Highly functional in the realm of mental illness is typically described as someone who has many symptoms of a mental illness or is diagnosed with a mental illness but continues to work and live life in a somewhat “functional” way.
When I met my therapist, she described some of the patients that she typically works with. She let me know that she normally works with those who are high functioning and looking to improve their lives. She also went on to tell me about her therapy style which was a mixed bag of informal and formal techniques to address my therapy goals. Obviously..loved her right away.
Mental illness doesn’t have a poster child. Mental illness doesn’t have a spokesperson. Mental illness doesn’t look just “one way”. There are severe cases, there are mild cases and there is everything in between. How your disorder manifests in your life is largely dependent on your brain, your upbringing, your genetics and coping skills.
An invisible illness is still an illness. It seems as though the issue is that when we cannot see the sniffles, the fever, the treatment, the hospital bill, the missed work or the medications prescribed we don’t believe that the person is actually ill.
I go to work.
I raise my daughter.
I participate in society.
I am writing a book.
I laugh, a lot.
I am outgoing.
I have friends.
I have stable romantic relationships.
but I am, still mentally ill.
I think that for the most part, I can hide my condition quiet well, when I feel like I should. I can hide that I have anxiety in a meeting or that I am fretting over my significant over needing to talk later. I can hide that my heart is racing a million times a minute in my office, if I am alone. When applying for jobs, I don’t check the box where it says “Do you have any disabilities” and PTSD is listed. I am not sure why I am still uncomfortable with this, but I am.
Being highly functional and mentally ill is exhausting. If life didn’t already have so much pressure, add hiding an illness into the mix. I feel as though I need to appear that I have it all together and if I don’t..well, what would happen?
Understanding Highly Functional Mental Illness
We aren’t “faking” it.
I am sure that there are people who fake illnesses of all kinds for all kinds of reasons. But it is likely, that someone who is willing to admit to you that they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, isn’t faking it. First of all, my symptoms and my diagnoses are so spot on, I couldn’t have faked it if I had tried.
Just because you see that I am typically doing well, doesn’t mean that I have always been doing well. Or that I would be doing well if I wasn’t taking my medication every day.
We have good days and bad days
I think this is true for everyone regardless of mental illness or not. We all have “off” days. We all have days where we have a little more road rage than the day before. We all have days where we just feel like being alone. We all have days where the general mood is just SHITTY. The thing is, when I feel like this, it is concerning to me because I am medicated and normally doing quite well.
I think to myself:
“Are my meds not working?”
“Did I forget my meds?”
“How long will this last?”
“Why am I acting like this?”
“Why don’t I feel happy today?”
When you are labeled as highly functional, it is hard to have a bad day. It is hard to say well today just sucks and I want to be alone. Or today sucks and I need to be around people. Whatever it is! It is hard to not need so much support and then suddenly need it. Does that make sense?
It is HARD to keep it together
I feel like I am in a battle against myself and all the things that come with motherhood, working, living a life and having a mental health condition (or several..but who is counting??)
When do I have time to go to therapy? During the workday, so I have to ask to be able to go.
When do I have time to do self care? When my daughter is asleep, which is never.
When do I have time to spend time with my daughter? from 6-9pm, when I also need to cook, do laundry, work on my blog, take a shower, get her a bath, do her hair, all the things!
When do I have time to spend time with friends? In between all of that.
When do I have time for sex? Always. L-O-L
Today, especially women, have an enormous amount of pressure to have it all. We have been sold this story of you can do it all, have it all, be it all. I think it is really damaging to strive to have the perfect life. To me, life is about balance. Life is about putting one thing off, so I can choose to do something else. Life is about being okay with what you aren’t doing this second (answering emails) so that you can fully participate in the hide and seek game that your daughter has asked you to play 7 times.
In conclusion, being highly functional and mentally ill is exhausting. You can easily get too far ahead of yourself and slip back into old habits. It is hard to maintain a balance in life where you are taking care of you and your condition and taking care of all the other things you need to in life. For me, my condition is about preventative maintenance, medication compliance and trauma work in therapy. Yes..it is as difficult as it sounds.
Need tips for self care?
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Ever heard of gaslighting?