Saturday, 16 March 2013

High Functioning Depressive (2)

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If you are depressed and nobody else knows it, does your depression make any difference?

What if you are depressed and you don't know it?

The second one happened to me.  I was diagnosed with depression when I went to the doctor about something else.  So I had been depressed without knowing it.  Not that I thought I was happy, it just didn't occur to me I had an illness called depression.

The first one happened to me at least in this sense.  I only recently told my children about me being depressed, and even though it had been going on most of their lives, they told me they had no idea it had been happening.  Overall I think that's a good thing, especially since I had worked half time to parent them.   On the other hand, if family members don't know you are ill they can't help you.

Let's drag this post back to academia, and maybe even to high functioning.

What if you are depressed, but functioning at a high level in academia?   Does your depression make any difference?

There is a strong feeling that depression in academia is almost a taboo: indeed that is the main reason for starting Depressed Academics.  Somewhere we can talk about it, and be anonymous and private if we want to be.  So many people in academia are depressed and their colleagues don't know it.

If your colleagues don't know you are depressed, and they also think you are doing a good job as a researcher or teacher, or being a good student, does your depression make any difference?  

For some people, it may literally make no difference to them or their colleagues in an academic sense.

For other people, I think it does make a difference.  Even if you don't know you are depressed in a clinical sense, like I didn't.   I've always found that when I am confident I do better work, and I'm not usually confident when I'm depressed.  Well, maybe not so much confident actually, but happy to operate outside my comfort blanket of stuff I really know I can do.

This post again shows why I find it so difficult to write about high functioning depression. I can't draw conclusions, just raise questions.   But I have got a final question for you.  

Even if your depression makes no difference to your colleagues, it makes a difference to you.  Why not be a happy Socrates instead of a miserable one?  


  1. If your colleagues don't know you are depressed, and they also think you are doing a good job as a researcher or teacher, or being a good student, does your depression make any difference?

    My depression has a significant portion of reality warp to it; I'll judge my own performance, my own quality of work, and others' opinions of my far more harshly when I'm down than when I'm not.

    Which means that when I'm down, I may still do a fantastic job as a researcher, but I'll sit around miserably and utterly convinced that nothing I do is good enough.

    So yes, my depression does make a difference regardless of information states.

  2. I'm glad that I came across your blog right before I speak with my thesis advisor. I'm currently in my last semester of a master's program and I recently just had a major episode. I am preparing to speak with my advisor but it's so challenging to explain what's going on, especially when I don't intend to let her know of my depressive symptoms.It is partly difficult disclosing my mental health status because of the same taboos you mention--I don't know how my mentor will take it, especially when I am a leading person on her projects and she is my thesis advisor. Another challenge is I'm not sure if I am just overly critical of myself and my work or if I'm actually not doing anything right.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    I want to comment to make sure you know you've been read and people care. Your question is difficult however, so it may well take me a few days to even articulate any thoughts around it.
    Please don't despair, I'm thinking about it, and talking to friends who may have helpful experiences they could share. But I don't dare write anything too quick for this.

  4. What Mikael said.

    I read your post and didn't know what to say. But what I should have said is what Mikael said.

  5. Dear Anonymous,
    this is very difficult to respond to in a good way; partially because it is so frighteningly important to your life and your career that accidentally giving you bad advice is a terrifying prospect.

    Having slept on it, I would first of all say that there is far too little information to give you any particular suggestions; if I had known which country you work in, I could have tried to figure out what the laws of the land when it comes to discrimination are, and how they interact with your situation… but you haven't stated any identifying details and I respect and understand this.

    Building on what information you have given us I have a few salient thoughts.
    1st: you have been admitted to the program in the first place; which indicates that someone somewhere thinks you have potential to finish it. I would be very skeptical of the idea that you are just overly critical of yourself.
    It may very well be that you don't do *everything* right, but I would be very surprised if the feeling of not doing *anything* right is grounded in reality.

    2nd: as much as one might gossip about HR departments or for that matter unions, this sort of thing is their raison d'être. Figure out what support systems your university has in place, and figure out which channels come with an expectation of confidentiality. Then go talk to them.
    Local therapists will know more about your situation than we. So will your HR managers, and they will tend to be beholden to make sure the university doesn't mistreat students and employees. You may have a student union, or a graduate student council, or other support structures. Figure out what your assets are and approach them.

    I know for me, my reality perception is skewed during my episodes — so for me an outside perspective is paramount.

    I will continue to see if I can find more advice and more suggestions for you.


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