Have you ever felt so despondent that you just wanted to give up and not try any more? Like you wanted a hole to open up and swallow you so you could hide from the world?
Of course you have. But have you felt like that for weeks or months at a time? How about years? Have you had those feelings and thoughts repeat so frequently that they’ve affected your physical health, devastated your social and love life, and permanently altered your mental patterns? If yes, you know what depression feels like and how debilitating it is. If no, here’s your chance to gain some insight and place yourself in the shoes of a depression sufferer.
It’s one thing to know the signs and symptoms of depression. It’s another thing entirely to know how depression feels. You have to go through it. And none of us who live with depression would wish it on anyone.
So, please learn how it feels so you can be helpful to sufferers. And my fellow sufferers, read this to know you are very much not alone.
Awareness means more than knowledge
Awareness about depression is much more than telling people about it and listing some symptoms. Awareness requires educating them about what it’s like to live with it, day after day, and how to act around sufferers.
Understand that depression isn’t always a problem to be “solved”. Neither is it a character defect. It’s not possible to press a button or say some magic words to make it go away. Nor is it possible for someone to just snap out of it. Dealing with depression delves into the very heart of a person’s problems – the root causes. It might be treated with medication, where necessary, to stabilize things. Then it is a very, very long process to “reprogram” the person’s self-beliefs.
The key is to empathize with how someone feels, show some love, and cut them some slack.
And be patient. Be very patient. The sufferer will seem irrational to you, often irritatingly and frustratingly so. But becoming exasperated or withdrawing from the sufferer will likely worsen their depression.
How depression feels overall
Later in this blog, I will quote some friends describing how it affects them, then add my own experiences. Meanwhile, there are some common factors. Look for clusters of symptoms, not single issues in isolation.
At a chronic level, a sufferer:
- feels weighed down and has no interest in things that are usually enjoyable – “depressed” means weighed/pushed down
- shuts down
- is fatigued
- has a very negative, helpless attitude
- feels that staying down is easier than getting up again
- exudes an aura of gloom
- feels isolated, like nobody understands or cares
- feels worthless and empty, has very poor self-esteem
- feels overwhelmed
- feels like everything is going wrong, even when things aren’t bad or are even good
- feels the negative thoughts repeating over and over in a circle
- has difficulty concentrating
- endures sleep disturbance – which can include sleeping all night but waking up exhausted
- is easily triggered into a downward spiral of despondency – everything seems negative and the sufferer expects more to go wrong
- feels shame and guilt about having depression
- may want to withdraw from everyone – to hide it, or to feel “safe” from being hurt again, or because they don’t want their problems to “infect” others
- pushes away people who are close to them
- may become aggressive and lash out
- may feel suicidal or engage in self-harm.
Bear in mind that the depression sufferer may also achieve great things, which makes it hard for others to understand why they could be depressed at all. Don’t be fooled. Winston Churchill led the UK during WWII by inspiration, canny tactics, and sheer force of will, all while dealing with horrendous depression. I myself managed to meet an amazing woman, move overseas, marry her, and win an international singing championship, all while carrying the problems that had caused my condition years before. Nobody guessed I had depression.
Read how my friends described their depression experiences
To know someone with anxiety and depression is to know that it is so much more than “being sad”. It is to feel lonely, empty and numb while surrounded by family and friends that you love. To be off work because you can’t concentrate enough to read a sentence or even gather up the energy to move. It is to spend days in bed due to pain throughout your body and exhaustion. To feel guilty like you are letting everyone down and missing life.
I lost all confidence.
It caused me to withdraw.
It crippled me to the point where sometimes I couldn’t move, like not get out of bed, get up from a chair, or even walk.
I lost my sex drive and my appetite for food and conversation.
I doubted my abilities.
I felt utterly useless in my work, social life, and music making.
When it hits, it either comes after a long period of slowly crumbling or suddenly and out of nowhere. It feels like a funk that will never end and, on the worst days, I wish I didn’t exist. It’s like a swirly vortex of doom where I think I can’t accomplish anything and I’ll never live up to my potential. I get reclusive and want help, but end up pushing people away. It’s a strange, confusing and contradictory mix of emotions. I anger very quickly and I’m very defensive about everything.
I feel out of control with depression. It feels like I’m imploding over and over and even the people I love most can’t help me out of the pit.
There are other things: heaviness in my chest, inability to breathe wholly, panic that races through my mind with all the worst case scenarios. There’s a heaviness to everything I do. Every step is an effort and my limbs are hard to lift. I’m tired to the nth degree.
When I’m depressed, I feel completely void of feelings. I have zero emotions. Apart from the self-deprecating thoughts that leave me full of hatred for myself, I have a serious lack of motivation to do anything more than sleep. I’ve described it to a counsellor as feeling like I’m in a very deep pit with no way out. I can see life happening all around me but I feel safer in the depth of the pit.
