New Millennial · Word Study

Okay or Not Okay: That is the Question

I’m not okay.

Don’t worry; that doesn’t mean what you think it means. I’m not in danger or hurt; I’m just not ‘okay.’

In fact, I don’t think I even remember a time when I was consistently ‘okay.’ Sure, there are the occasional instances of okay-ness and even, dare I say it, of happiness. But, on the whole, I’m not okay.

It’s taken me a while to come to this realization (about 20 years, give or take a few), but when I say that I’m not okay, it’s not because I’m ‘in a bad place’ or ‘going through a phase’ or ‘feeling a little blue today.’ It’s because that’s how I am. Always. And, honestly and ironically? I’m okay with that.

Recently, I’ve been reading articles about something called “high-functioning depression.” Now, first thing’s first, this is not a medical diagnosis, but rather it is an explanation for those of us who don’t fit the cookie-cutter symptoms of what is traditionally thought of as major depression. According to Karen Pallarito of a website called, Health, most people with this new definition of depression actually have something called dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder. She goes on to explain that people with dysthymia suffer from a less severe form of depression that doesn’t “meet the definition of major depression.” Like with major depression, sufferers of dysthymia are noted to have low energy, fatigue, and a general unhappiness in life, but these things are not as severe as someone with major depression.

To some of you, that last sentence might look like it’s splitting hairs, which I can empathize with because that is exactly how I felt the first time I read about this “high-functioning depression” thing. But, the more I looked into it, the more I realized that it might actually explain something that I once thought to be inexplicable: this feeling of not being okay, but not being completely depressed.

When I was a teenager, I went to a therapist…once. I didn’t enjoy the experience because she didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I walked into the room, told her that I wasn’t feeling myself and that I felt like I was missing something in my life, and then sat on a hard, leather couch as she explained that I was feeling this way because I had just made a major change in my life. At the time, I had quit playing softball, a game that I had played nearly every day since the age of five. Now, obviously, that was the cause of my emotional shift, that much I knew already. What I needed from the therapist was advice on where to go from there.

She did not come through for me.

Instead, she offered me a prescription for an anti-depressant, told me my time was up, and asked me to send in the next troubled teen. I left the room, threw out the prescription, and swore up and down that I would never go to therapy again.

To be fair, I don’t blame the therapist for her reaction and her awful therapy. I blame the system. We treat mental illness like a disease that always must be fixed with some sort of medication, but in truth, medication isn’t always the solution. Are there instances where medication is called for and wholly necessary? Absolutely, but my case wasn’t one of them. I was a teenager who was feeling lost and purposeless because of a decision that I had made about my future. I needed guidance, not pills.

There isn’t much to say after that. I tried new things like exploring my more creative side and focusing more on academics than a social life, and, in doing so, I realized a new set of passions and goals. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of the argument for high-functioning depression. With high-functioning depression, a person still fulfills their roles in their life, and they are also very active in doing so. That’s the high-functioning part; the depression part comes into play after that person’s roles have been fulfilled for the day. That person may retreat into themselves or allow themselves to be invaded with negative self-image-related thoughts or even both at the same time.

For example, today, I woke up, began to write a little bit, went to take pictures of the sunrise, came home and exercised, and cleaned my car. All of this amounts to a relatively productive Sunday. However, in the downtime when I wasn’t being productive or doing something, I was immersed in the fantasy world of television trying to drown out the negative thoughts that I had, such as “You aren’t being productive enough” and “You could be working out more” and “Don’t eat that chocolate; you’re already fat enough” and “No one will ever love you like (insert character name here) loves (insert character’s love interest here).” Fun, amirite?

Yes, these thoughts plague my mind on a daily basis. Even now, as I type these words, my Sunday night anxiety is rising in the back of my mind and telling me all the ways in which I have failed my students this weekend by not attending to their grades as I should have done. Then, there’s the guilt machine gun in my mind, firing off bullet after bullet of reminders of all the ways I’ve failed my friends and family this week through judgmental eye rolls and the biting of my tongue. Then, my absolute favorite mental attack comes from the monster of self-loathing that exists deep inside my mind harping on all the things I’ve already been told by the other fiends all day long. And, as always, I will go to bed tonight, pushing all of these negative thoughts to the side, knowing that I will wake up and do it all over again tomorrow.

On the outside, it may seem like I’m thriving in this sort of environment, but trust me, “thriving” is just surviving without complaint. I’ve given you a little insight into the innerworkings of my overly analytical, self-deprecating, and apparently, high-functioning depressive mind only because it’s okay not to be okay. And, even though I feel a little more ‘okay’ than usual, I know that in the end, no matter what end of the ‘okay’ spectrum I’m on, I will continue to carry on. And, I sincerely hope that you will too.

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