High Functioning Male

This week is National Depression Awareness Week. I think I can say with confidence that you weren’t aware of that. These National Awareness Weeks always remind me of the Simpsons episode where Mayor Quimby, at a grand public ceremony, announces that today will henceforth be known as ‘Flaming Moe’s Day’ – after a new drink marketed by the surly bartender. As Quimby makes this declaration, an aide whispers: ‘Sir, this is already Veterans’ Day.’ ‘It can be two things,’ an irate Quimby snaps back.

There’s an excellent post on depression by the always excellent Red Newsom. You should definitely read the whole thing but in this excerpt she nails the signs and portents of this peculiar syndrome:

  • Waking up one day feeling like something is wrong, like something changed overnight
  • Little Issues suddenly seeming awfully like Big Issues
  • Unease which turns into paranoia. Something isn’t right. Am I happy? Why aren’t I happy? I’m in bed with my furry family watching Buffy and I am in love and on paper everything is fine but why do I feel so terrible?
  • Inability to think short-term ie. ‘I don’t have a job. Why won’t my boyfriend marry me and have babies with me? I’ll never be happy ever again because my life isn’t where I want it currently. It’ll never happen. I AM SO FUCKED.’
  • Inability to think long-term ie. ‘Well, I can’t see myself being around for much longer.’
  • Paralysis of the body and mind; long hours in bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling nothing. Totally exhausted.
  • Anxiety, panic attacks and not being able to leave the house
  • Leaving the house, having a panic attack in Morissons and coming home perspiring madly
  • The very real sensation of all productivity flying out of the window along with all optimism, social skills and rational thoughts
  • The ‘Fuck This Shit’ approach to life where you stop caring about anything, like you’re playing a game of chicken or something. Self destructive thoughts
  • How do I shift these feelings? They are invisible and intangible, I need to make them physical so I can see them
  • Intense feelings of ‘There is nothing for you here. Why don’t you please go and jump in front of that nearby car so no-one has to deal with your stupid face any more?’
  • Crying and hurting and WTF-do-I-do-nowing

Some people who know me will be aware that I had some, well, emotional stuff going on before I left Manchester with loads of irrational self destructive impulses and dramatic mood swings. Some of the symptoms Red talks about are still familiar to me. An anxiety so gripping that you can barely breathe. Intrusive thoughts of disappointment and self-harm that recur at random moments. A conviction that death is ultimately the way forward. Ideation and arrangements. A reckless romantic fatalism that impedes long term planning. Okay, I’ll say yes to your boring social engagement, but the joke’s on you: I’ll be dead by then.

The nightmares followed me across the Pennines. I live in a beautiful city with loads of culture and great nightlife but, as the Stephen King line has it, if you put an asshole on a plane in Boston, the same asshole gets off in New York. The temptation is to just get lost in the sadness and try to come out on the other side – to reach that magical state that Sarah Hall described as the beautiful indifference.

A secondary problem: how to write about this sort of thing without sounding self pitying or pretentious or self aggrandising? The solicitor David Allen Green touched on this in an old post, where he reflects on a life that turned out well, in a way that he never expected:

And so after a decade and a half of frustrations and obstructions, I began to enjoy myself, which I never really had done since before university.

It certainly helped my depression, which had dogged me for years, and still does.

(Depression is something else one is not supposed to talk about.)

I think that last bracketed line still sums things up.

I used to be more optimistic about how far we had come, until I realised that in ten years David is the only working professional I have met who will say in public ‘I suffer from depression’. I think there are other people who have these problems but won’t say so, for fear of redundancy or a question mark in their HR file. It’s the old paradox: if no one steps up, nothing will change.

I think the key is to accept that you deserve love and happiness – or at least live as if you do.

You read. You run. You surround yourself with culture and music and gentle things. You talk to people. You go for long rambling walks. You go out. You socialise. You challenge yourself. You get up in the morning to earn a living. You stay high functioning.

And then, potentially, you get out of the valley, scramble up the hillside, to the place where everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.



5 Responses to “High Functioning Male”

  1. pocketapocketaqueep Says:

    I wasn’t aware of it myself. I have a peculiarly complicated relationship with my own susceptibility to depression and mood instability. It was how I defined myself for a long time, a kind of “master status”, before I found a good handful of strategies for dealing with it, nutritional and lifestyle fixes, and took the edge off it to a sufficient extent that I can more or less forget about it.

    Since that time I have found that the need to forget about my own recurring bouts of low mood to some degree is necessary to my being able to function as normally as I am able. It’s a delicate balance, because forgetting completely can mean I miss the first signs when they rear their head, neglect too therefore, to trigger those first few coping mechanisms that can head it off at the pass. I am able to help others I know who talk about depression and low mood, or whose battles I pick up on, but otherwise have much of my time taken up with the need to maintain symptoms of ADHD which marr all of my days, not just some of them.

    Certainly I can count myself among those who don’t often stand up and be counted as having suffered from depression. There are those who turn away from you. Often those who ought to know better. I often (more often) speak openly about my ADHD, but even then find that people can react in ways that may be either dismissive or well meaning but variously invidious. I choose my battles and, as a rule, remain glad that those days of lithium, and reading books by Kay Redfield Jamison and all the rest of it since that first breakdown, whatever it was, that led me to read a biography of Spike Milligan and sense that something of his manic depressive illness applied and would always apply to me, is apparently behind me.

    It’s for that reason I applaud anyone who writes a piece such as this. I recognise all of the signs above (except for the long hours in bed), and I am fairly sure that I will be familiar with them periodically throughout my whole life. I’m equally certain there are many ways to live with it, many ways to battle it, and many ways to gain something from it the people around us value.

    I can think of plenty of people who recognise the above, and who I feel deep respect and affection for. I can think of plenty of other people whose empathy is somewhat restricted by the fact that they will always be baffled by it. I suspect that will always be the case no matter how many people speak up – let’s face it, anhedonia, the fact of not giving a shit what happens to you, of hating your very self, can be very alien to people who have never known it. But many of the people I suspected would never get it, have proven themselves capable of trying, and so the taboo I felt for a long time about speaking out has, on a one-to-one level at least, diminished over time. Which is very different from professionals speaking out. I seem to recall Kay Redfield Jamison advising people not to speak up at work, and with my own experiences of talking about ADHD and the campaign of condescension which followed, I think I might in many cases advise the same to anyone whose work might be affected.

    Sorry, that’s a little incoherently ambivalent towards the end there, but I feel it’s not always a simple matter and, whilst I invariably commend those who speak out, I don’t know that it’s the best for everyone; some, who may be more vulnerable either psychologically or at work, might be advised to pick and choose who to reveal their problems to.


  2. pocketapocketaqueep Says:

    Thank you. Sounds good. Same topic? Might be a while though. Snowed under with English classes with covering for colleagues, and teaching my first proper advanced Czech class on Wednesday, which should be interesting.

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