High Functioning, but Mental

Elisa A. Escalante /LCSW / 08-24-2022

“Functional mental illness is just a fancy way of saying ‘I can do my job pretty well, but it comes at a high cost to my mental and physical being.  I’m Sacrificing’”

There is about 2-3 days a week where my brain feels as if it is ‘frying’ by the end of the workday. At least once a week; a full-blown headache.  Everyday of the week I wake up extremely exhausted due to hypersomnia, and 4-5 days out of the week I experience anywhere from mild to severe depressive symptoms: lethargy, low mood, slow movement, negative affect, pessimistic thinking patterns. Several times a month, I experience intrusive trauma memories and secondary symptoms of trauma such as: nightmares, poor concentration, hyper aroused state, irritability, and a tendency to isolate or shut the world out. Several days a week I have a compulsion to engage in either my eating addition or eating disorder; binge, obsessive workouts, restrict, self-shame/ hatred. And lastly, I am an addict. I want to fall back on drugs to alleviate my symptoms, but I take a very helpful medication most nights of the week that curbs these addictive tendencies…. Most of the time.

       If someone were to ask me what my ‘functional mental illness’ looks like, I guess this is the best way to describe it. I work a full-time job, for most of my life 18 and up I have, and it does come at a cost to my mental and physical health. Jobs really suck in that way, sadly, sometimes families do too. If you ask the average American why they ‘cannot get their mental health under their control’, it could very well likely be environmental pressures/ factors that contribute to the stress. Or at the very least, do not allow them enough time off to afford them the luxury of healing or self-care.

       As a social worker, I am up against the world. There isn’t just one enemy, everything can/ is an enemy to some extent. Traumatic life events, poor economy, social pressures, politics, toxic people, terrible work conditions, poverty, domestic violence, discrimination, day to day hassles Etc. And then, all the mess that may be going on ‘on the inside’, the ‘junk in our minds’. Using the ‘biopsychosocial model’ I will ask an important Question: “What do you believe happens when you get an individual that is: (bio) biologically susceptible to mental illness due to genetics, (psycho) has predisposing trauma, grief and/ or stressors, and (social) has a dangerous and harmful community?” (Meaning dangerous home life and or neighborhood/ school) Answer: You likely get someone with moderate to severe mental health concerns.

       The message to deliver today: Stop hating on yourself because you happen to have mental illness while working. There is a good chance you are doing your best. Or maybe, you are learning to do better through therapy and self-reflection. The point is, it’s very very hard. It’s grueling sometimes. If anyone wants to try to make you feel guilty or ‘crazy’, they are the problem sometimes. The world is full of ‘healthier’ people that like to invalidate the feelings/ stress of those that suffer. They do nothing for us on a learning standpoint. The point is, learning to help ourselves become a bit ‘more functional’. What’s the recipe? What’s the anecdote?  LONG TERM DAILY SYMPTOM MAINTENANCE!  

      Let’s do ourselves a quick favor and check in with our daily balance using a holistic biopsychosocial approach:

Today did I FULFILL MY:

Physical Needs: Eating, sunshine, cold time, movement, hydration, adrenaline (fun/ joy/ endorphins), breathwork, body hygiene

Mental Needs: Mindfulness, quiet time, professional development/ work, Solitude, engaging in meaningful conversation, logical thinking activities

Emotional Needs: Crying, aggression channeling, venting, journaling, receiving validation, problem solving relief

Spiritual needs:  Prayer, comfort activities, nature time, religious practices, activities that feed your ‘soul’

Relational Need: Talk, acts and receipts of service, physical touch, acceptance, gratitude, quality time with loved ones

Financial Needs: Covered essentials, keeping up with debt, establishing savings

Conclusion: The Human Robots

      Humans can become robot like in nature. This is when societal demands condition us to overproduce to a point of forgetting to ‘check in with our needs’. How will you know when you are in this ‘robot mode’? Likely, you will know if you are not addressing the needs from my list above. If those needs are neglected, you have a much higher likelihood of approaching a mental health flair up or crisis. Check in and take care of yourselves.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

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