High Functioning Depressive

A recent article on the death of Cory Monteith describing him as an atypical “junkie” who didn’t fit the stereotype got me thinking about the concept of a “high-functioning” addict. This is a term I hadn’t come across before until quite recently and it certainly never occurred to me until now that the term might be applicable to myself – a high-functioning depressive.

I guess in order to apply any definition to oneself you have to analyse what exactly does it mean. What is “high-functioning”? I suspect that this is something that will differ from person to person according to their beliefs and values, but for me it means:

Being able to work closely with colleagues without them knowing about my illness and excelling at that work

Some people might define high-functioning more emotionally – being stable more days than not, not doubting oneself, not being dependent on medication for balance – but for me it’s the ability to be a functioning member of the 9-to-5ers that is valuable. I guess that comes down to my high regard for the opinion of others, good or bad as that may be. I have often been described as a Type A personality and a counsellor once said that perhaps my upbringing and the focus on working hard and achievement mean that these are now the measures against which I score myself. Regardless, it’s important to me that I am considered strong and capable. I have a high-pressure job with a lot of people and money balanced on my ability to perform, so any instability would not be looked upon favourably. I love my job and I know I can do it better than a lot of other people – I don’t want to introduce any element of doubt or second-guessing into the mix. I want to be Mina. Not Mina-question-mark.

Maintaining what I deem to be a good social life, though to others it may look entirely antisocial

Again, I think this comes down to personality and values. I value a good meal, a movie, a chat with friends. I no longer think hungover is a good way to spend a Sunday and I don’t like how I feel when I drink on my meds. My move to London was also relatively recent so my social circle has contracted significantly and I spend more nights in than out. However, on the flip side, I spend more days out than in. Something that was unheard of in my 20s. Weekend days especially were for recovery or pre-party preparations. Now I go to museums, I brunch, I sip cappuccinos and read my book while my other half relaxes with his newspaper beside me. And I love love love restaurants.

Having a successful, mutually supportive relationship where I both give and receive love

Well, who doesn’t want that! I suppose the key here is “mutually”. I don’t want a kind, loving partner who strokes my hair and looks after me. Well I do, but I with two caveats: 1) I want to be strong enough to do the same for him and 2) I want him to let me. For several years I was in a relationship with a man who didn’t need me and he would freely admit it. Coupled with the fact that I really needed him at several points during our years together, the relationship was doomed to inevitable failure. Having found a healthy give-and-take relationship it’s important that I strive to keep it as such and not let my illness turn it into a one-way flow in my favour.

So What?

I guess you can look at this post in two ways:

  1. Think I need to be good at everything (cheers Type A personality!) and so I can only live in a world where I perceive myself to be really good at having depression and therefore I should shut the hell up with this high-functioning nonsense; or
  2. Consider that it’s good to have points of reference for yourself, that can only be defined by yourself, that you can check-in with from time to time and see how you’re doing.What do you think of the high-functioning concept? If it strikes a note with you I’d love to know how you’d define it for yourself.
High Functioning Depressive

10 thoughts on “High Functioning Depressive

      1. I’ll try again, when the right thoughts come to me in a way I can articulate them properly.

        I have a LOT I need to write tonight (9 pm in JP now). I’m almost positive my meds have made me manic, and I’m a fucking speed freak!


  1. songtothesirens says:

    You’ve actually given me a really good idea for a blog post. What does it mean to be a high-functioning Bipolar type I when you do not have a job, your soon to be ex is a jerk who never bothered to even try to understand you as a person with a disease, but rather identified you as the disease, you are about to be single again with your cat for solace (not that soon to be ex provided much, hence the “ex” part), and/or you are not in school (which is my main arena of competition. I love everything about the academic life), your social circle is non-existent thanks to emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of the soon to be ex (and you are socially anti-social to begin with). There is too much to consider for a comment! Great idea! I will definitely have to think about what high-functioning means to me, and post on it.

    Right now I am researching another one of my more clinical and dry posts on the correlations between having bipolar disorder type I or II, and certain behaviours that seem to be more prevalent in that population. It is kind of like writing a short research paper which is fun for me. My therapist thinks i should organize all of this into a book. Holy cow! I have like 240 posts!


    1. Wow. That would be amazing. I think bipolar is something that is really misunderstood in the public eye. Most people assume its just mood swings or think its hearing voices. I only learnt about it myself last year when my sister was diagnosed. Maybe you have found your niche!


