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Living with a high-functioning mental illness

3 min read
07 March 2019

“But you look fine."

“If you’re depressed, something in your life must be terribly wrong.”

“But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder...”

These are just a few examples of the hurtful comments you hear when struggling with mental illness. It is both surprising and alarming the number of myths that are still around today regarding mental health. They are slowly being spoken about, and the taboo is very slowly lifting. Education is increasing, albeit at what feels like a snail’s pace, yet these myths still persist.

Appearing 'normal'

Every day people across the world get up, get dressed and go about their daily lives, completely undetected to be struggling. From the outside they look as if everything is normal, however on the inside there is a battle going on. While appearing 'normal' to those around them, they are fighting a mental illness. Be it anxiety, depression, BPD, or anything else. They are living with high-functioning mental illness. This might be a term you haven't heard before - it isn't one readily used. But it is very real for a lot of people.

High-functioning mental illness is a term to describe those living with a mental illness that most people don't detect. It covers a broad spectrum; they might have a job, be studying, dress well, or even have the ‘perfect’ family lifestyle. High-functioning mental illness means being able to go about most days as if there isn't a war going on in your head, or panic ricocheting through your body. High-functioning mental illness, like any mental illness, is exhausting, overwhelming and hard to deal with.

High-functioning mental illness is a term to describe those living with a mental illness that most people don't detect.

Struggling on the inside

Every day – well most - I get up, get dressed, go to university or a charity event and live what some would say is a very normal life for a 21-year-old. I go to parties, I play a sport, and I even go on days out with my friends. I do it all with a smile on my face, presenting myself as a normal 21-year-old going about life, and I suppose in most ways I am.

Yet on the inside every day I struggle with my mental health, be it low mood or anxiety. I worry whether what I am doing that day is going to lead to a panic attack. And although I haven't had a ‘bad’ one since I was in sixth form, it is a constant thought on my mind.

I worry whether what I am doing that day is going to lead to a panic attack.

It's okay to say no

I am what may be described as ‘high-functioning’. I am also one of those people who finds it difficult to say no and loves to pack as much as physically possible into my timetable. I thrive on being busy, on being distracted and making a difference. But, I am slowly learning that boundaries are important - that functioning on the outside doesn't always help you to function on the inside; that it is okay to be struggling, even if others can’t see that; and that my struggles are just as valid.

I am slowly learning that boundaries are important.

Functioning mental illness is a strange thing to live with. I often find myself wondering if I would have received more help if I’d shown my struggles more. And then I realise that it doesn't matter. That mental illness is mental illness, whether you are in a hospital bed or not. Whether you are visibly broken or not.

The struggles of every single person struggling with mental illness are valid. And every single person deserves help. So if you are functioning but struggling, then perhaps it is time to ask for help. Ask for some support because life is about more than just surviving, it is about thriving. And you deserve to thrive.

Whatever you're struggling with, help is available.

Thanks for sharing your story Lauren

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