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I Have A ‘High-Functioning’ Mental Illness — And No, It’s Not As Great As You Think

By Kimberly Zapata

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 15 years old. At the time, I didn’t know much about it or my symptoms. I knew it was an illness — a mental illness — and one that affected almost every aspect of my life, but beyond that, my knowledge was limited.

The only thing I knew about depression was what I saw on TV or in antidepressant commercials. That said, I quickly learned I wasn’t the “normal” depressive patient; I was a straight-A student and a member of the drama club, the history club, choir and the National Honor Society, and I had a part-time job. I also had a semi-normal social life and several very good friends. As such, I wasn’t the stereotype. I didn’t fit into the “sick” or “crazy” kid mold.

Doctors told me I was lucky — things weren’t, and I quote, “that bad” — because I was a high-functioning individual. Because I could live a relatively carefree life. But after having (and fighting) said illness for 19-plus years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that having a high-functioning mental illness isn’t a blessing. Not really. In fact, it is just as dangerous, just as damaging and just as scary as regular depression if not more so.

You see, every day, I wake up and get out of bed. I get my daughter dressed, make her breakfast and take her to school, and then, I head out to work, but I struggle: to think, to feel, to function.

I struggle to be present and alive.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it. I slap on a smile and laugh a fake laugh. I carry on conversations like everyone else. But inside, I am yelling. I am screaming. I am crying. I am consumed by emotion or completely empty and numb.

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