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What It Feels Like to Have 'Chronic Depression Fatigue'

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I’ve had friends tell me they’ve felt the extreme fatigue of depression long after they began feeling better, even when their depression was in remission. At the time I didn’t think much of this because I was in the midst of a many-years-long, serious depressive episode and couldn’t really imagine the depression being “in remission.” Why did I care if the exhaustion stuck around?

It’s been the better part of two years since I’ve really felt crushed under depression. I have my feet under me these days, and most symptoms have disappeared entirely (ask me about how miraculous it feels not to always feel afraid). But despite all the progress I’ve made, there’s one thing that sticks around, and nothing I do can shift it. I’m talking about the fatigue. The exhaustion. My ability to sleep 10 hours a night and still get worn out. The way I have to pass out for a day every few months just to start feeling human again.

This is what I like to call “chronic depression fatigue.” In my experience, it’s the longest lasting of all my depressive symptoms, and unfortunately it’s one that affects my ability to do the things I want and need to do in a pretty serious way. No matter how much distance I put between myself and the more obvious symptoms of depression (anhedonia, listlessness, negative self talk, black and white thinking, isolation), I find that my energy remains low, and my body just can’t keep up with other people.

I’m a relatively young, physically healthy person. There is no reason I should wake up every morning feeling miserably tired. There is no reason I should regularly find myself so tired at work that I’m fighting my eyelids closing. There is no reason I should have to down cups of coffee to stay aware enough to make it through the day.

It’s frustrating to realize there may be no end to struggling with energy and sleep. I feel less intelligent than I used to be because I always feel as if I’m barely awake. Am I going to be stuck as a subpar version of myself forever? Especially as someone with a history of an eating disorder, exhaustion can really screw up my self-care routines, as it makes exercise and balanced food difficult. Exercise is a good preventative measure for me, and having to skip out on the gym to go take a nap feels awful, even when it’s necessary.

More than anything, the fatigue makes me feel helpless. I’ve tried so many things to pin down exactly what’s going on. I got a sleep study and was probably the only person to be disappointed that I sleep perfectly. I gave up vegetarianism in the hope that more protein would improve my energy levels. I’ve adjusted my exercise to be more regular but less intense. I’ve taken vitamins. It does not matter what I do, the exhaustion remains. No matter how much or how little I sleep (trust me, I’ve heard I’m oversleeping. I’ve also heard I should drink more water, exercise more or less, take on more or less responsibilities, eat more or less meat… I’ve heard it all), I spend most of my life wishing I could be taking a nap.

I’ve heard from others that they have this long-lasting fatigue, even when the depression is in remission. And yet I’ve never heard a therapist or doctor mention it or potential solutions other than treating it like any other exhaustion. I feel bad even bringing it up because I know compared to being in the midst of depression, this is a cake walk. But even in recovery, I think we can advocate for improved quality of life, and helping those with mental illness manage energy is huge to keeping us on our feet and fighting our brain demons.

I hope we can start talking about a nuanced version of recovery. I’m so much happier than I used to be, and my life is infinitely better. But my mental illness still has an impact on me. Depression lingers, leaving little imprints through your life to remind you that you can’t let your guard down. I don’t ever expect to be the same person I was before, but there are things I miss so deeply. I just want to have energy again. I want my excitement back. I want my verve back. Depression took so much of it from me.

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To the Person Who Feels Ashamed for Struggling So Much

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This is something to remember when your struggle seems too much. I want you to remember this when you are struggling and you feel like giving up.

You are strong. You are brave. You are worthy.

Each time you make it through, each time you fight these thoughts that consume you, you are making it one step closer to recovery.

Recovery takes time.

Whether you are struggling with depression or anxiety, or even the two at once, you are not weak. You are strong for moving forward. You are brave for working through this, and you are worthy of love and support — from the people around you and from yourself.

Struggling with depression and anxiety is hell. It feels like you are lost and there is no way out.

Let me tell you this:

Things will get better. Things will improve, and you will start to feel positive again.

The process may be long and hard, but you can make it through this.

We all can.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep taking things one day at a time.

