High-Functioning Depression: A Silent Fight

By Meagan DeMariaFebruary 1, 2022

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with thoughts and feelings so dark and deep they’ve threatened to swallow me whole. They sit in my stomach like a stone you’d dropped into the bottom of a well. This lump seizes every part of my body—crawling, clawing, and ripping through my insides. On the bad days, the weight becomes so heavy I find myself struggling to breathe, being pulled down and drowning in my own body. On the really bad days, I want to pull apart my skin, shoving my hands inside myself, desperately trying to pull it out. But the thing about the bad days is: I’m really good at hiding them.

When I tell people that I suffer from depression, the response usually looks like this: a head tilt followed by, “Really? I would have never guessed.” Part of me feels as though I should be proud to receive that response. Like I have accomplished some fantastic feat by hiding the parts of myself that ultimately make me, me. But then there’s the other part—the part that feels, angry, ashamed, and scared.

I’m not disillusioned. I understand why people respond that way. I don’t look like the “typical” depressed person. I have a full-time job, I regularly communicate with family and friends, I attend social gatherings, I have multiple responsibilities, and I’m a high-achieving and highly productive person. But, I also get overwhelmed easily, have intrusive thoughts, hold so much tension in my body that my hands constantly shake, overthink things to the point of inducing panic attacks, struggle to get out of bed, disassociate, and fight feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, and existential dread daily.

At the end of most days, I am completely exhausted from the smallest tasks, like responding to an email, texting a friend about their day, or performing basic self-care like showering and eating. Nevertheless, I get all my work done. In fact, I excel at meeting deadlines and standards, and I maintain a healthy lifestyle—by eating well, exercising regularly, and engaging in several hobbies. The disconnect between these two parts of myself, is what I think is at the root of reactions like, “Really? I would have never guessed.”

Depression is often seen as “all or nothing.” If you have depression, you’re supposed to spend hours, days, even weeks in bed and be unable to hold down a job, maintain relationships, or perform basic functions. And if you can do those things, then the question of: “Well, what are you depressed about?” follows. Because how can someone who just ran a marathon, had a kid, graduated college, got a promotion, or makes tons of money—or whatever it is that normal, non-depressed people do—be depressed?

But the thing about depression is that it doesn’t care if you’re good at your job, if you make lots of money, or any of that. Depression doesn’t discriminate and it isn’t always visible. And because it’s not, people are shocked to learn that someone like me—someone as active, as social, as “happy” as me—could be depressed.

That shock is dangerously misinformed. When people respond with surprise when I tell them I have depression, not only do I regret talking about my mental health, but I also feel invalidated. Like my struggles are not hard enough, serious enough, visible enough to justify having depression. When I get that response, I feel ashamed, ashamed that I’m not able to “get over it” or “look on the bright side” or “think positively.”

The worst part is that I already feel those things all the time. Depression is feeling like you are worthless, like the universe would be better if you never existed at all. So much of my life is dedicated to challenging those thoughts, to refusing to feed the lump in my stomach that growls and bites at my insides, to fighting to stay alive. When I open up and talk about my struggles and get a “Really? I would have never guessed” in response, I feel misunderstood, sad, and annoyed, but mostly I feel unsupported.

I have spent so much time struggling in silence, fighting in the dark, grasping for something or someone to hold on to only to get fistfuls of air. Instead of shock, just once I wish the reaction would be genuine support and concern. Just once I wish I wouldn’t have to carry the weight all by myself. Just once when I reach out my hand, I wish someone would hold it in return.

Depression has a way of making us feel incredibly isolated. We’re here to remind you of the truth that you are not alone. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].

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Comments (16)

  1. Abby C.


    Thank you for showing transparency on such an intimate, often painful, topic. I appreciate your emphasis on the stereotypes of what depression looks like, and how this can evidently cause someone to feel unseen. Your post breaks the prescribed checklist people often associate with when they hear that someone is depressed, and I truly thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece. I hope we can continue to amplify individual voices in an effort to uplift each other!

