Depression can feel like many things to many people and each experience is just as real and relentless as the other. The fact that it is perceived in different ways adds to its confusion and complexity. However, despite its multifaceted nature, depression is in a way the same for everyone, in the sense that it conveys roughly the same spectrum of emotions, just in different forms. Whether it’s just an overwhelming tiredness that halts your life, an overpowering feeling of hopelessness, a total loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed or a terrifying emptiness that completely takes away your ability to experience emotion, it’s still depression and it’s still debilitating, no matter the form it takes.
The experience of depression is so different that often times when you hear so many different descriptions of what it feels like to have depression, you’ll wonder if it’s the same mental illness. The fact that almost every sufferer has a different experience makes it difficult for them to relate to other people’s experiences and can lead to even more isolation. But just because my depression is different from yours and ours from someone else’s, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going through the same thing just like it doesn’t mean we can’t find a strong system of support in each other.
Most of the time, the mental illness presents itself as an exacerbated symptom, hence the importance of learning to recognize some of the most representative signs of depression. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
1) Extreme negative feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, pessimistic outlook, feelings of unworthiness, emptiness.
2) Irritability, anger, guilt, reckless behavior, isolation.
3) Excessive and unusual mental and physical fatigue.
3) Difficulty focusing, maintaining usual social interactions.
4) Changes in appetite and sleep patterns: lack of appetite, overeating, insomnia, excessive sleeping.
5) Other physical manifestations of depression: digestive problems and aches and pains.
Any of these symptoms can become exacerbated and lead to a rather unique experience of the mental illness. And that individual experience is what depression will feel like for someone. Below are some telling depictions of what it’s like to have depression:
1) Life stops. When you have depression, life seems to slow down for you until it comes to a standstill. It’s like you are stuck in a moment in time, in a bubble and nothing really moves forward. Every day is somehow the same, with the same struggles and feelings of exhaustion, desperation and emptiness. While life for others unfolds beneath your eyes and things happen, you feel like you are stuck in a time bubble. This is how depression felt to me most of the time.
2) You feel like you are missing something. There is always this nagging feeling that something is missing. And on those good days when you don’t feel numb and emotionless, you feel a suffocating longing for something. But you don’t know what that something is, just that it’s missing and it’s consuming not to have it.
3) It feels like you can’t breathe. Depression is utterly overwhelming and this often translates in feeling that you can’t breathe or that you are drowning in despair. It’s like being in the depths of something vast, alone, far away and struggling to break through. But it’s so overwhelming that you can’t breathe anymore. Like when you dive into really cold water and are gasping for air when you come out. Or breathless from running.
4) Depression is vast. Depression feels like a vast emptiness, remote and far-reaching. And you are lost somewhere in it, fighting to find your way home to the person you used to be. And as much as you try, you can’t find you way back. You are isolated and unreachable. It feels like a vast darkness drawing you in.
5) You feel detached, numb. You reach a point in your experience with depression when you feel so exhausted that you just stop feeling anything. You become numb and can’t seem to connect with the rest of the world, with people or with yourself. Whatever you do, you can’t feel anymore. You are like a robot, incapable of experiencing emotion, although you know exactly how you should feel. But you just can’t feel anything. This is also why things you once enjoyed mean nothing to you now and nothing seems to make you smile anymore because you somehow have become impervious to feelings, circumstances, people.
6) A veil, glass wall. Depression feels like a veil that has fallen over you or a glass wall that is separating you from the rest of the world. It makes you feel disconnected, unreachable, isolated from the outside world. And your perspective is filtered by this veil or glass wall so that everything you see is distorted. The world to you no longer looks vibrant, vivid, dynamic, energetic, just gloomy, gray, still.
7) You don’t feel like yourself. Depression changes the way you see the world, other people and yourself and at one point you just stop being yourself. You don’t even recognize yourself anymore. It’s like you are another person and it’s confusing, it feels unnatural.
8) The exhaustion. Every day is a challenge, mentally and physically exhausting. Conversations, interactions with other people, simple tasks are more difficult and take more time because your thinking feels slowed down. You stop and start again and double check and you just can’t seem to focus to finish things. All you want to do is sleep because you are so tired and no matter how much you rest, you are always running in low battery.
9) Your personal cloud raining down on you all the time. Depression is perpetual anguish, constant sadness, regret and feelings of unworthiness, unbearable suffering and hopelessness, guilt, all weighing heavily on your soul. When you are not feeling numb, your sensitivity is heightened which makes everything seem worse.
9) You want to hide away. You feel like hiding away, like you can’t participate in all the beautiful things unfolding in the world. Whether it’s because you feel don’t deserve it, don’t have the energy for it, the patience, feel too alienated, like you wouldn’t fit in, you just want to hide away from everyone and everything.
Depression feels like many things and it can be a rather individual experience, but nonetheless one every sufferer can relate to somehow. It conveys a universal suffering that speaks to everyone, inviting to reflection and kindness towards others and just as much towards ourselves. And kindness brings us one step closer to hope and successful recovery from depression.