As a child, I went to the paediatrician for my lungs. I only have exercised induced asthma so it’s not that serious, but at the time it was bothering me when I cycled to school. They did a few tests and could only provide me with an inhaler. However, the paediatrician also wanted me to do a fitness test. Apparently, she was under the impression that I was making it up and that it was due to my fitness and not my lungs that I experienced issues.
The fitness test was done on a treadmill. The woman taking the test attached some wires to me and off I was, on the never ending path. Since I was only 12 years old my mum was with us. She and the woman watched while simultaneously keeping an eye on the machine attached on the other end of the wires. I didn’t struggle at first. I always feel like running is the greatest thing until my lungs fail to keep up. So after a little while, exactly when my lungs started ‘failing’ the woman said to my mum as she pointed at the machine: ‘Look, you can tell she’s struggling.’
‘Huh?’ my mum exclaimed, ‘but she looks completely fine?’
Finally, someone or something knew exactly when I started to struggle. Of course, my level of fitness turned out to be fine (take that, paediatrician!) but you know, all they can do is give you an inhaler and to be fair, my lungs aren’t that bad (they really aren’t).
Years ago, I decided no one would be allowed to see me struggle. It didn’t look good or sound attractive if you were gasping for air (that it’s a part of being active was beyond the point). As a result, people are unable to tell when I start to struggle while running. I became so good at it that I can’t undo this anymore, which can be frustrating at times. But covering up and resuming when ‘suffering’ isn’t just a thing I do when I’m running. It’s something I practise in daily life; I’m high-functioning.
One of the examples I can give for this is the time when my sister accidentally jumped on my ribs during a game we played and bruised them. It was during school time and right after it happened I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Despite this, I went back to class as if nothing had happened until 15 minutes later my teacher noticed I struggled to breathe and send me home. But the best example I can give of being high functioning is the time in my life during which I was depressed. Often, depression is associated with being unable to get out of bed, performing badly at school or work, avoiding contact with friends and neglecting your hobbies and interests. I didn’t have any of these social symptoms. Even though I was depressed I managed to get good grades and attend training sessions. I still saw my friends, had a perfect attendance and managed to more or less function in society. Of course, there were some things (like how I stayed in my room unless I had to come out) but generally speaking, my life didn’t stop moving.
Some people shut down as soon as something aches. They stop everything they’re doing and cancel their appointments. Sometimes they can’t help it and sometimes they can. On the other hand, many people keep on going like I do and I think this is often a good thing. At the same time, being high functioning can be a lonely journey. People tend to think you’re okay unless you stop and tell them that you’re not. Unless I come down with an asthma attack, no one will think I’m struggling. I don’t tend to tell people things because I’m afraid I’m exaggerating. Maybe it’s all in my head, it can’t be that bad since I manage to keep on going, right? I believe this is a major problem in society among the possibly depressed but high-functioning. ‘I’m alright as long as I manage to keep on going,’ is what everyone thinks. But to what extent is this the truth and how can we tell?
What I haven’t told you about are the sleepless nights I’ve been having, the constant headaches I experience during the day (and night) and that rather often the world tends to spin a little bit when I open my eyes. I also haven’t told you that even though I want to live these complications are sometimes enough for me to question life again.
Therefore I have told someone. I have gone to the doctor who will hopefully be able to help me.
If you are high-functioning, I want you to know that it doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering because you manage to keep on going. If you are suffering too much, please do try and seek help even if that help has to come from you yourself. We’re a lot stronger than we think we are and I have no doubt we can exceed our ‘limits’. Still, sometimes it’s good to slow down a bit. It’s not always necessary to keep on going no matter the cost.