Living With A High Functioning Mental Illness

What’s it like to live every day with an illness that people can’t see? Lauren shares what is a reality for many people, who go about their daily lives whilst dealing with a mental health problem.

“But you look fine’

“If you’re depressed something in your life must be terribly wrong”

“But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder”

Stigmas. Myths. Hurtful comments.

Just a few examples of comments that come alongside struggling with mental illness. It is both surprising and alarming the number of myths that are still around today regarding mental health. They are slowly being spoken about, and the taboo is very slowly is lifting. Education is increasing, all be it what feels like at a snail’s pace, yet these myths are still left behind.

Appearing 'normal'

Everyday people across the world get up, get dressed and go about their daily lives, completely undetected to be struggling. From the outside they look as if everything is normal, however on the inside there is a battle going on. Whilst appearing “normal” to those around them, they are fighting a mental illness. Be it anxiety, depression, BPD, or anything else. They are living with high functioning mental illness. This might be a term you haven't heard before, it isn't one readily used. But it is very real for a lot of people.

High functioning mental illness is the term that has been adopted to describe those living with a mental illness that is almost undetectable. It covers a broad spectrum; they might have a job, be studying, dress well, or even have the ‘perfect’ family lifestyle. High functioning mental health is being able to go about most days as if there isn't a war going on in your head, or panic ricocheting through your body. High functioning mental illness, like any mental illness, is exhausting, and overwhelming and hard to deal with.

On the inside

Every day – well most - I get up, I get dressed, go to university or a charity event and live what some would say is a very normal life for a 21 year old. I go to parties, I play a sport, and I even go on days out with my friends. I do it all with a smile on my face, I present myself as a normal 21 year old, going about life and I suppose in most ways I am.

Yet on the inside every day I struggle with my mental health, be it low mood or anxiety. I worry whether what I am doing today is going to lead to a panic attack. And although, I haven't had a ‘bad’ one since I was in sixth form, it is a constant thought on my mind.


Boundaries are important

I am what may be described as ‘high functioning’. I am also one of those people who finds it difficult to say no and loves to pack as much as physically possible into my timetable. I thrive on being busy, on being distracted and making a difference. But, I am slowly learning that boundaries are important. That functioning on the outside, doesn't always help you to function on the inside. That it is okay to be struggling, even if others can’t see that. And that my struggles are just as valid.

Thriving, not just surviving

Functioning mental illness is a strange thing to live with. I often find myself wondering if I would have received more help if I’d shown my struggles more. And then I realise, that that doesn't matter. That mental illness is mental illness, whether you are in a hospital bed or not. Whether you are visibly broken or not. Every single person struggling with mental illness is valid. And every single person deserves help. So if you are functioning but struggling, then perhaps it is time to ask for help. Ask for some support because life is about more than just surviving, it is about thriving. And you deserve to thrive.

Get help

If you are struggling with your mental health and need someone to talk to, have a look at our Find Help Guide for how you can take that first step. 

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