Before I was dealing with my own depression, I knew people who were depressed and I often wondered what it was like. I know the definition, a persistent low mood or loss of interest, but that doesn’t really say much. At least it never helped me understand it. Now that I have a pretty good handle on what it does feel like, at least for me, I thought I’d try a description, to help out anyone who wants to understand. Or maybe just to reassure someone who has been through it that they’re not alone.
It may be easier to start with what depression doesn’t feel like. It doesn’t feel like a simple feeling. It’s not just a feeling of sadness that doesn’t go away. Sadness may be there during the depression, but the depression itself is something different than that sadness. The same is true of anger, frustration, guilt and loneliness. They are all likely present during depression, but none of them are what depression feels like.
One way I often think about depression is feeling pressed down. I mean that in both a literal and figurative sense. I literally feel heavier when I’m depressed, like something is layered on top of my body. It’s almost like that vest you wear at the dentist when they’re taking x-rays. Only someone has made the vest into a full body suit with a hood. It’s also sort of like that way your limbs feel heavy just after waking up or just before falling asleep. Only it’s not just your limbs, it lasts a lot longer and has nothing to do with sleep.
In the figurative sense, it is almost like having a cover clamped on. There is something keeping your mind contained. Even if you have the energy to try to go somewhere, it’s like bumping into something every time your brain tries to do anything.
There is also the feeling that there is some kind of filter between yourself and the rest of the world. The filter works in both directions. It is almost impossible to express yourself. In my case, everything I want to say gets filtered down into mumbled monosyllables. I know in the moment that it’s not working, but the filter feels disconnected from me. I have no control over it. I can think of the most eloquent phrases, really concentrate, and they still come out as grunts.
I’ve written about the other direction before. Sensory inputs still arrive, but the meaning, feeling and intent behind them don’t make it. You can hear a once loved song, but have no idea what it’s about. You can see someone smile and know that smiling is a sign of happiness, but none of that happiness comes through. You can listen to someone make a joke and know it’s a joke, but be confused why they would say it. All of the images, sounds, smells and tastes get through, but whatever is beyond the surface is filtered out.
There’s a dullness in depression. I don’t mean that in the sense of boring, depression certainly isn’t boring. It’s more of the dull and dingy kind of sense. Lights seem dimmer, colors muted, sounds quieter. Nothing is sharp. Everything seems a little fuzzy around the edges. It’s like watching life on an old, tube TV and knowing that everything should be in HD.
One of the most frustrating pieces of depression is the slowness. It feels like everything lasts forever. Even thoughts are slow. It feels like nothing is worth starting because by the time it finishes you will have lost interest. Everything seems to take so long that there isn’t enough time to do anything. So much time is wasted because nothing happens quickly. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell yourself that there is plenty of time, you just can’t convince yourself that it’s true.
Perhaps the silliest image of what depression feels like is cheesecloth. It feels like being covered from head to toe in cheesecloth. Think of all the ways that would make functioning difficult. It’s hard to see, hard to hear, hard to move and impossible to get comfortable. Everything feels cut off or disconnected from you, like there’s a barrier between you and the world.
So, that’s what being depressed feels like to me. Of course, I have no way of knowing how anyone else experiences it. Depression is weird. It causes insomnia in some and oversleeping in others. It causes loss of appetite in some and overeating in others. The goal isn’t to catalogue every way that depression can feel. I just wanted to give an impression of one of the ways it can feel. I don’t know that it will help anyone, but it makes me feel a little better to think that it might.