In 1849 Henry David Thoreau published Civil Disobedience in which he penned the famous line: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Now, so many years later, many people wonder why they feel a sense of “quiet desperation.” They aren’t sure why, despite their lives filled with activity, they have a sense of melancholy. They don’t believe they could be experiencing anxiety or depression. After all, if they were anxious or depressed they wouldn’t be able to attend to all their commitments, show up for work, school, social activities, etc. Many have the idea that anxiety and depression means one can’t get out of bed, can’t get to work or school, and can’t have relationships with partners, family, or friends. The truth is people can be high-functioning AND anxious or depressed.
While many of the typical signs of depression and anxiety relate to impairment or reduction of functioning, some people with anxiety and depression are able to function and even over-function to avoid experiencing painful feelings. Individuals with high-functioning anxiety and depression are ones who often go above and beyond--they volunteer for every committee, they work extra hours to complete the project, they have trouble saying no, and they can be viewed as the one who can handle anything. Often, from the outside they appear to “have it all together.”
However, at the end of the day, no matter how much they have accomplished, how much they have filled every minute of the day, those with high-functioning anxiety and depression carry a sense of “quiet desperation.” They wonder what the point is as they drive between meetings. They lay down at night and wonder if they are the only ones who feel it’s all kind of pointless. They tell themselves “After I finish this next project, after I graduate, after I get the next promotion, I won’t feel this sense of foreboding each day when I get out of bed.” The reality is when the next goal is conquered, the depression or anxiety continues to stay with them. Often, this leads to questions of “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be satisfied? Why do others seem so impressed by my accomplishments, but I find little value in them?”
Of course, when most of the people around us are impressed by our accomplishments, it’s even more difficult to express those feelings of depression and anxiety. Continuously receiving positive feedback from others for having it all together makes it difficult to reach out and say, “I know it looks like I have it all together, but inside, I feel like a mess.” After all, who is going to believe that? The last time that truth was expressed it was met by the other person rattling off a laundry list of all the accomplishments you’ve had and why you shouldn’t feel that way. Anxiety and depression can be isolating. High-functioning anxiety and depression are especially lonely.
Do you think you may be experiencing high-functioning anxiety and/or depression? It’s crucial to recognize how you’re feeling and seek help. You may find that meeting with a therapist will help you take steps to a more fulfilling life. If you’re interested in talking more, please contact me to book a session.
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Jessica is a mental health therapist who specializes in helping women free themselves from anxiety, depression, and other stress-related conditions. She is honored to witness the experiences of her clients and work with them toward meaningful lives.