Month: May 2016

Successful. Overachiever. High-Functioning. Depressed.

I read an article this morning about high-functioning depression, and how it can be surprisingly dangerous because it is so often overlooked. If you’re wondering what high-functioning depression is, I think I basically fit the description perfectly.

On the outside, I look very successful and people are surprised to discover how much I struggle with my mental health. I have a stellar education, am moving across the country for my dream job, remain involved in the mental health community, and have a social life many would envy (ugh, end bragging). At the same time, I have suicidal tendencies, crippling anxiety and depression, and a plethora of other mental health struggles. Some people think the two can’t exist together – severe mental illness and a successful/stable lifestyle. But trust me, they do. They definitely do.

The high-functioning people with mental illness are in the most danger, because they’re the most overlooked. It’s the easiest to say they’re doing “fine” because apparently the severity of a mental illness is quantified by how far you’ve spiraled down in your life.

I’ve been denied help from professionals because I didn’t seem severe enough. That was actually their reaction. You see, they wanted to understand how debilitating my mental illness was, and hearing how high my GPA was and how involved in school I was seemed to give them the impression I was actually totally fine. People like me – the high-functioning, “capable” ones are the ones that slip through the cracks. We’re the people that get left behind, forgotten about, or left untreated because we can “get by”. It takes a serious shake up like a suicide attempt or mental breakdown to be taken seriously. Apparently preventative mental health care, or early intervention, are luxuries a system designed to respond to high risk situations can’t afford.

“Clearly things are going okay if you’re still managing to pass your classes. I don’t really know what more we can do for you since you seem to be handling things quite well.” A doctor told me this when I was in the hospital this past January, desperate for something to help bring me out of the darkness that had become my life. It’s a ridiculous viewpoint to have, because being able to go through the motions doesn’t change the internal battles people fight every day.

As a high-functioning person, I also place a lot of pressure on myself to live up to my expectation of what success is. Sometimes I will jeopardize my mental health in order to keep up with my appearances or responsibilities. It’s why suicides by high-functioning people always seem to come out of nowhere. Take Robin Williams for example, or look at any wealthy and successful person who died by suicide, and there will often be statements like “it came out of nowhere” and “no one saw it coming”. Was it really out of nowhere though? Sometimes, if you’re willing to look closely enough, there are warning signs. Other times, there aren’t because the high-functioning aspect is so strong that it is dangerously easy to hide the deep depression and hopelessness.

Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, and just because a person can’t tick off all the symptom boxes about how much they’ve had to give up in their life doesn’t make their struggles any less real. We need to validate the struggles of all people with mental illness, not just the ones who have  quantifiable and outward consequences. We have to stop letting people slip through the cracks because they’re just “not bad enough”.

Keep Surviving by Living.

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“Surviving Happiness” (and other better writers)

I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, when I noticed an old friend shared a link to her brother’s blog. The title of the post was “Surviving Happiness”. I chuckled at the resemblance to Surviving by Living and decided to check it out. What I found was a brilliantly articulated and illustrated comic book about the reality of depression. It expressed all the things I keep trying to articulate on my blog, but in a better and more entertaining way. So instead of making you read all my boring words, check out Aqil Dhanani’s work below. Trust me, it’s worth every second.

Surviving Happiness

I also want to take a minute to recognize four of my favourite blogs that I read because of how completely open they are. These ladies have very different blogs with very different purposes, but each one of them writes honestly and candidly without hesitation – my favourite kind of writing. So here they are, in no particular order:

First up: Living Vazzy

Living Vazzy is a great blog by my good friend Wendy. For every 30 seconds I spend talking to Wendy, I probably smile for 5 minutes after. She does awesome things like yoga for 30 days straight, or records the most adorable covers of songs with her ukulele. She brings passion and positivity to the posts she writes, and is always trying new things.

Next: Candid Commerce

I met Kinsey, the face behind Candid Commerce and immediately hated her. Why? Because she was smarter than me, talked better than me, and stole all my answers in a marketing class. Once I got over that, I realized she was absolutely brilliant. Kinsey’s blog is the best business blog I’ve seen. She says what she thinks and is unapologetic about it, which is awesome because she’s practically always right. In one of her posts, she says “don’t compare your insides to everyone’s outsides” and I know she meant this in more of a business-y sense, but it’s true for mental health too. You never know what people are really dealing with, so try not to judge them before giving them a chance.

Third: As We Are

As We Are is a style blog by Zoya Jiwa dedicated to looking at how health challenges, both physical and mental, influence someone’s personal style. It’s really cool. Style isn’t something we don’t always think about when we consider what our health changes about us, but it totally does. I didn’t realize how my depression and conversion disorder affected my style until Zoya did a feature on me (you can see it here). Zoya’s one of the most courageous people I know, and As We Are is just one of the many things she’s doing to make the world a better place.

Finally: Kayley Reed

Kayley’s website and self-titled blog is total #bloggoals. As the co-founder of Wear Your Label, Kayley is kind of a big deal. Her blog gives an inside look at what happens behind the scenes of a start-up and chronicles the life of a mental health advocate in the fashion world. She’s been featured on RBC Change Agents, MTV, spoken at WeDay all over Canada and is always up to something ridiculously cool. I think Kayley has probably figured out a way to make the day 36 hours instead of 24 because she does all the things.

Thanks to all five of these people for sharing their message, and making me want to be better at sharing mine.

Keep Surviving by Living.