Are you functionally depressed?
When you hear the word depression, what comes to mind? Someone unable to get out of bed for days at a time? an individual crying uncontrollably? a person struggling with heavy hopeless feelings or suicidal thoughts? You wouldn’t be wrong. This is one face of depression. But the reality is, depression is experienced in many forms, and often times it can be a much more subtle experience. So subtle that to an outsider, they may never have suspected a thing, and as someone struggling with it, you may never have stopped to consider that what your dealing with is actually depression.
So what do I mean when I say functional depression? Well, as the name suggests, those who are functionally depressed are able to maintain that “normal” routine. You can hold a job, you have relationships, you walk your dog, make dinner, tend to the kids, you pay your rent, heck you even eat your vegetables. You do ALL the things you are supposed to do. By societies standards, you should be just fine. But that’s just it. All the “right” things that “should” indicate being okay, aren’t enough. In fact, those with functional depression, look just fine on the surface, but underneath is a struggle to find any joy, meaning, or sense of satisfaction within their life.
Signs of Functional Depression
Feeling two-faced: I hear this expressed by so many of my clients. There is the happy, put together side of you that is presented to the rest of the world to convince it that you are a-okay. This is the side of you that gets you through the day…day after day. But it feels like you’re wearing a mask, or putting on a show because how you really feel is night and day from how you portray yourself.
Chronic irritability: you might not feel deeply sad, but there is an irritable undertone to most aspects of your life. You might feel upset and annoyed with your significant other or family and friends most of the time. Your job is nothing but a source of stress that you put up with, and you have no patience or care to be around other people. Additionally, It could be that you’re quick to anger when something small goes wrong.
Going through the motions: The things you do throughout the day all start to feel like nothing more than a chore. The activities, people, and places that used to light you up, now seem like burdens. Life is a monotonous series of things you “have to do.”
lack of direction: Along the lines of the former point, you have no idea where your life is headed. There is no sense of purpose or direction, so it feels like you’re stumbling along in the dark. Its hard to make decisions or set goals because you’re not sure what you are working towards.
Persistent self-doubt: It could be that you don’t feel confident in anything you do. You doubt your ability to make the right decisions. You don’t feel good enough, strong enough, smart enough. Its hard to see your value in relationships, or at your job. Even when you achieve great things, no amount of success can discount the feeling of not measuring up.
An inability to slow down: You are constantly on the go. You’re day is scheduled from the moment you wake up to the moment your head hits the pillow. The thought of slowing down, taking a breath, or self-reflecting is terrifying. So you just keep pushing. If you find the idea of spending time with your own thoughts and feelings unbearable, there is a good chance you’re running from something.
Why are you struggling with functional depression?
The experience of depression is impacted by so many factors. There are biological, physiological, psychological, environmental, and social variables that can contribute to having functional depression. I wont speak to all the points above, but I will explore 4 themes that I see most often in my therapy office.
Remoteness form values: Our values are what give us a sense of meaning in our lives. Without them we feel totally lost. Our values answer the questions: what’s worth fighting for? what do I want to stand for? what makes life worth it, even when it gets really hard? Values are very personal. They cannot be chosen for you. They are genuine to who you are and give your life a sense of vitality and aliveness.
Internalized messages from society: The thing is, we often lose touch with our values because from the moment we are born we are bombarded with messages about who we are supposed to be, how we should spend our time…a long list of “should’s” and “shouldnt’s”, “do’s” and “dont’s”. The other thing is, as kids this stuff gets internalized. It’s how we learn to navigate the world. But then our sense of direction gets muddled and confused because we are chasing these expectations, instead of listening to that inner voice that is our own.
Disconnection from emotions: By in large we are a world that is uncomfortable with emotions. To varying degrees many of us were taught that it isn’t okay to feel and that difficult emotions should be avoided at all costs. This can lead to chronic and unhealthy patterns of coping with normal (albeit uncomfortable) human emotions. At its extreme you may see emotional avoidance in the form of drug and alcohol abuse, but most often I see it in the form of an internal shut down. Many of my clients have learned to numb themselves out. Doing so allows them to avoid their pain, but it also costs them them the ability to experience joy, connection, and meaning. That’s when those chronic feelings of emptiness take hold.
Difficulty in being vulnerable: Vulnerability is a two sided coin. After a difficult or traumatic life experience, many of us learn that it seems too risky to be vulnerable. We build walls to protect ourselves from being hurt by others. And this makes sense to a degree. But what we may not realize is that vulnerability with ourselves and others is where the good stuff happens. Having loving relationships with other people requires vulnerability to being rejected. Appreciating beauty or the newness of an experience requires vulnerability to uncertainty. Working towards your goals requires vulnerability to the risk of failure. Being who you are requires vulnerability to the disapproval of others.
Take care of you
If you resonated with any of the information above, I encourage you to take some time to self-reflect. Functional depression often persists for years on end before people decide to do anything about it. I’ve heard many times from people that they didn’t consider themselves “sick enough” to ask for help. Don’t make the same mistake. Life can be more for you than just getting by.