14 Shades of Depression


Depression is not a monochromatic experience; there are different shades or aspects and some common shared metaphors. The American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the classification system for mental disorders in the United States, has a checklist of nine symptoms (over a two-week period to be diagnosed with depression), and none of these are represented below.

Editor’s note: Everyone experiences depression differently. An individual with depression may not experience all the feelings listed below.

1) Vacuum – this is a common metaphor for depression. The vacuous feeling is frightening, like something essential is being sucked out of existence. J.K. Rowling was inspired to write about dementors due to her own experience with depression, and her description of what their presence feels like is similar to this.

2) Ennui – this is an existential feeling that life is pointless and meaningless, written about so well by French philosophers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

3) Dark cloud – this feels more like greyness, but its glumness still colors everything.

4) Complaining – If someone with depression is complaining, chances are he or she is not doing it purposely to annoy others or to bring them down. This is how that person is seeing the world where everything is disturbing and “not right.” It’s a little like crabs pinching unpleasantly every several moments, so you can’t settle to enjoy anything or feel peace.

5) Crankiness – irritability is not part of the DSM (except for children and teenagers), but many depressed people describe feeling it. Ordinary life annoyances can be unbearable.

6) Grogginess – feeling sleepy, heavy, slowed down, or feeling “blah.”

7) Boredom – nothing to do, or there are things to do or should be done, and nothing sounds appealing, fun, or enjoyable. The life has been sucked out of the every day, and the ordinary is full of tedium.

8) Repetitive images — people here see images of themselves as forever feeling as depressed as they are in that moment, like through an endless, reflecting nightmarish funhouse mirror.

9) Leaden blanket — Try to function under the heaviness and constriction of a leaden blanket you are trapped beneath.

10) Helpless rage – Freud’s original theory on depression is that it is anger turned inward, so turning anger outward can be a way for some people to acknowledge the anger they feel and possibly be more assertive instead of feeling so helpless. But sometimes the blackness of an angry depression can lead one into despair.

11) Insecurity and vulnerability – this is feeling very young and vulnerable, like a small child or even an infant, unable to take care of one’s self. The metaphor for this is a baby floating alone on an ocean.

12) Emptiness – emptiness is in the DSM as a description of the type of depression that is characteristic of borderline personality disorder, but many people’s depression makes them feel empty inside, as if they had just dark space inside of them or they are scooped out.

13) Agitation – this has energy about it, which is the opposite of the slow-downed, heavy feeling of depression, but it can be frightening nonetheless. Being unable to settle, fidgeting, lack of focus and concentration because nothing is right. The feeling is not being able to sit down for a minute, but having to go on day after day.

14) Blackness – this is the worst of depression, a blackness in the head that is emotionally painful, like a headache, but it is not always a physical pain. A common metaphor for this is a black pit. The blackness can be sticky, coagulating like congealed blood, or like a crevice in a mountain made of tar that you can slip inside the bottomless depths and be lost.

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Thinkstock photo by JoopS


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