It’s easy to put depression into a box of symptoms, and though we as a society are constantly told mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, we are stuck with a mental health stock image in our heads that many people don’t match. When we see depression and anxiety in adolescents, we see teens struggling to get by in their day-to-day lives. We see grades dropping. We see involvement replaced by isolation. People slip through the cracks.
We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group. No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.
The author tells of a school counsellor describing a 'high-functioning' depression in her, which scared her more than the easier to identify non- functioning depression. I found a new understanding for my experience.
I've experienced 'non-functioning' depression, too, when I've stayed home rather than going out, laid on the bed in the foetal position crying silently so no-one will hear though the internal scream is ripping me apart.
But in recent times it is more as if I operate from further behind the starting line, or within restraints that loosen and tighten with no predictable causes to identify.
I am enrolled in a PhD, moved across the world on my own, have published poetry, regularly perform stories and lead workshops. I look like a well person.
There is always this vague knot in my stomach. There's usually a sadness lining any joy. I am often not quite 'happy'.
That's the black dog residing in my corner. You don't see him very often. Sometimes I forget he's there, too.
And the GPs often ask me if I would like to come off the medication, because I seem to be so well. I would like that, too.
That dog hasn't left my corner in 20 years, except for brief moments - and I'm not even confident as I write that 'except' that it's true.
On ability, I may be below the top tier of postgraduate students (the ones who get all the funding and grants and accolades); in skill and talent, I may be below the top or even second tier of performers and poets (the ones who get all the likes and shares and long lists of followers).
Or maybe it's the black dog in the corner, slowing me down. I probably will never know, but reading that article, I feel affirmed and encouraged as a person who functions at a pretty high level with a black dog in the corner. And that's not bad.