Mundane Drama: On 'High Functioning'
Get out of bed
Some days I wake up and I know it’s going to be that kind of day. One where my to-do list includes items that most people wouldn’t think twice about, let alone have to congratulate themselves for by getting to check them off the list.
Sometimes, these days go on for weeks, and sometimes I’m granted months long reprieves where, when I wake up in the morning, I’m content with being awake, and I don’t have to concentrate so hard on the mundane tasks ahead of me. Those days, my depression is a kind of abstract painting on the wall. I know it’s there, I can remember the shape of it, but it’s not in view at all times.
I don’t often write about my mental health issues in any kind of a public way, other than hinting here and there on social media when I’m having a hard time:
“Someone tell me something nice today? It’s been a rough one.”
Or a joke that is not really a joke about laying out my pajamas in the morning before I leave work as a tease of the sleeping that is waiting on the other side of a 10 hour work day. The promise that I will get to return to my safe space eventually.
But I don’t often write, in long form, about what it’s like to be ‘high functioning’ and have mental health issues. If you’ll notice, I’m not even going into detail right now about what my specific diagnoses are. It feels too vulnerable.
For one thing, I don’t generally want sympathy. I don’t want the concerned looks I might get from co-workers if they knew that the ‘stomach bug’ that kept me out of work the previous day was actually the mental hangover from a late night panic attack that left my blood vibrating and bursting to get out of my skin, and made it nearly impossible to walk across the room without shaking.
I don’t want sympathy or congratulations.
I got out of bed. I washed the dishes. I made the bed. Maybe I even showered. This sequence of tasks may have taken more effort for me than another person’s half-marathon training. But I don’t want sympathy, because, in varying degrees, this is my life every day and has been my life for years. Every day, a lot of effort goes into organizing, sometimes in minute detail (“walk to the bathroom, roll toothpaste tube, wet brush, brush teeth, no, wait longer, you’re not quite done yet, ok now”) the tasks that most people take for granted, but that are necessary to get that gold star of ‘high functioning’ in the world.
I relate a lot to the Rilo Kiley song “Better Son/Daughter."
It’s a bit of an anthem:
You’ll fight and you’ll make it through
And you’ll fake it if you have to
And you’ll show up for work with a smile
You’ll be braver and you’ll be smarter
And more grown-up and a better daughter
Or son and a real good friend
There’s a lot of faking it if I have to. And showing up for work with a smile. And I do fine. I’m appreciated and congratulated by colleagues for things I’m comfortable being congratulated for: because I made a great presentation, or handled a meeting with grace and ease, or booked something big. Not because I managed to take a shower that morning, or the mountain of a million other mundanities that is piled underneath the work accomplishments. Possibly, I need to start congratulating myself for the small things as well as the larger things.
I imagine it in the voice of a sports commentator:
Walked to the kitchen? Gold star!
Ran hot water? Keep it up, champ!
Scrubbed dishes? Who are YOU all of the sudden, you shining star?
Will she find clothes, shower, put on make up, find adequate shoes before noon, even though she’s been awake since 7?
And sometimes when you're on, you're really fucking on
And your friends, they sing along and they love you
But the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its absence
But you'll fight and you'll make it through
You'll fake it if you have to
And you'll show up for work with a smile
And you'll be better
And you'll be smarter
And more grown up and a better daughter
Or son, and a real good friend
And you'll be awake
You'll be alert
You'll be positive, though it hurts
And you'll laugh and embrace all your friends
You'll be a real good listener
You'll be honest, you'll be brave
You'll be handsome and you'll be beautiful
You'll be happy