Behind the scenes is a woman who is exhausted with the effort of fighting to be functional despite the thoughts that threaten to overwhelm her.
Depression is a difficult mental illness to live with, but it can be harder to deal with it when you're high functioning to the point where people are unaware that anything is wrong with you at all. Not all mental illness is evident or visible to a person's loved ones or acquaintances. It can lead to a lack of support and understanding they need to battle through their illness.
Many mothers who live with high-functioning depression often appear to be happy, devoted to their children, successful, and even self-confident at times, but underneath the surface, they're constantly battling self-doubt, a lack of motivation, negative thoughts, and feelings of inadequacy. They often feel misunderstood because people around them don't realize the strength and effort it takes to maintain a semblance of normalcy. This can make them feel alienated from the people they love.
Here's what you need to know about mothers with high-functioning depression:
They can seem happy around other people and their kids, and they can genuinely connect with them and enjoy quality time with their families. However, it's when the positive feelings fade away or when they're alone that the depressive thoughts start to creep in and take over. Sometimes, they smile even as their minds are filled with sadness or self-doubt, and they can carry on like everything is fine, even when they feel low. They do what it takes to seem "normal," dropping the facade only in private, which can often lead the people who love them to believe that they're doing well when they're not.
Loved ones of women with high-functioning depression may offer what they assume to be helpful advice like "Think positive thoughts" or "Try making a conscious decision to be happy." These words of advice mean very little to them because no matter how many affirming thoughts they think, they can't control the negative thoughts that flood their minds at times. Even when there's no reason to be sad or worried, they can be plagued with unwelcome thoughts that don't seem to go away.
Some people often look for more evident signs of depression, such as unhealthy habits or coping strategies, but not everyone copes with depression by bingeing or neglecting personal care or staying locked up at home for days on end. There are some who throw themselves into hobbies or personal interests to cope, like going to the gym or drawing their feelings. Others have coping mechanisms that fly under the radar, such as when they avoid people for a few hours or spend a lot of time with a pet.
While they do eventually manage to fulfill their responsibilities, mothers with high-functioning depression aren't as organized on the inside as they seem to be on the outside. Their minds are constantly buzzing with thoughts, worries, fears, anxieties, and even strategies for dealing with the internal chaos. They aren't always overwhelmed by their thoughts, but the mental activity never truly slows down or stops, and they learn how to keep going despite being bombarded by emotions and thoughts they'd rather ignore or bury.
No matter how well they're doing as mothers and partners, these women often feel guilty about everything going on in their lives, even things that they can't change or control. They regret the past and things they said or did that they wish they hadn't. They look at where they are now and feel guilty that they aren't doing their best or doing things right. They even feel guilty about things they need to do that they think they'll fail at or do badly.
The thing about high-functioning depression is that no matter how depressed or exhausted women who have it feel, they'll eventually find a way to accomplish their goals for the day. Even if it's hard to get out of bed in the morning, they make sure that their kids are fed and ready for school, that they walk into work on time, and that they fulfill their responsibilities for the day. They do all this despite feeling overwhelmed with sadness or anxiety at times, and despite feeling unmotivated or worthless at times.
One of the most difficult things for mothers with high-functioning depression to deal with is falling short of their own expectations for themselves. No one can make them feel worse than they already do because they're harder on themselves than most people and often set unrealistically high standards for themselves that they're doomed to fall short of. They struggle with self-hate and self-criticism when they fail at a task, and this is intensified when they disappoint someone else and earn their ire.
Depression is a constant battle against the thoughts that threaten to take over their mind, and people who live with depression often feel extremely tired and fatigued when they have to do tasks that are simple for most other people. There is an inner struggle that can make even the simplest things seem difficult or complicated, and this can make a regular day feel exhausting for people living with depression. Crawling into bed after a long day can be the only thing to look forward, and getting out of bed the next morning can become a thing to dread.
Mothers who live with high-functioning depression often seem like go-getters or even over-achievers because they're constantly occupying themselves and accomplishing things in record time, but the truth is that they're keeping themselves busy to avoid moments where their thoughts catch up to them and overwhelm them. They may even become anxious when they sense time slipping away from them, or they may worry that they aren't spending their time the right way, adding to their stress.