      1. songtothesirens says:

        I totally agree that bipolar is completely misunderstood. People mistake it for schizophrenia because when we are manic and it has been a few days since we have slept, and our brains won’t shut down, it can look very much like schizophrenia. Then there’s the “split personality” theory of bipolar. Ummm, nope we are one person. We just have really wild mood swings which can be managed with meds and therapy. And, yes, some of us become psychotic. But, I do think the public tends to lump bipolars and schizophrenics together. They do account for several million people, but the two disorders are nothing alike. I don’t hear voices. I just have this annoying dialogue in my head. Good days are when I win the argument 🙂


        1. When I tell people my sister is bipolar they don’t know how to react. I can almost see the cogs turning in their brains….”eek, do I commiserate, do I say I hope she gets better” and you know they’re chanting “don’t mention crazy, don’t mention crazy”. Funny thing is that it doesn’t bother me at all, well, the manic side anyway. I do worry about her down times. But mostly I rage against the unfairness of my baby sister having to deal with meds and so much self-care when the disorder she has makes her exactly the kind of person who doesn’t pay attention to boring things like eating and sleeping.

          When I first read a description of bipolar I just thought to myself well that’s just her awesome personality in a nutshell. So sure, it’s a disorder, but it’s also just the her we know and love, if that makes sense.


          1. songtothesirens says:

            Actually, it makes perfect sense. My own family has learned over the years that it is just part of my personality, and when I am not unemployed, or out of school, I can really kick butt. Probably due to a tendency towards being a bit manic at all times. But, as my late grandma used to tell me, “things just are the way they are, Jen.” Then she’d tell me I had always been her favorite. And that was that. She was a really neat lady. She was 97 when she died last year! I cannot even imagine living that long. Maybe 80…..

            When I was first diagnosed, it really freaked me out because I already knew what Bipolar I was. I had a minor in Abnormal Psych. So, I thought my life was over. At one point I was so low, it almost was over, but fortunately I moved past that about 5 or 6 years ago.

            Having to deal with meds and all of the therapy and psychiatric appointments can be a real pain in the butt. Especially in the “beginning” of the illness (most people do not get the correct diagnosis for years after the onset of the illness). I wasn’t diagnosed until I was about 32, but my therapist feels that I had a much earlier onset in my late teens or early 20’s (see posts on Self-Medicating, and there is one other, but I can’t remember right off the top of head which one it is, just go through the archives from about a year ago).

            I have no problem telling people that I have bipolar disorder or any other of my 4 diagnoses. If they want to stick to their preconceived notions that we are “crazy,” by all means don’t let me talk you out of your prejudice. Hang onto it with all your might if it makes you comfortable. Those are exactly the people I target because I do not act or look like people’s idea of “crazy” or “insane,” and it really throws them off when I casually mention it.

            However, every now and again, I will have a mood shift that is a little more than just a bad mood. They usually last about 2-3 days, or longer if I let them which I won’t. I will immediately put in a call to my doctor: can we put me back on this, or can we up the amount of this? I do not have much to work with as I am only on 2 meds that directly address mood. One for comorbid anxiety disorders and one for adult ADD.

            Now, I understand why my mom’s ringtone for me for years was “Flight of the Bumble Bee” which if you haven’t heard it is a really frantic sounding piece of classical music. At the time I didn’t think it was very funny because it was an obvious allusion to my being Bipolar and manic/depressed (the dreaded “mixed” state). Then I learned to take this whole thing with a grain of salt, and developed a sense of sarcastic humor about it.

            Not that I am always flippant about it. It really can be a very serious, sometimes fatal illness, and I definitely have what I call “bipolar moments” when I am just so anxious and certain that everything will not work out.

            But I would trade the ability to feel emotion over being so overmedicated you have trouble remembering who you are let alone have a feeling. Unfortunately, many psychiatrists seem to think that the more meds you are on, the better the disorder is “managed,” which is where I disagree heartily. If you can stabilize a person on one or two mood stabilizers, then that’s all the medication they need. The other parts can be taken care of with therapy, and, in my opinion, some kind of spiritual practice.

            Is your sister diagnosed with type I or II? I had bipolar II for about a month. Then, all of a sudden, I graduated to type I. I would really like to go back to type II, but my therapist and every psychiatrist I have seen refuses to let me. Hmmppphhh……..


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