Beware These Signs of High Functioning Depression

E.B. Johnson

by: E.B. Johnson (Image via

Depression is a monster that wears many faces, and when it strikes it strikes us hard. While some of us might show outward signs of our struggle, others don’t, doing battle with their demons in silence while they continue to show up and show out when and where its expected of them. Though these people might seem as though they are thriving, they’re really drowning all alone, with a condition known as high-functioning depression.

What high functioning depression looks like.

There are an array of symptoms when it comes to HFD, and not all of them are as obvious (or even as subtle) as the next. While those with outwardly showing depression might catch the eye of those they love, those whose darkness have deeper roots often have to make the discovery themselves. When you’re struggling with perfectly hidden depression, you have to dig in and embrace the following aspects of yourself in order to find healing.

Needing something to prove

When we’re feeling low, it can often lead us to overcompensation — where we take on the viewpoint that we are only as good as the outward success we present. That can, in turn, lead to an intense focus on tasks, as well as the feeling that there is something that you must prove. Of course, this is all untrue and based entirely on the insecurities generated by the monster that is depression.

Heightened sense of responsibility

Every find yourself hyper-aware of duty, obligation and loyalty? Depressed people, especially those with high-functioning depression, are those who are constantly looking out for the wellbeing of others, while internalizing every bad thing that happens around them. If you’re someone who is good at taking charge when things go wrong, but readily blame yourself for every fault, it might be a sign of deeper-lying issues.

Difficulty expressing emotions

Depression has a funny way of making us feel shame about the negative emotions we face on a daily basis. When you’re struggling with depression you’re not ready to embrace, you start to see feelings like anger or sadness as things that must be banished in order for you to be happy. The real truth, of course, is that these feelings must be embraced (just as we embrace happiness and joy) in order to be resolved and back into the fold of contentment.

Extreme self-criticism

The person with HFD is usually the person who bears a perfectionistic or highly critical streak, and it is this streak which can also cause them to struggle with accepting or opening up about your state of mind. They belittle themselves every time they get it wrong, and they’re brutal when they make a mistake or drop the ball. Their inner critic is in control, and this inner critic prevents them from achieving the joy they are so capable of.

Struggle to focus

High-functioning depression is corrosive, and not only impacts our emotional landscape, but the mental one as well. When we’re depressed, there’s a noticeable dip in our cognitive function, which can in turn make it hard to stay centered and focused. If you’ve noticed yourself wondering or working in a “fog”, then it might be a sign there’s something else going on.

Worry, worry, worry

We all worry from time to time, but constant worry is neither natural or normal. When we become obsessed with our fears, worries, and insecurities, it makes it impossible to live in the here and now. Rather than being able to breath and relax, we’re tense, constantly internalizing and chasing reactions rather than making efficient plans. Feeling the constant need to control the things you’re worried about is not only a sign of buried issues, it can also be a sign of high-functioning depression.

Mood dips

Like it’s more visible and mainstream-accepted cousin, those with high-functioning depression can also suffer from dips in their mood, and swings that make them appear short-fused or irrational. Of course, the truth is that their mood is simply a reflection of the struggle and the turmoil that is going on inside. A symptom of the bigger issues that remain unaddressed as life rolls on.

Strange relationships

The HFD-sufferer is an interesting person, because — though they can maintain a number of successful relationships — they often struggle with their closest and most intimate relationships, as well as letting people into their inner world. Because true intimacy requires vulnerability, those with HFD struggle to open up (even to themselves). Failing to connect, their romantic relationships can become tense, strained or otherwise stagnant from a lack of true and radical bonding.

The critical things we all need to understand about high-functioning depression.

Although facing up to your depression is one thing, dealing with it is another. High-functioning depression is a clinical issue that must be dealt with by a professional. However, there are steps you can take to make to make your life better while you medicate, deal and learn how to heal with the help of a mental health professional.

1. Everyday routines are major accomplishments

When you’re living with high functioning depression, it eats away at not only your self-esteem, but your mental and physical energy and wellbeing as well. Depression is a serious battle, and it’s one that has to be fought every day — whether we know it or not. When we depressed, we notice lower energy levels than those around us, and that’s why even tackling everyday routines should be seen as a major accomplishment.

If you’re learning how to live with hidden depression, start by learning how to celebrate your small victories. As you get more familiar with your condition and realize the impact it can have on you mentally and physically, you’ll start to appreciate just how powerful you really are. If all you managed to do today was get out of bed, celebrate it. If you just managed to take a shower? Celebrate it.

Learning how to celebrate just making it through is a great way to not only get re-engaged with life, but excited about it again. Treat yourself when you make it through a full day of tasks, taking a little time for you to breathe and celebrate your strength. Keep things simple, and don’t try to overdo it when you get one day right. Start easy, with a few tasks each day and watch yourself bloom with confidence as you continue to celebrate and sail through this life that is entirely your own.

2. Behaviors and beliefs aren’t aligned

Appearances are definitely deceiving when it comes to HFD. Those who suffer with this condition often live a double life, presenting as a cool, calm and collected individual that’s living in a world that’s entirely under their control. For those of us dealing with this condition, however, we know that nothing else could be further from the truth. If we want to overcome our hidden depression, we have to start aligning our behaviors and our beliefs.

