You or someone you know might be suffering from depression right now, and you might be wondering what you or they are actually going through. It’s a horrible illness that affects one in four people globally. In this post, I will explain how it really feels to be depressed, in the hope that you might better understand the impact of this disease.
depression is an awful thing that changes a person completely
If you think that you or someone you know might be depressed, but you aren’t sure, have a look at my Depression Warning Signs post to find out.
The “list of symptoms” doesn’t quite cut it
You have probably read that depression can change your sleep patterns, make you more irritable, cause you to lose interest in things, lower your sense of self-worth and so on.
While these warning signs are valid, they don’t really explain how depression impacts your life. This list of symptoms is quite dry and medical — like you’re reading a shopping list.
The truth about depression is that if you are experiencing just two or three of the items on the above list, it can change you into a seemingly different person.
I’ve experienced this firsthand, as I suffered from serious depression for over a year.
It was the worst experience I’ve ever had
How I became depressed
It comes on slowly, then it breaks you
Depression doesn’t just happen overnight. It slowly builds over time so you don’t really notice it coming on. You might notice yourself getting more irritable but just think it’s stress from your work. You might notice yourself being less interested in things that you used to but just think that maybe you need a break from them.
I was an optimistic person when my depression was coming on, so despite starting to feel down more frequently, I clung to the thought that “Everything will work out in the end”. This way of thinking prevented me from seeing what was really happening to me, which was:
– I had an awful boss who earned my trust, then stole money from me.
– I had a career that wasn’t really a career, as it earned me very little income and I had to supplement it with a part-time job.
– I was living in an apartment I couldn’t afford.
These were the straws that eventually broke my back and spirit
What does it feel like to be depressed?
Your self-worth vanishes
I worked for a film composer for some time, helping her reboot her brand and studio. At the end of this project, she declined to pay me on the grounds of ‘Dan, I don’t think you’re worth the money’.
This was the final thing that broke me and my self-worth.
In a short space of time, I stopped clinging to the hope that everything would be okay, and I gave up. I sobbed, I couldn’t believe how useless I was for my life not turning out how I’d wanted it to. I couldn’t believe how much of a failure I was.
I’d tell myself over and over that I wasn’t worth it, that I’m stupid and didn’t deserve anything. That my boss was right and I was useless.
I’d think over and over that I was bad and I deserved all the bad things that had happened to me. In essence, I told myself I was a piece of shit.
That’s what happens when you’re depressed: you blame yourself for everything and nothing anyone says or does can change your opinion.
You stop caring about everything
When you have depression you begin to stop caring. You stop caring about yourself, about activities you enjoyed, other people, life in general, everything. You become a zombie.
I remember talking to a friend on the phone who was suggesting I do things I enjoyed. He asked me, ‘What do you feel like doing?’. I thought about it and I couldn’t give him an answer. There was nothing I felt like doing, except sitting alone in my apartment with the curtains closed.
It’s hard to imagine not caring about anything. The best way I can describe how it feels is to think of a sport or hobby you have no interest in. It could be football, knitting, gardening, hiking, car racing, boxing, dinner parties, anything. Think about how little you care about it.
If you have no interest in boxing, imagine it’s the heavyweight world championship and the finals are on TV. Do you care who’s in it? Do you care what time it’s on? Do you care who wins? No, you don’t.
Now, imagine having that same neutral feeling with things you currently love. If you love meeting up with a mate for a coffee, imagine that now you don’t care if you go. If you love going for a walk in the morning, imagine you couldn’t care less about going. If you love it when your dog runs up and greets you when you get home, imagine feeling no joy or happiness as he jumps up and tries to lick your face.
That’s what depression does: it makes you apathetic about everything. It can get to the point of not caring whether you live or die.
if you no longer care about anything, you have no will to live
The only emotions you feel are guilt, anger and sadness
Aside from feeling apathetic, meaning feeling no emotion, which was certainly true for me for a long time, there were times I would feel something, but it was always negative.
