Man lying in bath

An Experiment for People Who Don't Understand Depression

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A lot of people have asked me what depression feels like. They earnestly seem to not know, as if depression were some sort of unfathomable specter.

To that end, I offer the following experiment:

Make the bathroom cold. Turn on the fan. Leave only a single dim light to diffuse, as if barely there — maybe a flickering candle.

Stay in the here and now; nothing exists on the other side of that door.

Slowly and deliberately, strip off each item of clothing, one by one. Focus on each movement of each action.

Draw yourself a bath. Go all out. Make it the best bath you possibly can.

Get in. Lie there in the heat, enjoying the comfort. Close your eyes. Wrap your arms around yourself to make the warm embrace literal.

This is the world everyone else knows.

Now, still lying still in the perfect bath, pull the drain plug.

Sit there as the water slowly recedes, as the warm water turns to cool air on your skin.

Listen to the gurgling thirst of the drain, as your bath gradually transitions to the past tense.

Sit motionless, as you feel the water being sucked down the pipes. You’re half way now, but there is still some water left, still some warmth you can feel.

After the last of the water runs swirling down the drain’s rim, sit there for a while. Sit there cold and wet and naked.

Keep still. Let yourself shiver. Don’t attempt to warm yourself.

This is what depression feels like.

It feels like everything good has all drained out, leaving you cold and naked and alone.

Watch a video inspired by this piece below:

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Impact of Suicide on Someone With Depression

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Someone I knew killed himself.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have shocked me. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in young people. Statistically speaking, it isn’t shocking at all. But I was shocked. I suppose I’ve been fortunate to not experience this before. I’ll chalk up some of my surprise to youthful naivety and inexperience — a reminder that even though I feel so very old, I am so very young. He was very young, too.

I look at the situation from the eyes of a person with depression who has been suicidal. I know he must have been suffering. I can’t think of many situations where a person would die by suicide and not be suffering. I cannot begrudge him for wanting to put an end to it. I’ve been there. I get it. And in some ways I am glad he is not suffering now.

I also look at the situation from the eyes of one who was “left behind.” This is a new perspective for me. I’m on the outside looking in now, and, I’ve got to tell you, the view isn’t great. Someone posted to his Facebook profile, “You have no idea how missed you are going to be.” There are a lot of people grieving right now. I won’t pretend he and I were close friends, but he was someone I admired and was fond of. I don’t think he would have expected me to cry for him, but I did cry and I am crying and I will almost certainly cry some more.

In truth, this experience is useful for me. It has impacted me. Though I think to myself, if he can’t make it, how the hell am I supposed to? — I also think of the pain this loss has caused. This will be imprinted on me even when I am in a bad state. I know I will not be able to consider killing myself without remembering the words “you have no idea how missed you will be,” and the suffering everyone is going through. I never deluded myself that others would not suffer if I died by suicide, but I always thought, “They’ll get over it.” In a way, I guess it’s true. The pain will lessen with time. But I know, in this situation, there will never be a time when we will stop missing him, and we will never be the same. I have to assume the same would stand if I were in his position.

I dearly wish this wasn’t the major impact his life left on mine, but now it is.

We miss you. Rest easy.

Follow this journey on This Is a Depression Blog.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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7 Lessons My Toddler Taught Me About Dealing With Depression

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Toddlers learn most things from their parents. They master how to walk by watching us, learn how to feed themselves when we show them how and know how to react to certain situations by imitating us. They develop emotions and express them in raw, unquestionable ways, that admittedly get on my nerves at times. I know my toddler has learned plenty from me, but I never expected to learn anything from her. Through just doing her own thing on a daily basis, my daughter has taught me seven lessons about dealing with my depression.

1. Laugh often.

Toddlers are amused by the silliest, smallest things. They have an innocent appreciation for the little things that frequently results in serious giggling. By enjoying little things and belly laughing, my daughter reminded me how important good humor is when depression hits.

2. Form close bonds.

From birth, children crave close physical and emotional bonds. They require soothing when they’re upset, praise when they succeed and guidance when they’re lost. Adults need the same. When I’m depressed, I may feel like I want to be alone, but I know the lack of social ties at that time is harmful to me.

3. Ask for help when I need it.

Just like when my daughter falls, bumps her head and cries for me, I need to accept when to cry out for help. Whether it’s help around the house from my mom, time spent with my best friend or talk therapy with my counselor, my daughter reminds me to not be prideful when I’m depressed and ask for help if I need it.

4. Pick myself up and try again.

My daughter is an expert at this, particularly when she’s trying to walk through the grass. She falls, but gets up and keeps trying. When I experience a depressive episode, I don’t try. I fall and I stay down, which does nothing for my poor mood. I need to get up, dust myself off and try.

5. Sleep when I’m sleepy.

A common symptom of depression is sleeping too much, which isn’t healthy. My daughter only sleeps when she is tired, and spends the rest of her day being productive in the only ways a toddler can be. She reminds me to not over sleep, and to get up and get going.

6. Eat when I’m hungry.

When I’m depressed, I eat for comfort. It results in me feeling badly about myself, and distorts the image I have of my body. When I’m down, if I eat like my daughter, my self-esteem won’t be lowered and I won’t feel bad about myself. Another direction I go with food when I’m depressed is not eating enough because I do feel so poorly. If I eat when I’m hungry, I’ll nourish my body and my mind.

