Am I ‘high functioning’?

I got thinking about this question recently. Am I high functioning? People with high functioning mental illness are generally regarded as someone who seems to have it all together and is internally suffering. They may behave normally despite really not being in a good place. I don’t regard myself as high functioning. I think there are some pretty clear outward signs of my struggles. I can only work casually at the moment because I can’t handle the stress of a part time or full time job. I am attending uni part time and even then that was too much of a struggle and I had to drop down to just one unit. I often struggle with taking care of myself. This includes poor hygiene and extends to struggling to feed myself three meals a day and to cloth myself. So no, I don’t regard myself as high functioning at all. In my opinion if you don’t notice I’m struggling then that’s on you.

However, many others in my life seem to regard me as high functioning. Because at times I can fake a smile and string pretty sentences together, people seem to have assumed I’m fine. Due to the episodic nature of Bipolar Disorder many people in my life haven’t seen me at my worst and therefore seem to doubt that my worst actually exists. People take me for what I am during periods of stability and treat me as though that comes easily to me and that I must be free from struggles.

One clear example of this that happened to me this past week. As I only work casually I am on Centrelink payments to help me survive. As part of this arrangement I have to visit a job agency every two weeks. I have been telling the staff at the job agency every time I visit that I have issues with mental illness. I’ve been explaining this to them for the close to a year I’ve been seeing them. And I’ve always got a sense that they didn’t believe me. I got the vibe that they thought I was making excuses. And this all got confirmed to me this week when they tried forcing me to take a job that would not suit my lifestyle or my needs surrounding my mental illness. And I’m not proud to admit it but I had a complete mental breakdown, right there, in the job agency. I completely freaked out. And then a miracle happened. Suddenly after a year of telling them that I was crazy they believed me.

A similar thing happened to me when I was working at a gym in the past. I asked my boss for a month off to focus on my mental health. I was thinking of putting myself in hospital and didn’t want to to inconvenience him or my clients by doing it last minute so I thought I would take time off. I was met with strange colloquialisms about how I just need to ‘look up’ and ‘soldier on’. I started to panic. I once again, broke down. I burst into tears and told him of my suicidal thoughts. Only then did he believe me and grant me the time off.

There’s a common trend here. Humiliation. I must be reduced to my most vulnerable and hurt to convince people that I am unwell. Because others perceive me as a high functioning person it makes my experience of mental illness seem less legitimate. It frustrates me to no end that a) people consider me to be high functioning when I clearly am not but b) that high functioning mentally ill people are afforded less sympathy and respect. It’s just not fair.

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