“High Functioning” screws us all

High functioning is a very interesting term that a lot of us get to stick on our t-shirts. A gold star.  A mark of recognition that we are so good at hiding our crazy that no one would really know…or something.

It is a lovely, supposedly complementary word that screws us all.

First of all, there is something about being told that you are high functioning that can make you feel very…hmm…weird.

I get that that is good but a lot of us might not feel defective until we hear that word.  It drives it home that we are in fact not like other people and not like other illnesses.  I mean who do we usually hear that word applied to?

I may be wrong but off the top of my head I cannot remember a time that I heard anyone described as a high functioning diabetic or a high functioning person with Parkinson’s.  I don’t think they apply those words that way.

Just now when I typed high functioning into the search engine its suggestions for me were





I then hit the p for Parkinsons and it added

paranoid schizophrenic

So call me crazy but it seems like the term high functioning is one reserved for the mentally ill.

“High functioning”  can make you feel like your suffering must be not so bad really.

High functioning can also make you feel like you are a straight A student and you better not fuck up and disappoint everybody.

Expectations are raised and you feel even more pressured to play a part.

And like you will let everyone down if you fall apart

because you are not supposed to

you are high functioning after all.

The favorite child of the mental health profession.

Don’t disappoint us now.

We are relied on not to scare anyone with our crazy.

We may proudly tell people along with coming out

“I have Bipolar disorder…but don’t worry.  I am very high functioning.  You would never know.  Don’t worry. I won’t bother you.”

And there must be some opposite of high functioning that you better not fall down to…

“Honey…you got a C??????”

“We don’t expect this kind of thing from you.”

“We thought you had this under control.”

“Get it back together.”

“No you can’t possibly feel like that.”

“This isn’t you Honey”

And all of sudden we feel like we can’t tell the truth…….

And then….

what is the opposite of high functioning?

How do we feel when we are not knighted with the “high functioning” sword?

How do we feel when we find out that other people are getting special gold stars.

That some people are in the high reading group.

That mom and dad gave our sister a car because “she is responsible and we can trust her.”

We are not stupid and can figure it out

We must be in the low reading group. We must be thought not to be trustworthy.

Stupid and irresponsible.

We must be low functioning.

How nice.

That makes a person who is already suffering feel reeeeeeal nice.

Hi I’m Bipolar and I am low functioning. Nice to meet you.

Do any of us like these words? I have not yet heard a high functioning labeled Bipolar say that they are helped in some way by this term. Quite the opposite. And obviously these words don’t serve the um… low functioning.  Sorry just saying that term makes me feel dumb.

Are these words really necessary? I don’t know.  I don’t know if they are really useful to the Pdocs or what.  But they make me feel weird. Divided.

We all manifest this disorder differently and we don’t judge or grade each other’s level of functioning or suffering.

In fact when stripped down to the purest Bipolar in each of us.  The stuff we say when they aren’t around…..

The high functioners are indistinguishable from the low functioners.

Without our shells our suffering looks the same.


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  1. postcards2015

    I find “behavioral disorder” and “behavioral health clinic” VERY OFFENSIVE!! It’s implying that we are deliberately “misbehaving”!!! I’ve complained about it to various decision makers in our state’s mental health system, but, of course, to no avail. I’m not going to write again now, because I’m no longer “out.” I have had bad treatment a few times when I was “out” and more than that, my opinions ignored because of “mental problems.” Now The mental health system locally is (supposedly) getting more funding and expanded programs. There is now an emergency clinic under construction. I only hope they pay attention to members of the mental health community this time. Previously consumers were a big part of the reform proposal that never happened.


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