7. Don’t forget to snuggle up.

I isolate myself when I’m depressed. I don’t call my friends, I don’t go out of the house and I don’t spend much time with my daughter. When she’s sick, she expects me to cuddle her and make her feel better. I need to let her do the same for me. Nothing is more healing than a warm hug from tiny arms.

Learning these things from my toddler was unexpected, but very welcome. I have a hard time coping when I’m feeling down, but these lessons I’ve learned from my daughter will help me. She alone is a great reason to try and pull myself out of the darkness that is my depression, and I know that if she understood my illness, she’d want me to feel better. I need to take these lessons I’ve learned from her and put them into action the next time I experience a depressive episode.

Madelyn and her baby
Madelyn and her daughter.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Therapist I Fired, Thank You

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You told me I was faking it — that my suicidal thoughts were elaborate attempts to gain attention. Despite genetic evidence to the contrary, you told me I just didn’t want to take medications. You threw out words like “difficult,” “resistant,” “defiant.” In my despair, I believed you. I thought my treatment-resistant depression, crippling anxiety and inability to experience happiness were all my fault. When I didn’t get better, when nothing worked, when I couldn’t get out of bed, I sent lengthy emails and booked extra sessions with you to figure out why. 

I’m surprised it took me so long to catch on (I used to be a therapist myself). But in my vulnerable state, all I saw was darkness. Languishing in yet another dank hospital room, traumatized and alone, I had a sudden epiphany. 

You, Mr. Therapist, are wrong!

I am not damaged goods. I am not my illness. I may not be the best at expressing how I’m feeling, but in no way am I making up this horrible disease. I am not lying about my emotions. 

At that moment, I had two choices. I could be bitter. I could sit in my cold, lonely room and plot my revenge, or I could forgive. Admittedly, for awhile, I did wish for justice. I was tormented by your actions, filled with shame that I’d believed the ignorant words. But just as there are bad plumbers and bad accountants and bad salesmen, there are bad therapists. You are one of them. So I fired you. 

This is not to say you, the reader, should jump ship the minute there is a problem in therapy. This is just a friendly reminder (from someone who has been both a therapist and a patient) that it is OK to find a therapist who works best.

To anyone who feels hesitant about firing your therapist, there are options. Though it may be scary, tell your therapist how you feel. They may have no idea their particular style of therapy is not working. When I had my private practice, I had multiple clients who I could not develop good rapport with, so I chose to start a conversation with them about the subject. For some people, this showed that I, too, was not perfect. There may not be anything “wrong” with either party, but the therapeutic fit may not be beneficial for the client. It is every therapist’s ethical duty to do what is best for the client. I would never buy a car from someone if I knew they were trying to rip me off. So why would anyone stick with a therapist who made their depression and anxiety worse? 

Buddhist teachings say holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. So I chose to forgive my therapist. I have enough on my plate to sit around worrying about people who do me wrong. Forgiving this individual was liberating. Every day, I work hard to balance my emotions, practice self-care and continue living despite my mental health challenges. 

To the therapist I fired, thank you for teaching me about forgiveness. In the end, it was empowering.

You are now one less thing I have to worry about.

sidewalk chalk that says forgive

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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I Am Skipping Today, and That's OK

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Depression wants me to harm myself.

It says, “Isolate.”

“Sleep.” “Starve.” “Binge.” “Hide.”

It says, “Hate yourself.”

It says, “Kill yourself.”

”It says, “Tell everyone you are OK, then come back so I may abuse you further.”

It does not whisper these words; it shouts in my ear.

It claws at me, pulls me under for a time.

I am rallying; I am fighting. I have things to do.

Leave me alone, I am busy.

I have workouts to complete, books to read, cards to send, stories to write, dogs to pet, trees to plant, weeds to pull. Medicine to take.

Am I drowning? Am I alive? Am I saying any of this aloud?

I woke up today with no strength. No resolve.

I am tired of fighting.

Today, brain chemistry won out over will.

Today, I skipped life and loving myself.

So, I’ll start again tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I’ll say today never happened.

Tomorrow, I’ll remember I have a garden that needs caring for.

sunflowers in a garden

Tomorrow, I’ll pet a neighbor’s dog I pass on my run.

Tomorrow, I’ll open up my notebooks, my planner, my eyes, to everything I have not yet finished, accomplished, begun.

I will swallow my pills and write an essay — maybe two. Maybe more. I’ll write something on the calendar that is going to happen months from now because I’m going to be alive to see it happen.

But for now, for today, I need to stay. right. here.

And that’s OK.

I am skipping today.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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The Most Unhelpful Things You Can Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

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We know sometimes people don’t fully understand our mental illness and are only doing their best when they try to give advice. Never the less, some of the “advice” given can be extremely unhelpful. For example:

“Try not to spend all day in bed. It will only make you feel worse.”

“Why don’t you try and go for a little walk for some fresh air? It will make you feel better.”

“Don’t look at things from such a negative perspective.”

“Why are you so depressed? You have such a good life.” (This one is often followed by a list of the good stuff in your life.)

“Why don’t you get dressed/have a shower?”

“I don’t understand why you are so down… you were doing so well yesterday.”

When people say these things, they usually don’t know how to help or what to say, and saying something is better than saying nothing. I appreciate all attempts to help, but here are some more helpful ideas of things to say to those of us with depression:

“What can I do to help you?”

“Is there anything I can bring you?”

“I’m right here if and when you would like to talk.”

“Shall I just lie here with you?”

“Is there someone on your care plan you would like me to help you contact?”

“I’m always here for you, and I love you.”

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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