If you can’t face the thought of making it through one more day, take it one hour, one minute, one second at a time, but please don’t give up!

I believe in you. I believe you can make it through this.

Please don’t be ashamed for struggling so much. Please never be ashamed.

You are doing the best you can.

Never be ashamed to ask for support. Reach out for support until you are heard. Reach out until you are listened to and you find someone willing to support you through this.

If at first people aren’t willing to listen to you, know that your journey may confuse them or they may be afraid. Don’t let this discourage you.

Keep reaching out until you are heard. Keep reaching out until you receive the support you deserve.

Your journey toward recovery will look different for everyone, and there is no shame in asking for help.

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

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

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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The One Who Sends Sunshine Through the Clouds of My Depression

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Everything’s been dark lately.

I don’t mean literally. I live in the tropics, and it’s the tail-end of summer right now. We get 12 hours of sunlight every day.

But wherever I go, whatever I do, there’s a shadow on everything. On praise from my manager. On jokes from my friends. On the taste of a perfectly grilled cheeseburger.

Every bit of joy is fleeting and shallow, achieving nothing more than a few seconds’ respite from the heavy emptiness. They last long enough for me to smile and pretend everything is alright. They boost me just long enough to say without a hint of weakness I can keep on going, keep on doing what I’ve been doing for the last few months.

Some days feel impossible. The rest are just difficult.

But then she smiles. She calls my name as I walk by. She stops to chat for five minutes — about the book I got her, or some new frozen yogurt place she wants to try.

And suddenly I am genuinely happy. The smile isn’t faked. The laughter isn’t forced. The next few hours are light and easy.

It isn’t just because she’s beautiful. It isn’t just because she doesn’t stop smiling.

Her hope is infectious. Her dreams are inspiring. Her optimism is uplifting. To her, things can only get better. And she makes me believe it, if only for a few hours.

She is my ray of sunshine in a time when there are clouds everywhere I turn.

Sometimes she is all that gets me through a day. And she doesn’t even realize it.

But she is my sunshine.

I pray you find yours as well.

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To My Little Brother, Whose Love Saves Me From Depression

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To my little brother,

First of all, I want to thank you.

During your short, innocent life, you have saved me more than you will ever know.

Coincidentally, my depression first made an appearance when you were just a loud, little angel in a onesie. However, we never let this get in the way of us forming an everlasting bond. There were moments during my teen years when I blamed everyone I loved for my depression – including you – and I’m truly sorry for that. In reality I was just envious and resentful that you had what I wanted: a “proper” family. You had Mummy and Daddy, but I secluded myself so much that it felt like I had no one. And yet I always had you.

You went through a phase of being extremely dependent on me when it was time for you to sleep. I remember having to rock you in my arms in the living room until you fell asleep, and then I would just hold you. You see, for as much as you were dependent on me, I was just as dependent on you. I depended on you as someone who would love me unconditionally and give me reason to just be.

Growing up, I think you were always aware I wasn’t a “normal” big sister. I would shout and scream, cry often and be absentminded for long periods of time. But even at a young age you were there to wipe my tears, tell me you loved me and give me the best cuddles known to man.

Whenever my bad thoughts arose, you were the first thing on my mind. Just the thought of you would usually make the bad thoughts stop. Sometimes I would think back to a memory of you, and other times I would think about all the things I have yet to witness your beautiful self accomplish: your first day of high school, your first relationship, your first job, or even the first time you stagger through the front door after having “only one drink.” I imagine not being there to guide you through all of these milestones, and every time I do I’m left in tears with a renewed motivation to live.

"If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together, there is something you must always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we are apart, I'll always be with you." -Winnie the Pooh At only 8-years-old, you’re too young to fully comprehend the nitty-gritty reality of my mental health. So far you’re aware that sometimes I have a “poor head,” and when that happens it makes me sad, but it’s nobody’s fault. You already know that when this happens I may stay in my room longer than usual and have a little cry, and you know the best medicine is a cuddle from you and Mummy.

You’re not only my little brother – you’re my little guardian angel of whom I couldn’t be prouder.

