What Does “High Functioning” Mean?

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Via Giphy

That tired cliche is tired for a reason; it’s true.

Just like most things, mental illness is a spectrum. It affects anyone living with it in a different way. Some people are considered “high functioning,” which is a blessing and a curse.

I would be considered a high functioning person with anxiety. I am very self-aware and in tune with my emotions, feelings, etc. I can go through most days where my outward appearance would suggest I’m a “normal” person. You couldn’t tell by looking at me that I have severe anxiety.

Via Giphy

A high functioning person often appears to be happy, positive, extroverted, and friendly, with a zest for life. They can be funny and fun to be around and can often be a source of comfort and wisdom for others.

Unfortunately, being high functioning can also come with a lot of negativity. Often people believe that you’re a fake person. Others might feel that you’re faking your mental illness or are using the guise of mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour or for attention and validation. Some people think you’re lying.

Via Giphy

However, something that needs to be understood about mental illness is that it doesn’t always reflect in someone’s external behaviour. It doesn’t always mean unkemptness, bad hygiene, quietness, and isolation. For some people, that’s only sometimes. For some people, that’s a rarity.

I have a couple theories on how people learn to function as a “normal” person while living with a mental illness.

Via Giphy

One is that it’s a defence mechanism of sorts. We don’t want people to realize the fear, the anxiety, the sadness, and other things associated with mental illness, and so we put up this facade of being okay.

Another is that some of us learn to adapt to societal norms to be able to get through daily life.

It could also be a result of a lot of therapy, medication, familial and friendly support, or a combination of all of those things.

I tell people sometimes that if you were to open up my skull and have a visual of my brain, you would be overwhelmed at what goes on in there. I’m working on a blog where I catalogue many of the thoughts that go through my head to try and realize this on a more realistic level.

As a person who is high functioning, I’d like you to know that I’m not faking it. This is a part of me; a part of my life that will always be here. I don’t want it to define my life, and so I’ve learned ways to adapt and enjoy the beauty of life as much as I can. So I may look happy and bubbly and fun, and I think I am that person, but I could be suffering inside like you wouldn’t believe.

If my struggle of being high functioning had a face. | via Giphy

I have a feeling a lot of people in my life still dont believe me. I can’t tell you self-defeating it is to feel like because I seem okay, I must be lying. It got so bad at one point that I had to go back to therapy to have a professional tell me that yes, you do actually have severe anxiety and panic. I’m still disappointed in myself that I had to do that. Why should I feel like I have to prove it to people? Why should I feel like I have to play into these tired stereotypes of what it means to be mentally ill in order for people to believe me? Why do I constantly overexplain myself to try and convince people? I guess it’s because the self-doubt and self-questioning and self-hatred that comes along with people not believing me and people making me feel like this isn’t real is just too much sometimes.

So if you ever encounter someone who identifies as having a mental illness but doesn’t show the “signs” of it, don’t just excuse them as being a faker or a bandwagoner or a liar. They could be fighting an inner battle so debilitating and tough, but are doing everything they can to try and live as normal of a life as possible.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Your friend,


Published by Alicia Gallant

I'm a 20-something girl living with severe anxiety and panic on a journey to love myself. I'm becoming a part of the conversation about mental health through honesty and humour. *Photo: Stefanie Moreau Photography

2 thoughts on “What Does “High Functioning” Mean?

  1. You are right Alicia. We all try to conform to society’s expectations of us. We all wear our masks and try to do the right thing. We tend to look at surface and superficial values and never at the real person. Interesting, thoughtful post.


    1. I agree. I think anyone can relate to this. It’s a different struggle for someone living with mental illness as you receive a lot of doubt and questioning. However, I think all of us, even without a mental illness, feel a pressure to act a certain way.


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