I felt guilty for letting myself get so depressed. I felt angry at the people who tried to help me. I felt sad at how terrible my life was. I stopped laughing and smiling. Eventually, my voice became monotone; a flat, robotic voice would come out if people asked me questions. I knew my voice had no expression, but I didn’t care or try to change it.
It’s hard to imagine a life without positive emotions, but depression drains away the positive and actively replaces it with negativity. You don’t do it on purpose, it just happens.
For me, it got to a point where I’d actually forgotten what it felt like to feel happy or good about anything. I forgot what it was like to have a big belly laugh. My life was simply sadness or not caring, nothing else.
You start to physically hurt yourself
This is where it gets very serious. Self-harm goes hand in hand with depression. When you don’t care about yourself and feel nothing, you sometimes want to experience pain to let yourself feel something, anything.
It’s extremely self-destructive and can leave permanent damage. For me, the thinking behind self-harm was, ‘Fuck the world and everyone in it. If I want to do this, I will’. It was giving myself something I could control in my life when everything else felt out of control.
What did I do? It started with small things like repeatedly slamming my fists into my head for a quick burst of time, then it went to cutting.
I bought a craft knife from an arts shop and used that
For months I did this and no one knew about it. I didn’t show or tell anyone. I didn’t want to concern them or look like a cliche depressed person. I’d take walks, find somewhere secluded, roll up a sleeve and run the blade up and down my forearm. I’d never press deep enough to require stitches, but deep enough to cover my arm in red lines that would bead with blood. I could run my hand up and down my forearm and feel the little pin tip beads over it.
I didn’t really want to commit suicide or permanently damage myself, I just wanted to do something that caused me pain. It felt good to do it.
Self-preservation goes out the window
Depression can be so dangerous, because when you no longer feel anything or care about anything, you don’t really care what happens to you.
I had lost the will to live. However, a tiny part of me wanted to survive and get through it. That kept me alive. It was like I wanted to end my life, but I didn’t want anyone to be sad about it, so that stopped me.
Often around local streets or backroads I’d cross the road without looking. I’ve come to realise how dangerous this was to myself and the people around me. I’d never do it on a main road, but my thinking was, ‘Well, if something hits me, so be it. I don’t care’.
During this time I also thought about movies where the hero is fighting for life or someone has a gun to their head and they’re begging to be let go. Or someone is pushing their head under water and they’re fighting to be set free. I remember thinking that if someone did that to me I wouldn’t beg or put up a fight, I’d just let them do what they wanted to do. I’d let them kill me with no struggle.
I really didn’t care about my life
Does it ever end?
The good news is that yes, eventually the depression will pass. At least for me, it did. There were lots of strategies I put in place. These, combined with the support of my family and friends, allowed me to get through it.
I remember I was staying at my parents’ house while they were away overseas and my brother came over unannounced. This annoyed me because it forced me to be social. I really didn’t want to see or talk to anyone.
I told him that I wasn’t in a taking mood and just sort of looked at the ground until he eventually left. He seemed pissed off, and rightly so. I was being so selfish and I knew it, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see him because I knew what I was like, it was just easier to not see anyone.
Before he left he said, “Dan, you have a choice. You can choose to stay like this or not”. Then he just left. That stuck with me, and the fact he was pissed off at me (which he never is) made me realise that this wasn’t a game. My actions were really affecting people.
To tell someone to just ‘get over it’ is bad advice, because depression is a disease. If someone had a broken ankle, would you say to them, ‘just get up and walk it off’? No, of course you wouldn’t. This particular piece of advice from my brother, coupled with a tiny interest in how my life might turn out, was the turning point.
After that day, I slowly decided that I was sick of feeling so down and thought about what I could do to get back to some semblance of normality. It took months, but eventually I started to climb out of the nightmare of depression.
Try and understand what the person is going through and get them help
Depressing is awful. It makes you believe things that aren’t true and convinces you that everything is your fault. Depression saps all the fun, energy and happiness out of your life. All you’re left with is a barrage of negative feelings day and night. They feed on themselves, which is why it’s so hard to get out of depression.
Never give up on someone who is depressed. You might be the difference between them getting through it or not.