I hope one day I will see a light at the end of the tunnel and be able to escape the darkness, but no matter what happens, you need to know I love you, now and always.

Big hugs and kisses,

Your Natnat

Natalie and her little brother

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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What Depression Tells Me You're Thinking About Me

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Depression lies to me. I believe the lies. I am trying to move past the lies and to ask for your help. Today, I am choosing not to believe the lies and to try and help you understand. Depression tells me no one cares and I am alone. Today, I do not believe the lies.

Depression is like being in a dark place, not at the bottom, not at the top. It is an undefinable pit. I am somewhere in the middle, with no light, wind or sound. I am exhausted, trying to fight my way out but all my energy is sapped from trying. I have no energy left to fight my way free. The exhaustion is overwhelming, endless, consuming.

I yearn to give up and I begin to listen to the only thing I hear, that I am worthless and there is no hope. The exhaustion is nearly as great as the darkness, threatening to consume me. There is this glimmer of my former self telling me this is not real, that I am worthy of a fight, but then the loneliness takes hold again. The darkness prevails. All I can think is I cannot do this any longer and I pray I don’t wake up.

I have no idea what you are really thinking about me, but I can tell you what I believe you are thinking. I can tell you what depression tells me you are thinking. Depression tells me you have no respect for me anymore. You wonder, “What happened to her?” She used to be so strong. You are afraid of me because I am unstable. You are afraid to reach out because you don’t know what to say.

Depression tells me my pitiful attempts at crying for help leave you cold and afraid of me. Depression tells me you think I am like the boy who cried wolf and you are rolling your eyes thinking, “What now?” whenever there is contact from me. Depression tells me you think I am ridiculous. I have a good life and you cannot see any reason why I have let you down and why I cannot just be happy. Depression tells me you have completely given up on me.

As someone who I love and cherish, I want you to know what I need from you. I need for you to believe in me. Have faith I don’t want to be here and I am trying. Believe I am seeking help and doing what professionals are asking of me. I need for you to not put me on a back burner and forget about me.

Remember who I used to be and who I long to be. Remember when you used to respect me and were proud of me.  Please, know the worst of all of this for me is the loneliness, the feeling I am completely alone in my darkness. There is no one who cares. I am begging you to help me keep fighting and to not give up one me. I love you and I need you in my life.

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Dear Hopeless One

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I recognize the vacant, absent look in your eyes, searching for one spark of hope in an endless maze of darkness. Every morning, you wake up with a boulder sitting on your chest, so heavy it’s hard to breathe. You feel unwanted, no matter what people say, because another voice speaks louder. Your family needs you, something small whispers from deep inside, and some days you can actually hear the words, like a life preserver you reach for desperately in a rocking ocean of pain. On bad days, the other voice roars in your head, drowning it out. No, you’re worthless, it says. It has the ability to mimic your own voice. Mine sounds like my inner voice, but it tells me all of the things I cannot do on repeat. Mimicking the voices of loved ones, it distorts and twists pieces of conversations into knots of lies, and exaggerates self-destructive thoughts.

I am my own worst critic.  

Mine shows me regrets — things I should have done. It tells me I can never do the things I want to do or be the beautiful person my friends and family believe I am. Taking a fowl, dark, hand and muffling my voice, it tries to keep me from talking to those I love. It tries to isolate me, whispering, you’re better off alone anyway, no one will understand how you feel. It tells me I’m too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too sick, a terrible mother, a bad person, and whatever else it needs to sink its tentacles deeper into my mind. All using my own voice, until I am a hollow shell, empty and defeated.

I recognize the hollow look in your eyes because I too am struggling.

You are not alone in this murky labyrinth of depression. There are others like us fumbling around in the dark. Silence only serves the illness, making it stronger. Getting help, talking to someone, even a friend is the first step. Everything might seem lost and hopeless right now. I promise if you hold on one more day, you will light up again eventually. You are never truly alone. We can navigate the mental health system together. You don’t have to struggle alone anymore.

For more information:

Anxiety and Depression

Signs and Symptoms

Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Depression Online Support Groups

“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”
― Anne Lamott, “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year”

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

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

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