Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
“You look great” are words that make a person with high functioning depression want to scream. But they won’t – because they have high functioning depression and have usually been so indoctrinated to keep appearances “nice” that they wouldn’t even know how to make a fuss if they wanted to.
Growing up in a family where illness was seen as weakness on one side of my family and where mental illness – the bottom feeder of all illnesses was not even mentioned or called something else – was interesting. Making it even more challenging, on the other side of my family, was a strange climate where being sick was something to be ….hmm, I won’t say proud of…but it sure as hell got you love and attention. Generally, this involved being very dramatic and loud and demanding. Yuk.
I am an introvert. So far off the “i” end of the Myers-Briggs scale that I set off an alarm. “Approach with extreme caution”
I can be an extroverted introvert – a weird-ass phenomenon which I will discuss another time – but I am an introvert with social anxiety. People are not my thing generally. Not entirely true – large groups of people (think three) are not my thing.
Making any sort of a fuss that draws attention to myself is such a mortifying thought that it makes me physically ill. I am trying to think about how I would even go about making a fuss – no idea really.
During my childhood I heard lamenting, moaning. screaming and other things that got attention and I vowed to never, ever do anything like that in my life.
Contrary to popular opinion, introverts do not envy extroverts nor want to become more extroverted. We find public displays of anything to be crass and unnecessary. There are far too many personal development courses for introverts to be more social and not nearly enough for extroverts to tone themselves down. *Mic dropped*
I know – we need all types of people. Primarily my family on the “sickness=reward” side are extroverted. As extroverted as I am introverted. You see the issue.
In addition to all of this, when I was the victim of sexual abuse, I was ignored. Maybe at that time too, I did not make enough of a fuss. But for me to even let the words come out of my mouth felt like self-destruction.
My first abuse occurred at the hands of a family friend. The friend was invited over to our house again after I told my father and I was told to play nice. Not so much in words, that I can remember. But then again, not a lot was said in words in our house. We were living in a house of God and looks and threats of “hell” or whatever that represented were always present. The colleague was a minister in the church, as was my father, and I was not to make a fuss. I played nice and I do it so well.
The number of times that you have to tell an extroverted person “no” is in inverse proportion to the number of times you have to say it to an introvert. Once is enough. One time you ignore what they have said, in actions or in words and you will never hear it again. Never.
I, personally, absorbed the belief that what I had to say was unimportant – that I am unimportant.
This is also part of my conditioning. I was always aware that I was way down the pecking order. Partly because I was such an unusual kid to understand, quiet and didn’t make a fuss, but also because of the environment. Appearances were way up at the top. I get it, my father’s job relied heavily on it.
“You look really good”. The count for hearing that this week is sitting at about 20. Every single person who has said it has meant the absolute best. But it has hurt. I actually summoned the courage to tell a couple of people that it pissed me off. That it was starting to obstruct my ability to get the help that I need.
Truth – I have come off a serious dose of psychiatric drugs. My skin is clearer. My eyes are more active and clearer. There is more person there. If that makes sense.
It becomes a problem when you visit professionals, mostly. I went to yet another psychologist yesterday in my search for a PTSD specialist. No joy – just by the way.
She told me quite clearly that she was assessing how I looked, how I was dressed, my hair my demeanour, my ability to smile. All of which I know is a part of her job. In fact, I had sent a text to my man just before I left to go to the appointment to say “I am going to dress like a homeless person so they can see that I am struggling” just before I left. Obviously – not enough of a homeless person was conveyed by my baggy tracksuit pants, dirty top and ugg boots.
I think my favourite part of the consultation was when she told me that the only part of me that looked like I was struggling was my bags. Apparently, I had a big handbag and a shopping bag next to me – to do shopping incidentally – which indicated that I was carrying a lot of baggage. *rolls eyes right back in her head*.
We are taught when we learn Psychology to check these things. It is called “affect” and, in my mind, should be used with caution. It feeds a huge stereotype. Depressed and anxious people will look and present a certain way. When I was younger and knew that this would be assessed I used it to deliberately make professionals think I was okay when I was not.
Here are some of the realities of someone with high functioning depression:
- I rarely, rarely have lain in bed crying. Especially if I live with someone else.
- I will try and make you laugh no matter how awful I feel – this is a method of deflecting the attention from me to you and to trick you into thinking I am fine.
- I will try with every ounce of my being to continue my life as it usually plays out.
- I still like wearing some of my favourite clothes – although not too tight.
- I would rather go for a walk than have you see my anxiety.
- I am paranoid about my mental illness in any way affecting you.
- I would rather drink at an event, even though I know it will make me more depressed the next day, to lessen my anxiety than to ruin your event.
- I might cancel on you – but I will feel so guilty for days that it is paralysing.
- I compartmentalise. I can put the mental illness on hold in a part of my brain – in order to keep up appearances. This does not mean I am not feeling it. This does not mean that I am okay. This does not mean that I am handling it. This means that I do not want you to see it. Ever.
- I can separate my emotions and my logic unless I am tired or really unwell. Or talking about body image or my self-worth…..let’s not digress.
- I am really sick of talking about myself. I am really tired of talking about my trauma. Talking does not help. It puts me back in the middle of it and I would rather talk to you about Love Island. I will not start or encourage a conversation about my feelings.
- I desperately want to be ‘normal’. But I feel so wrong on the inside. I think that you can see it. I think that it is written all over my external self. I will do anything to make it look okay.
- I actually do not have the capacity to put into words how I feel or how having a mental illness feels. This especially happens for people who were abused in any way as a child. Our brains are sitting at that age the abuse happened whenever we think of it and we cannot find the language. We cannot talk. Telling you we don’t feel so good will start up the “tell me how you feel” discussion and we can’t deal. So we won’t.
- My partner and I have a scale we have drawn. One to ten. One being rip-roaring a-ok. Ten being call the CAT team and bring a straight jacket. I point at the scale. This works.
- I am deeply ashamed of being mentally ill. When you are well, it is very easy to say you are strong and powerful and okay with your mental illness. When you are unwell your mind plays tricks and you feel damaged. Profoundly damaged and that everything is your fault. Introverts and high functioning depressives will sit with their damage rather than have anyone see it. They may push you away rather than have you see it. I repeat. We will NOT let you see it. We are too scared of losing you or scaring you off.
- I do want to do what is necessary to deal with my situation but I am handling that and I do not want to wallow in it. I want to live.
I think my one take away to anyone dealing with someone with a mental illness may be to ask them this:
“How are you doing? You look good but how are you really doing?”
We may answer.
We may answer in an hour – at the most random but least threatening time – cars are great for that, everyone is facing forward.
We may not answer.
But we will have heard you. And we will feel acknowledged and not dismissed by our very own coping mechanisms. Our huge desire to look okay and not make a fuss.
Check to see if you have high functioning depression here: