What It’s Like to Be a ‘Happy’ and ‘High-Functioning’ Depressed Person

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Depression for me has always been concealed writes Laura Snelling. I’ve always been what they call “high-functioning.” I’m able to hold down a job, go about my day just like everyone else, and — for the most part — maintain healthy relationships with those around me.

Every single person I’ve come across has told me they never would have guessed I was depressed if I hadn’t told them.

I have what they call smiling depression. I love the concept of laughter and smiling at people; brightening someone’s day is what my goal is every single day. I don’t like sulking in my own sadness 24/7, and I sure as hell hate bringing other people down because of my depression. I speak about it publicly. But that’s to help end the stigma. When someone asks me how I am that day, I’m never honest. Because in reality, they don’t actually want to hear about how incredibly sad I am on a regular basis.

On the outside, people see the happy, bubbly, carefree woman. But in reality, they have no idea. I don’t know if it’s ironic, but within the last three weeks, I have had two different people tell me I look so happy with life. My response to them was a little laugh, and “if only you knew my friend, if only you knew.” Neither of them know of my history with mental illness, and I wasn’t going to bore them with putting down their statement and explaining to them that it’s really the complete opposite.

My depression — in reality — is this:

It’s pretending like nothing is wrong. It’s not anyone screaming for help; it’s actually the person staying silent. It’s the tears I cry without anyone knowing because I have no other way to express the overwhelming amount of emotions. It’s the plans canceled last minute because I can’t seem to muster up the strength and energy to go do anything. It’s the two days off spent in bed instead of doing something fun because I’m too exhausted from pretending all week. It’s that dark cloud that hangs over my head and never seems to go away. It creeps up on me during the most unexpected times. It lurks and waits for something great to happen, just so it can ruin it and convince me it’s actually something terrible. It’s the fear of happiness because I know that at some point, it’s bound to fade away just like the memories. It’s faded memories and a cloudy mind, unable to recall important things that have occurred in my life. It is numbing and leaves me unable to function on the really bad days.

The truth is, I’m not happy with my life… at all. Nothing inside of me wants to continue living a life riddled with anxiety and consumed by depression and trauma. I think about death on a regular basis, yet I’m not technically suicidal.

I have those few genuine moments in which my laugh or smile is real. But for the most part, even when I’m smiling or laughing, I’m breaking on the inside. Even when I try to have those moments of happiness and pureness, depression still lingers; reminding me that the sadness is greater. I wish I could just tell people that. I wish I didn’t have to pretend. In all honesty, it’s the most exhausting thing I have ever done. I’m so tired when I get home each day and it’s not because of lack of sleep or working all day. It’s from pretending to be happy and bubbly all day long.

No one understands what it’s like to be trapped in such darkness, with no way out and appear to be happy. No one understands how exhausting it is to put that mask on every single day. No one understands how badly I just want them to genuinely ask how I’m doing — and be ready to listen to me talk about sad I am. Because sometimes, talking about it and sulking in it aren’t always the same thing.

On the bright side, smiling depression has its benefits. I’m not the stereotypical depressed person that you see on the commercials for antidepressants. People have a positive view of me instead of judging me for constantly being sad. My stepmom has always told me I light up any room I walk into. Other people have told me the same thing, and that’s comforting, because I don’t want to bring them down with my sadness when I walk into the room.

Maybe I do it to try to give myself a glimpse of what it’s like to be happy. Maybe I do it to try to convince myself I’m not actually depressed (even though we all know that’s a lie). Who knows why I do it. All I know is I’ve been like this since I was diagnosed at 12.



  1. I don’t know if it helps to know that I know exactly how you feel. I am a “smiler” too. Rape and incest and cult abuse were what made up my childhood. I didn’t know about it till my thirties. I have DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and if I am having an okay day, then odds are that one of my alters isn’t and due to coconsciousness, that has grown over the years, I feel many of my alters’ anxiety and depression. Medication helps to an extent, but I still often want to die. I am so sorry that you struggle so. I hope you have a good therapist and good medication. I just recently was put on anxiety medication and it is helping a lot since anxiety always makes me want to die. Hoping you get the help you need.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience. So sorry to hear you had such a similar experience to my own. I too have DID and dissociate a lot and struggle with alters and unfortunately self-harm. I am on medication and have a good psychiatrist and psychotherapist so am in good hands. I also have a loving family and wonderful husband but it doesn’t stop me from many days just wanting to die though they would never know it. It’s amazing what you keep hidden isn’t it. All the best for your future and thank you for commenting. It is wonderful to hear from you. Erin

  2. That is such an honest piece of writing… besides the smiling front, I can relate with each and every word of it… Thank you for sharing… sharing helps in uncanny ways…

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