“But you are able to manage your depression; why are you crying ‘mental illness’ then?”
“Be thankful you are not in a facility or on pills. It means you are able to manage well without any help, so what are you even crying about?”
These are some of the things I hear whenever I talk about my mental health. What makes me furious is the general misconception of how people with depression and anxiety should look or behave. If you are depressed, you should look depressed. You should look like you haven’t showered in days. There should be dark circles under your eyes because you haven’t slept enough.
People with depression should not smile because they are perpetually sad. They should look like they can cry at the drop of a hat. Most importantly, they are unproductive members of society; students with depression or anxiety should be failing their classes and employed people with depression should be struggling hard to keep up their jobs. In a traditional sense, you have to be all of this to be taken “seriously” for your condition.
For a lot of people with mental illnesses, this is the reality.
But people often tend to ignore the fact that the capacities to cope with mental illnesses exist on a spectrum. While one end of that spectrum could be needing the help of others to survive, the other end — which is often forgotten — is being highly functional. Yes, we need to talk more about the people who are too functional to be considered “legitimately” depressed by people.
I have had anxiety for about five years now. For the first few months, I did not even know what was happening with me. I was pursuing my undergraduate degree and my grades started falling because I was not attending classes — because I did not feel like attending classes. It was only after going to my first therapy session did I understand I might have a mental health condition.
Since then, it has taken a lot of money and therapy for me to be able to cope up with my depression. It has taken a lot of effort, self-reflection, identifying triggers and the ways to deal with those triggers. Oh, and it took crying — copious amounts of crying over the years. So, when you see a person with depression excelling in their job or studies, know it took years of hard work for them to be able to function “normally.” It is exhausting to be at constant war with yourself all day, every day. Just because someone is not “visibly” depressed does not mean they are not struggling. For me, following a routine — especially my morning ritual — helps a lot. Waking up at a fixed time, planning the day in advance, having breakfast and getting dressed gives me a sense of control over the day. If one thing goes haywire, the entire day is at the risk of getting spoiled. Imagine being in such a vulnerable state that missing a simple chore in the morning might trigger an episode. Now, tell me I am not depressed because I showed up at work.
To me, being high-functioning feels like you are constantly running away from your condition. The worst thing is you are not even allowed to take a breath, lest it catches you.
Being depressed or anxious is not binary. I can be a bestselling author and still be anxious. I can be at the top of my class and still be depressed. I can be a Fortune 500 CEO and still be depressed. My accomplishments do not invalidate my struggles. My “normal” functioning does not give you the right to belittle my condition, and certainly not question the severity of it. Remember, we are all in this together.