The day looms large ahead. You get up, make the coffee, and put on the outfit of the professional; the person who knows how to get stuff done and isn’t afraid of a challenge. It used to feel good. Now it feels forced. You tell yourself, “I just need to get through the day.”
If this sounds all too familiar, you may be struggling with functional depression.
Functional depression is sneaky.
It weaves in and around your daily activities quietly, creating a heavy cloak that makes your usual activities feel more difficult. Even though you persevere and push through the day, it becomes more difficult. It feels more like existing than living.
Functional depression has a superpower. It is completely invisible. If you have a broken arm, it’s clear that there is something wrong. There is a cast. Others can see it clearly, and you don’t have to question whether or not it’s broken. It’s too obvious to overlook. While depression is already an invisible illness, functional depression is even more invisible and has a keen ability to disguise itself as normalcy . To the observing eye, you are still doing everything you’ve ever done; you’re showing up, getting work done, talking to people. The invisible, lonely part of functional depression is how “fine” you look to the casual observer. Perhaps you’re not tearful, maybe you even joke around at work sometimes. And if you’re really skilled at pushing through, you may not even identify that you’re depressed yourself! It can become part of your functioning and evolve ever so slowly into your new “norm.”
So how are you supposed to tell if you are a functionally depressed person? With functional depression, you have to look for the subtle clues.
Loss of interest in doing things you’d normally enjoy:
Explore whether you are interested in your usual activities and hobbies. If you’ve drifted away from the things that usually bring you joy, it may be a sign that you are depressed.
Feeling numb or checked out:
Often, we associate depression with feelings of sadness or being tearful. Feeling emotionally numb and disconnected is another subtle sign that is frequently overlooked.
Feeling excessively tired or fatigued can be a quiet sign of depression. If you’re noticing a greater need for sleep or if you wake up feeling exhausted, it may be related to depression.
Change in appetite:
Some people experience an increase or a decrease in appetite when depressed. Have you noticed a change in your eating habits recently? Sometimes a change in your usual style of eating can also be an indication (i.e., eating more convenience foods, not cooking as much).
Once you’ve identified the depression, you’ll need to find the ways it is creeping into your daily life. Given the sneaky, subtle ways of functional depression, it may not be obvious at first.
Ask yourself a few questions about your daily functioning to find out what areas it has affected.
- Am I fully present in the moment?
- Does my mind drift often, making it hard to concentrate?
- Am I passionate about aspects of my life?
- Do I feel like I am getting through the day (surviving) or enjoying most days (thriving)?
- Am I often inclined to avoid others so I don’t have to “put on a face” or pretend that I’m feeling ok?
- How satisfied am I with my life? If I knew that nothing would change in the next five years, would I be ok with that?
Self-care and Functional Depression
Self-care can be particularly tricky if you are a fully functional depressed person. It is tricky because it may seem as if you’re already doing it. Generally, when we are depressed, self-care and wellness is one of the first things to go, because most of the waking energy is being spent on “getting by”.
If you’re struggling with identifying ways to take care of yourself while dealing with functional depression, try some of these ideas:
Take a much-needed break.
You may not realize that you need a break from the norm, but undoubtedly you do. Whether it’s a day off, a week, or even a few hours, carve out some time to leave your schedule behind. Do something you’d normally never do in an average day.
Get out in nature.
Nature has a way of soothing even the most deeply ingrained and stubborn emotional barriers. Take a walk by the water. Sit in the sunshine. Check in with the part of yourself that finds wonder in the natural world. Let yourself feel small as you stare at the giant starry night sky.
Even if you don’t have the ability to take a vacation right now, practice mindfulness in your daily life. Focus on your breathing. Notice where you hold your physical tension. Concentrate on relaxing the muscles of your shoulders, legs and face.
Dive into a passion.
Even though you may not feel like doing something you used to enjoy, give it a try anyway. Sometimes our emotions follow when we guide with useful behaviors. Create a list of your hobbies and interests. Add things that you’ve always wanted to try. If it seems like too big a task, commit to doing something for a half hour. You may find that you’re into it and want to go beyond the time you set for yourself.
Get back into the habit of joy.
Sometimes we become so immersed in the day to day grind that we forget to slow down and be present in the moment at hand. When you stop and actually examine this moment, you may find that there are things to be joyful about right now, in real time. Use your senses to stay grounded, observing the sights, sounds and smells; the textures of the world around you.
Whether you are struggling with debilitating depression and cannot get out of bed, or get through your day in a numb fog of functional depression, the most important thing you can do is act with self-compassion. Reach out for help, just as you would encourage someone else to do. You don’t need to struggle with this alone.