As a law clerk, and as part of my part-time social media marketing/content writing business, I attend legal conferences to learn about industry news and different areas of law. I recently attended a conference at the end of October. There was a wide array of topics covered, but one in particular stood out for me: high functioning workplace depression. This was by far one of the best presentations I have attended, because I can relate to it. I sat through the presentation, listening to the speaker, my eyes welling up with tears (for various reasons), and so grateful that our legal organization invited this speaker to our conference to share his experience and to spread awareness about this very important issue.
In recent blogs, I may have mentioned I am experiencing a mixed state. I keep fluctuating. Right now I am very easily agitated, can become hypomanic easily, have difficulty sleeping but I feel low and sad- painfully sad at the same time. The sadness is sucking the life out of me- or at least that is how it feels as I write this. So, feeling this way, listening to that presentation, I just wanted to cry. Not because it upset me, but almost tears of relief, for someone speaking up, and to such a large crowd.
I am a high functioning person. I was always a good student, perfectionist of sorts, and eager to please. I still am, so that makes me high functioning at work, even with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. You would never know that I go through what I go through by looking at me do my work at work, or interacting with me at work. I am that good at hiding it. Believe me, this is not easy to do, and it is exhausting. I often wonder how long I can keep it up for, but I have pretty much been at it my whole working career. I will say that in my current position, my job does not involve a lot of client interaction so unless I am attending a mediation, I do not have to interact with others unless I am having lunch in the lunchroom or have to say good morning/have a good night/nice weekend to anyone who walks by my desk.
Getting back to this presentation I attended, the speaker discussed the personal struggle of “How can I be depressed as a lawyer, by all accounts I have a good life, so many people are worse off. Why can’t I snap out of it?”. So essentially, self-stigma, or “my problems aren’t serious”, which I can relate to because when I am really low, I convince myself I don’t have a right to be depressed and I am stupid for feeling that way. To counteract the self-stigma/self-criticism, the speaker expressed that depression doesn’t have much to do with your personal status; wealth/”status” is not a cure. He mentioned that it is unfortunate that people still think mental illness is an affliction of the weak. He also described high functioning depression in an interesting way, explaining that it can disguise itself as intensity and determination so that our work does not suffer.
He talked about the importance of asking for help and seeking help. You can’t think your way into a better mood. I know this to be true. This is why statements like “cheer up” or “snap out of it” don’t help people with depression. It’s not that simple. We have to figure out what works for us, on our own time, because in our darkest days, we find pleasure in nothing and cannot enjoy anything.
What works for one person, may not work for another person. I read many mental health blogs so I feel less alone. I write these blogs hoping to bring comfort to other people.
Today, I am writing this blog while “pet-sitting” at my parents’ house. I love my dogs. The dogs are family. Nothing is better than seeing their happy faces and wagging tails because they are so excited to see me. Unfortunately, the condominium I live in doesn’t allow pets so I only see them when I go to my parents’, so spending time with them is a good reason to get out of my condo. One of the dogs, Norman, came into my life when I was in a very bad place after my bipolar diagnosis. I remember I was having trouble getting out of bed on the weekends and getting to work on time during the week (of course commuting on the subway that always had delays never helped). I just felt listless. I don’t think my parents wanted to have three dogs in the house, as we were renovating the house but this puppy needed a home and once I saw him, I had to have him. And he made me so happy, and that was it. Slowly, I started to come out from under that dark cloud of “I have a lifelong mental illness and I hate myself” because Norman was to be my responsibility and he was and still is so adorable and sweet that I wanted to get up and at it.
This is Norman as a puppy:
Dogs just feel your emotions and give you “support” in their own way. Dogs don’t care about your diagnosis of bipolar disorder and don’t care about stigma.
We should only care about stigma in the sense of acknowledging that stigma is dangerous and we need to find ways to eradicate it. It’s going to be tough, because so many people have ingrained beliefs about mental illness, the media portrays people with mental illness as violent and dangerous, and there are so many dangerous myths out there. Start the dialogue about living well with mental illness. Create a safe space to talk about it. Take advantage of days like “Bell Let’s Talk” to share your feelings or story.