Look for the next time you find your behavior at odds with your feelings. When it occurs, find some time and take a step back. Get quiet. Assess where you’re at and what your emotions are doing. What were the triggers? Record them, and make a note of how you respond to the situation and how you feel following the entire experience.

Repeat this process daily, weekly or monthly until you are able to identify the patterns that cause you to split who you are from what you want to do. When you’re feeling down, stop forcing yourself to smile and “play the part”. Get space. Take time. Make room in your life for you. If you need to take a day off, take it. Start doing the work it takes to help you separate from your need to appear differently from how you truly are. It’s okay not to be okay.

3. Seeking help is a big ask

Part of the danger of depression is the way it can make us shut down and isolate ourselves. While this might not appear to be the case with a high-functioning depressed person, they certainly utilize the same coping mechanism in a different way. Rather than shutting down outwardly, they shutdown inwardly — turning away from the things that make them uncomfortable and unhappy, and turning away from the people that might otherwise help and support them.

Even though you want to feel better, actually reaching out and asking for help seems like a monumental task when you’re on autopilot with HFD. Pretending all day can leave you low-energy and low-mood, and that’s not a place anyone wants to reach out from. It’s imperative, however, in finding the support that can inspire us to carry on. We don’t have to carry this load alone, but that takes a lot of introspection and personal “breaking out”.

Start small, and start only with the people you know you can trust deeply and without question. Don’t lean into people who question you or doubt you. Look for those who say, “Okay. How do we make you feel better?” Ask for little commitments of time at first, and always ask for their permission before opening up or unloading on them mentally and emotionally. Though those we love want to help, it’s not always the right time or the right place. Get consent and rely on those who have space in their lives (and their hearts) to help you.

4. Self-harm is always a risk

Because the HFD sufferer looks so functional on the outside, many (including the sufferer) can (wrongly) make the assumption that there isn’t any serious risk for self-harm. Holding down a job and meeting expectations, few realize the true dangers that are lurking for those with HFD until it is far too late. Though self-harm is never a pleasant conversation to have, it’s a necessary one — especially when we’re struggling with a buries darkness.

Know how to spot the risk signs in yourself and know when the alarm bells are ringing. If you start struggling more than usual, or find that your thoughts are getting darker than usual, reach out immediately to a mental health professional or someone you can trust.

When you battle with HFD, there’s always the risk of a crash and a sudden collapse out of nowhere. Be aware of what crisis centers exist in your area, and have the numbers of these centers or other people you can trust on speed dial. Check in on yourself regularly and — if you’re really worried — ask a friend to do the same. Though the signs of HFD are more subtle, they’re still there. Pay attention to them and know when you’re about to hit a breaking point.

5. An inner-critic out of control

High-functioning depression is a destructive and toxic state of being that makes it hard for us to exist on the normal plane. Part of this has a great deal to do with the inner critic that lives within us all (even more active as it is in the head and the heart of the HFD sufferer). This inner critic condemns you no matter what you do and makes it even harder to overcome the negative emotions that are already holding you back. It’s one more hurdle and one that can only be overcome with compassion and commitment.

Learn how to control your inner critic, and do it in small increments that allow you to handle the delicate emotional nuance that entails. Identify first the negative beliefs you have about yourself and where they come from; untying the decades worth of emotional knotting that’s keeping you scared and miserable where you’re at.

Replace these negative beliefs with positive ones, and focus on the strengths that have already carried you so far to this point. Realize: you have as much of a right to love and respect as anyone else, and that includes the love and respect that you show to everyone around you. Start giving yourself some of that compassion and recognize the patterns that allow your inner-critic to take control. Thank your critic for their attempt to protect you, but let them know it’s time to take a back seat so your mental space can have some time in the sun.

Putting it all together…

High-functioning depression is both a hard and dangerous state to live in, that keeps you teetering constantly between how you’re actually feeling and how you’re presenting and reacting to the world around you. When we live with concealed depression, with live with a number of unique dangerous and risks that aren’t entirely apparently at first, even to ourselves. If we suspect we’re living with depression that’s not only concealed, but perfectly hidden, it’s important to reach out to mental health professional and incorporate healthier coping techniques that help us to overcome and thrive.

Start celebrating your smallest victories and realize that — even just getting through the day — is a win worth celebrating. When we’re living with well-hidden depression, everything is harder and our behaviors often aren’t aligned with what we really want or what we really need. Lean into your support networks and ask for help when you need it. Self-harm is always a major risk to those living with HFD. Know the warning signs and know the triggers that tell you when it’s time to reach for someone you trust. Drop your inner critic and let go of the need for the validation of others when it comes to how you’re feeling. No one else has a right to know or justify how we’re feeling. Lean into yourself, and start taking care of the inner you, as well as the outer you. Invest in the important relationships that fill your life and embrace the journey as it impacts your intimate partnerships. You can survive this battle with depression, but it’s going to take opening up…especially to yourself.

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Pelham, AL

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