It all started when I was little, but I didn’t know it had a name. In fact, every time I felt the blues or felt anxious, I’d keep it to myself because it was too embarrassing to tell anyone how I felt. And on the outside, I’d pretend like everything was a-OK. All good. Nothing to hide.
And as I’ve grown to be the person I am today, now 33, a domestic violence survivor with raging post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, I have learnt of the art of “high-functioning.”
I go into work every day with a smile, do my job with absolute precision and am often appreciated for excellence in all I do, but no one knows the details behind the scenes. It all starts every morning when the alarm rings and I hit snooze a million times before I can come alive. “Did I have a high-anxiety dream last night?” I ask myself. Most probably I did, because why else would I feel this groggy? And once the day is over, there is no possibility of doing much else. I walk out of the office and I’m already debating whether I have the energy to take the metro or need a cab. Once I’m home, do I cook, work out, do the laundry? Maybe, on a good day. But most days, certainly not. Meet a friend? No way. Instead, I come home and I take off the mask. I feel the exhaustion as it is, the muscle aches from all the unconscious clenching and laze on my couch. Bedtime? 9 p.m. at the latest with the prerequisite of doing absolutely nothing except take a bath.
Social events are a double whammy because this requires mental preparation to be extroverted, prior rest time to have the energy to stay past my secret bedtime. But if my eyelids start to feel heavy before the party’s over, I secretly signal my husband, so he can take me home after giving the host a ridiculous excuse.
As you can see, the possibilities are endless with feeling worn-out when you struggle with “high-functioning” depression and anxiety. I believe this is because mental illness already takes the life out of you, but when you’re trying to keep up appearances on top of it all, that’s something else.
On occasion, I can’t wear the mask, and on those days, I refrain from seeing mankind. But since I can’t do that with my 9-to-5 job, I go in anyway and hide behind my laptop, waiting endlessly for the day to end. If someone comments I’m too quiet or look distressed, I will simply lie, saying I haven’t slept well or I have a headache. After all, it’s so much easier to make something up than try to explain how much you’re struggling on the inside.
And the cycle continues, every day — wake up, strive, get through, survive. With a little bit of repressed trauma and a whole lot of obsessive-compulsive thinking coupled with unexplained lows, I keep going. I continue to believe though this may be part of my DNA, I am nothing less than worthy. I continue to wake up every day and try again, feeling the way I do without fighting it or questioning it. For every little battle, I tap into my therapist’s wise words and conquer them step by step. Medication is the armor I wear that keeps me guarded, but more than anything, it is the safe space I come home to that lets me recharge for what comes next.