I’ve learned over the years to just ride it out, give fair warning, and cocoon myself away.
Depression for me feels different depending on the day or situation. Sometimes it feels like I’m simply not good enough. Like no matter how hard I work or what I accomplish, I could always do more. That thought then turns into a “Why bother?” mentality, which results in not trying, and thus begins a vicious cycle.
There are days when I desperately want to accomplish things but can’t seem to gather enough energy to get out of bed. Some days it takes every last bit of energy just to get up, get dressed, and go to work. When it’s really bad, I have to work from home. (Thankfully I have a job that allows me to do that.) But when I do work from home, I feel ashamed or guilty, like I’m not doing enough.
There are times when my brain spirals out of control, thinking of conversations that may happen, or what people say about me when I’m not around, or how people took something I said, or what something somebody said actually meant. I create situations in my head that aren’t real and sometimes they inform how I act or respond to someone. I’ve worked hard to realize when that’s happening and not let it affect my relationships, because it has ruined friendships in the past. I guess that’s more anxiety than depression, but the depression is the root cause.
It feels like I’m hovering just above rock bottom. Yes, I have brief moments of energy, laughter and fun, but I always drop back to this low level.
To achieve anything, I feel like I have to switch to autopilot. I can push myself to do what I must (work, study, social outings), but the little things, like washing dishes (no dishwasher here), vacuuming, etc, that I can get away with if I procrastinate, can go undone until desperate, and even past that.
Even when I’m not doing anything (I call it my deserved time of R&R, even though there are dishes to wash, etc) I’m on edge waiting for the next “call to duty”. My daughter has a pain disorder, along with anxiety issues and depression herself, and I am pretty much on call to help her 24/7. She doesn’t live with me. I don’t feel that I ever truly have time to myself, even though I live alone.
Even events that I know will be enjoyable are an effort. If for some reason they are cancelled or postponed, I have conflicting feelings of both disappointment and relief.
I’m so tired of feeling exhausted and I envy those with seemingly boundless energy. Yet I also feel that I deserve no better than this life. I have made seriously bad choices that led me to where I am now, and I can’t get over the feeling that it’s all my fault. Trying to convince myself otherwise is also exhausting.
I am on a mild antidepressant and it has helped in the sense that I feel more leveled out, but the level is still low.
Depression feels kind of like being given an untrained 9-month old Rottweiler. You are completely unprepared for the onslaught and your friends often don’t know how to react. It constantly tests me. I deal with a perpetual sense of being overwhelmed. The “dog” is notoriously difficult to train and feels like more than I can handle. There is need for absolute consistency and frequent training sessions.
I feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious. “Normal” will never look the same way again. (That can also be growth and change.) The more I fight and rail to get back to my old “normal”, the longer it takes to accept that I have a new resident in my home.
All this introspection can snowball and fling me down the hill.
As for me…
I can relate to all the things my friends have listed. I’ve experienced all of them and still do. But add a few other items:
- A deep, unpredictable anger. I know what that anger is about, but healing is so difficult. It can feel impossible, which makes me feel even more angry, bitter, and resentful.
- Circular thinking, round and round, over and over. Anxious thoughts repeat on a loop, leaving me exhausted.
- Regular arguing, trying to prove myself right and others wrong, especially on social media where I can be snarky or sarcastic or act superior. (I’m learning to temper this online behaviour and not act out.)
- I feel unheard and voiceless, like the lowest rung on the ladder. (An issue from my childhood.)
- I feel like a failure in everything that really matters.
- I don’t know how to forgive. I know what forgiveness is, but in depression I have no idea how to achieve it.
- I irrationally cling to some ideas and reject others, refusing to listen, repeating myself, unable to let go of a thought.
- I withdraw love or cannot bring myself to show love – because I am afraid of being hurt.
- I withdraw from people because that way I feel like I can’t be hurt more. Some have labeled me as aloof for this.
- Withdrawal can be accompanied by a bitter “fuck everyone, fuck the world” attitude.
- At the slightest betrayal of trust, I have written people off and cut them out of my life.
I hope you’ve learned something about how depression feels.
If you have depression, I hope you recognize here many feelings that you experience. Then you can know you are not alone. Not at all.
If you have depression or are learning about it, please… offer love to others and to yourself. Love includes patience, listening, empathizing, nurturing, caring, giving, supporting, strengthening, emboldening, sharing, forgiving, understanding, and much more. Depression will stretch your patience and resolve to the limits.
Remember love is the answer. We all need love. More than anything else.
Love this John. Great job. You will help more people than you will ever know.
John, thanks for putting your journey in print, its honest, factual and to the point. I imagine some of that time would have been when we worked together. Its not till your close to or on the bottom that you start to see a bit of light. I wish you well and congratulate you for sharing it for others to learn from
Thanks for writing this! It was an eye opener.
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