Anyone who has depression will be the first to tell you it’s an absolute hoot. A LOL-riot. A gala of pleasure. A carnival of tomfoolery. A fun jamboree!
Realistically… not so much. If you’re friends with someone who’s suffering then they probably find it pretty difficult to talk about it at all, let alone explain what it’s actually like to live with.
Even more confusingly for anyone who’s never experienced it themselves, it affects every sufferer completely differently and at different levels of intensity.
As someone who has suffered pretty badly in the past, I’d describe it the same as any other illness you can think of, in regards to it sometimes being very bad, and sometimes it eases off a bit if it’s treated properly.
Unfortunately, sometimes it also never goes away and can end in fatality, just like other illnesses that can often be terminal.
As it’s an illness with such differing symptoms in everyone who goes through it, it can be frustratingly difficult to try to empathise with what a loved one is experiencing. Here are a few accounts from those who have suffered or who are suffering – if you’re trying to understand it, hopefully these will help. If you’re trying to explain it, then likewise.
My experience of depression right now, as it’s more manageable, is one of just not feeling… anything.
Having no real emotional change in any major way about anything that happens to or around you, and constantly feeling like nothing is worth any effort and wondering why you continue to exist.
When it was really horrific it was more like being stabbed in the chest with a giant fountain pen of pain and misery (dramatic, yeah, I know) and feeling the white hot pain coarse through every vein. I manage it now with medication, exercise and therapy, so the pen’s gone.
I’d describe depression as a thick mental fog you have to wade through to get even the simplest of tasks done. Sometimes small jobs like going to the supermarket or making a phone call feel enormous because you’re so exhausted from your internal battle.
You have to go easy on yourself on the hard days and know that they will eventually pass.
When depression is combined with anxiety (as it is for many people) it’s like spending every minute of the day with someone by your side who constantly puts you down and tells you the worst case scenario will definitely happen.
Depression is something that can creep up on you. You could be having a great day, and then out of nowhere, you feel like shit. When I went through a bout of depression, how I’d feel in the morning was basically a lottery.
I always kept questioning why I was feeling so rubbish. Just like with a physical injury, like a bruise, you always try and figure where it came from. But depression is much harder to figure out.
When you’re in that ‘hole’ – your negative emotions affect everything you’re doing. Whatever you’re working on seems hopeless, all motivation goes and it’s pretty hard to get out of bed.
It’s not your job to fix your friend, but you can still be there for them. Don’t start any sentence with, ‘Have you tried…’ It’s enough to say, ‘This is a turd of a situation for you. I love you and I’m here for you.’
It’s not having a bad day, feeling a bit down or feeling sad about something. It’s a pervasive feeling of utter worthlessness and inability to feel joy in anything.
I could go through the motions – smiling, laughing, cracking jokes, doting on my newborn – and would recognise joyful situations and know that I should feel joy, but I wouldn’t actually feel it.
I was an expert at concealing it and close friends and colleagues were shocked when I finally told them I had felt suicidal for months.
Depression for me is like trying to exist in the same room as a Dementor, credit: J.K.Rowling for creating a creature that portrays this so terrifyingly well. It sucks all of the joy and worth out of life, until all I can see is the negative.
It’s not that I don’t believe all of the good things about my life, I just lose sight of them completely.
It’s like swimming in a lake and getting stuck under such a thick amount of pond weed that you don’t actually know which way is up anymore, and you can’t breathe or think or work out which way to swim.
I get so [bad] that I can’t care about anything, because it makes me too sad. That all I feel I can do is cry. My brain is trying to work out why I don’t need to be around anymore, how I can destroy any shreds of joy that I might be aware of, just so I can check out.
Logically I know that I have lots of reasons to be happy, and to be around, but it’s so hard to fight the creeping blackness because it offers peace and calm.
It’s like trying to describe the colour blue without saying ‘blue’ or pointing to anything blue!
I have compared it to feeling paralysed or trying to move through mud. Making decisions is extremely difficult and not just big life decisions – I mean deciding to stand up from sitting down, deciding to make a cup of tea, deciding to brush your teeth – the decision switch is always somewhere in the middle.
In a sentence, on my worst days I feel nothing about everything. I feel nothing about everything, and if I feel no predictable positive consequence of an action or decision then… why bother?
I didn’t understand depression initially. I thought it was just like being in a bad mood all the time but it’s drastically different.
The way of thinking about it that made most sense to me is breaking it down to a chemical imbalance, whereby there are a large number of factors all changing constantly that have to be managed and will ultimately dictate your headspace.
By factors, I mean things like friendships, career/school, relationships, home life, financial situation, exercise/diet, body image, etc.
Sometimes a large change to one of these factors can trigger depression and other times, the chemicals simply become imbalanced because they just do.
Just like how a pancreas can inexplicably cease the production of insulin leading to diabetes, neurotransmitters can stop being produced leading to depression.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, you can find a qualified local counsellor in your area with Counselling Directory. Mental health charity Mind also offer counselling services, and you can call The Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI). The NHS even have a little quiz you can take. If you can, visit your GP for further advice.
To talk about mental health in a private, judgement-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
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