin which affects sleep, appetite, temperature, sexual behavior and pain sensation.
An interesting little fact is that tryptophan was banned by the FDA at some point in the 80s because of one contaminated batch by a Japanese manufacturer. But oddly, within months of that ban, Prozac along with many other SSRIs were introduced into the market. Lowkey conspiracy theory. But 5-HTP was proven to be superior to Luvox (Fluvoxamine) with far fewer and less severe side effects confirming its efficacy as an “antidepressant”. I’ve been taking it for about 2 weeks now and I definitely notice less irritability and anxiety, almost no headaches and even better sleep. Now this might just be overpriced placebo, but damn if it worked, then it worked, so I recommend it to anybody who does not have access to antidepressants but feel they may need assistance or to those who struggle with the side effects of their antidepressants.
Aside from that, I would mainly suggest cognition and behavior-related approaches in addition to or instead of supplements or medication. I think telling somebody you feel comfortable with about your situation/thoughts/feelings is a very important step towards feeling better. You need a safe haven that will check you when you’re exhibiting dysfunctional behavior but support you through it rather than judge or condemn you for the results of your behavior. It’s also important to branch out and introduce variety to your daily routine. A monotonous existence is a surefire way to feeling down, so change up your routine and reward yourself for getting out of your comfort zone. Approaching things is the greatest difficulty in these situations because everything requires too much mental energy for you to even try. So find support and just go for it. You don’t need to go all out; start small and don’t put yourself down for not being able to go from step 1 to step 10.
My final recommendation would be to read up on the way you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. I’m a firm believer that fear comes from the unknown. If you’re feeling this way and the people around you don’t understand or don’t know how to support you, then do your research. Find support in information, look for solutions, speak to a professional, call a helpline, ask on forums and blogs, watch videos. The more you understand why you feel this way, the better you will feel. Last but not least, allow yourself space and time to change. There’s a reason growing pains are a thing! Allow yourself to adjust to your new self and feel at home within it.
Of course, don’t take anything without consulting a specialist and don’t feel ashamed or hesitant to do so. Have honest conversations about your needs with your family, friends, partner, therapist, counsellor, whomever and find a way to get what you need to feel like yourself again. There is no shame in needing help and as a community and culture we should encourage those who take that leap of faith. If it’s more taboo for you to approach these topics in your community, then resort to the internet. This is the biggest resource we’ve ever had and just as it is there for our entertainment, it can be there for our knowledge, health and safety.
I’ve compiled some resources that have been personally helpful or seem particularly informative (I will be posting these here or on my twitter) & will aim to embark on a mental-health/counselling series with the limited but practical knowledge I have, and I hope it is of any help.
I’ve also contacted two local therapists for a little interview or advice post so if you have any questions you might want to ask a specialist but never could or got around to it then be sure to comment them or send them over to me @ firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram DMs – @hibaargane if you’d prefer anonymity. Of course, you have my word that our chat will be completely confidential.