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  2. Toni Berry

    Probably THE BEST description of what it feels like to live as a high functioning human who struggles with depression! How some people respond to our depression is a great example of why we rarely (if ever) choose to share such vulnerable info about ourselves. In their defense, people who don’t understand depression, have never had to navigate their lives through the valleys of it! I personally believe, wholeheartedly, that it is our duty to give others like us the utmost compassion. Because we DO understand it! I believe it is our responsibility to talk about depression openly. It’s only a dirty little secret if those of us who have it, treat it as such! It is an ILLNESS that just happens to affect our brain. We didn’t choose to get depression, but we’ve got it! So, how about we use our knowledge & experience of depression to help the rest of the population understand more about it? 💜knowledge💜compassion💜

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  3. Barbie H.

    Thank you for sharing this. While I don’t experience depression as severe as you describe, I also avoided getting help for years because I didn’t look like the depressed people you see in the media. I got out of bed, showered, took care of my family, ran my business, and talked to my friends. I also stared at walls for long periods, cried randomly, lost my temper at the most inconsequential things, and felt like all the “self-care” advised for moms was just ticking a box that made no discernable difference in my feelings. It was a relief when I finally admitted to myself (and a trusted friend) how much I was hurting underneath, how thick the mask I held up over my face every day, how not “fine” I really was. That friend literally forced me to call a therapist right in front of her, knowing I would likely not do it after I left. Depression and anxiety, masked for years because my life was great: happy marriage, wonderful kids, a thriving small business, good health, plenty of money. Turns out trauma can leak through the cracks a long time after it occurs if you don’t deal with it, and brain chemistry can’t be altered by positive thinking and being grateful for what you have. So I’m here to say that even if you don’t feel that darkness crawling out of your skin, if yours looks more like blankness and emptiness, there is support and help out there for you. And Meagan, I will hold your hand.

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  4. Beth

    Hand held.💛 Thank you for your vulnerability with sharing your story.

    Reply  |  
  5. Meagan (too)

    This is so powerful and truly resonates with me. On an evening I really needed it.

    Thank you.

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  6. Anonymous

    Thank you for this post!
    In a time where mental health is more represented than ever, it’s easy to see examples of depression. However, a lot of the images show people who don’t have good jobs, or good grades, or an incredible family. This makes it really easy to dismiss people who don’t fit this image.
    I get good grades. My family is incredible and accepting, and I have no obvious reasons to be happy. But I’m depressed. People see the deadlines I meet, but not the anxiety attacks I have wondering if I’ll fail, or even be a little late.
    I can sob for half an hour, wipe away my tears, and leave no physical evidence of my depression.
    But other people not seeing it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s a part of me, even if it’s hard to see.
    Thank you for your post! It’s hard to feel valid in my struggles with mental health when I „should“ be okay. It helps to know I’m not alone.

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  7. Shante

    Just thank you. I had more than one care giver at a psychiatric in patient hospital ask “what do you have to be depressed about”. ? In a place that was already hard to get to, hard to ask for help, hard to accept that I needed… I was told, I shouldn’t be there.

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  8. Taylor

    Thank you so much for sharing. I can 1000% relate to this post. I felt like you were writing this to me as I was reading it.

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  9. Sonja Fowler

    Thank you for this. I thought I was alone in feeling like this.

    Reply  |  
  10. Marilyn

    I carry the weight on my shoulders

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      We hope you know two things: 1. That you are brave. 2. That you don’t have to carry the weight alone.

      Reply  |  
  11. Liz

    Thank you for sharing and so aptly describing the ‘happy people’ depression.

    Reply  |  
  12. Penny

    Thank you for your honest writing. I am high functioning too and I totally relate. Even with all the push to end stigmas, the reactions to divulging is what keeps me silent, still pretending to be like what they see.

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  13. John

    This is. A mirror of myself.

    Reply  |  

    Thank you for this reflection. I think about how many times have I been vulnerable and reached out for a hand only to find no one willing (or able) to take it or hold on. The loneliness from this is unbearable and leads me back to suffering alone, going through the paces.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Please know that you are not alone. You can always email us at [email protected] when you need a safe space to share. We’ll be sure to respond and offer encouragement and support. And we’re sorry to know that when you’ve asked for help, you haven’t received that care. Those moments hurt. But there are people who can and do want to help, this we believe.

      Reply  |  
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