High-Functioning Depression

When I was forcibly committed back in March, the doctors doing the initial interview kept commenting on how incredibly “high-functioning” I was. The way they said it, it was like I was a tiger in a zoo with a purple stripe down its back. “You are amazingly high-functioning,” they kept saying, like I deserved a medal for being able to talk and act like a real boy.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to dog cuss them. I wanted to make them leave me alone.

Granted, most of this wasn’t even the doctors’ faults. I was there because my family, in lieu of talking to me, decided that they should forcibly commit me. After all, in December I had suggested as much. Really they were just doing what I wanted, respecting my wishes whether I liked it or not. There was just one problem: in order to get me committed, they had to fudge timelines and make some shit up.

I want to be clear here: I’m not saying that I didn’t need help. But living with a depressed self that lies to convince me I need to die tends to make me prefer honesty over dissembling. Living with family that would rather avoid honest conversation in lieu of surprise ambushes of emotion (and now commitment proceedings) pushes me even further towards needing honesty. Some people need the lies to comfort themselves; I need to make sure what I’m thinking is real.

Fast forward to where I’m stripped down to a hospital gown, sitting on a bed, getting interviewed by the first doctor and her assistant. They started asking me questions about why I’d had a shaved head, when I had depressive thoughts, had I been hurting myself. One by one, they were going through the complaint my family filed. So me, in a fit of cynical defiance, asked, “Can I get a copy of the complaint filed against me?”

The doctor blinked, looked away, and said, “I don’t know of any complaint.” Finish with eye contact. A lot of people do this when they lie, so I can’t blame her for having a huge haptic sign that says, “I’m lying my ass off.” Since I couldn’t get out from being observed (on a Friday, which made it last longer than 72 hours), I decided to have fun with it. Every time I asked a different way about the complaint, and every time I got a fun little lie.

By the time the interview was over, she probably thought she was complimenting me by telling me I was high-functioning and that she had no clue why I was even there. I thought of a bunch of different things I could say to her that would make her cry. Then I got angry at myself for wanting to treat other people like I was being treated. Following the anger, I started getting depressed again. My thoughts gravitated towards never going home, doing something drastic, and being rid of all of this nonsense forever.

And the people supposed to observe me didn’t catch any of it.

For me, high-functioning is an epithet, not a compliment.
All the label high-functioning tells me is that the mental health professional I’m dealing with can’t handle me. Of course I’m high-functioning. I talk amiably when I’m nervous. I smile and chat when I’m feeling depressed. I crack the funniest jokes when I’m figuring out how best to kill myself.

I hide my depression amazingly well. And I was angriest in that hospital because I was being forced to hide it again. Sure, I could have been brutally honest with them, but I would have just been forcibly committed for a month or so. During that time I wasn’t sure if I could get a professional that could help me sort through the lies. My problem is that I need independence because not only am I my own worst enemy, I am also my key to my salvation.

No part of me enjoys treating therapists, doctors, and other staff like petulant children who are capable of brutal acts of cruelty if they don’t get their way. The healthy part of me knows I need help, but I meet people who are in awe of my amiability and jovial attitude while in the face of imprisonment. While in that hospital, they couldn’t tell I was serious when I said I would’ve had more procedural rights if I’d killed someone. People just chuckled because murder is so drastic.

All of this is why I distrust the Byzantine system known as mental health services in this country. I need to be honest because it’s the only way I can get help. But if I’m honest, people freak out and feel the need to threaten me with confinement. Because when I’m honest, I’m no longer a happy, likable person. I’m this guy that’s scaring people with thoughts of suicide and death.

There is a point to this rant.
I wanted to write this after I read this post by ccchanel 41. I do not have Dissociative Identity Disorder (“DID”), but I could identify with the feelings of frustration talking with a mental health professional with a god complex. In that hospital, in other areas where I had to deal with professionals, I encountered people who were more interested in getting my condition to conform with whatever label they needed than in helping me sort through my problems.

I could tell this because in the hospital I was doing more to help the other patients cope with their commitment than the staff were. They would tell us where we could go and what we could do. I would help them laugh and cope with being treated like zoo animals. By the end of my stay, those other patients also did more for me than any licensed professional did for me my entire life.

Does a person need a degree to treat others? Sure, in an official capacity. But that degree doesn’t mean the world has to conform to your training. That’s why it’s called “practicing.” The training begins and ends with that parchment; it doesn’t transform you into the perfect whatever.

All the degrees, books, and seminars couldn’t help those other mental health professionals see what was going on with me.

9 thoughts on “High-Functioning Depression

  1. So sorry you went through this. I too, have been hospitalized for my bipolar disorder when I had a breakdown, me being CC. And I can so relate to this post. It is spot on as to the treatment by staff in an inpatient unit so many times. Love this post for it’s honesty. Not for what you went through. I remember the friendship and help that I got from the other patients in the hospital that was much more helpful to me and I will never forget. Glad that my post led you to writing this. If we are all vocal maybe it will help more to be, and more to change. Much love.


    • Thanks for your comment! When I was in hospital, some of the other patients chatted and openly wondered why there wasn’t some sort of way for people with illnesses to get together informally just to chat. It was loads more therapeutic than group sessions or professionals guessing at how to diagnose us.

      Part of me wonders if it’s more helpful for people with illness to get together, or how that would even work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. After watching what my mother went through during and after her schizophrenic breakdowns and working through my own minor issues, I can only agree heartily. We have to stop treating mental health patients like criminals or degenerates. Given the number of people on some kind of medication, and often many different kinds, I’m starting to think that almost everyone is camouflaging themselves.


    • First, I’d like to offer my best wishes to you and your mother for whatever you have/are/will be going through. Mental illness takes its toll on everyone, and enduring it is tough.

      Whatever you’re going through is important. And being able to talk about it does a lot for other people who might read this but are afraid to talk about it.

      Bottom line: thank you for adding your voice and helping others to see mental health can be talked about openly!


  3. Oh I can so relate. In the “real world” I have to be this fun loving excited bubbly person for everyone, or else they freak out. If I was to be myself, I would have no friends. But sometimes its necessary to show some people the real you – and mental health professionals are definitely ones you need to show. Even though its hard. I hope you can get the help you need! X


    • I don’t think I’ve ever shown anyone the completely real me. The full depths of what I’ve lived with inside my head are quite scary. Even providing glimpses to my therapist and family has gotten visceral, averse reactions from them.

      Thank you for your comment and support! I hope you are able to get the help you need as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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