One aspect of mental health that I think is fascinating is the idea of high-functioning mental illness. I’ve written posts about high-functioning anxiety and high-functioning depression and even though I’ve learned a lot about both over the years, there is still so much to learn. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about how my brain works when I’m experiencing high-functioning anxiety – the way I race to get things done, the pressure I put on myself to finish things by the arbitrary (often unrealistic) deadlines I’ve set. Today, I want to reflect on why it can sometimes be challenging to race from one thing to another all the time.
By now, I’m so used to the feelings and sensations of anxiety that it’s just another part of my day. Some days are worse than others, but it has become a (reluctant) companion through most of my life. The longer I’ve lived with my anxiety, the better I’ve gotten to know how it impacts me. And there is nowhere I see this impact being greater than when I am experiencing high-functioning anxiety.
Oftentimes, I don’t even know I’m dealing with high-functioning anxiety until I’m already in it. My day will start out innocuously enough; I have things to get done, and I try to get them done in the way that makes the most sense for me. Whether it’s for my job or outside of work time, there are some days that simply feel like one giant checklist. Sometimes I don’t think this is such a bad thing, but the way I deal with this is not always healthy or helpful.
When my brain is in peak high-functioning mode, I’m jumping from one productive thought to another. Sometimes these thoughts are accompanied with tasks, but not always. Since my brain often works faster than my body, I’m planning things and trying to make time for things that haven’t happened yet. I’m thinking five steps ahead, while forgetting the immediate step I need to to take. All of a sudden and without meaning to, I feel like I’m doing everything and nothing at the exact same time.
I don’t have a great metaphor to describe how quickly my brain flies from one thought to another when I’m like this. I feel like I’m accomplishing so much in my head, but that doesn’t always translate to what I’m doing. It’s almost as if the amount of tasks I have to do overwhelm my brain to the point where I simply do nothing instead.
This feeling I have, it doesn’t last long. I like to think of it as a breaking point that I inevitably hit every now and then. I don’t always know my limits; when I reach them, sometimes I need a reset. Whether it’s few minutes or even a few moments, when I have enough time to take a breath and step back from myself, I can recover and move on. But feelings like this can sneak on all of us, and how we react to those feelings is what can lead us down paths that either help or hurt us.
After many years of jumping from one thought to another, I’m less afraid of feeling this way than I used to be. It is simply a part of me now, another aspect of who I am. Rather than reject it or try to ignore it (as I did for years), I’m going to try and understand it. I’m going to try and learn from it, and see if I can understand myself more in the process. It can feel scary to race from one thought to another, not feeling like we have any control over this. But we can control what we do about it, and that has made a world of difference for me.
Have you ever experienced something like high-functioning anxiety, or that your thoughts were jumping from one to another faster than you could handle them? What do you do when you’re experiencing something like that? Let me know in the comments!