When Words Aren't Enough to Describe My Depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD), recurrent, severe.

This phrase has been emblazoned across my medical record for years. And it should be. It accurately describes a large part of my existence, a part I’ve been fighting for nearly half my life.

But reading this on paper always leaves me perplexed. Do those words really have enough power, enough energy to convey my experience with depression? It always leaves me wanting to describe, to explain, to detail what the pain of depression is really like, and I seem to always fall short. It’s indescribable, really. If you’ve been through it, you know. If you haven’t, I feel you can’t possibly imagine.

As a photographer, I’ve always been drawn to visual representations of things that can’t be fully described with words. A photo that portrays pure emotion is something I devour. When the weight of my depression becomes too much to bear with only words, I turn to my camera to help me release what can’t be spoken. These self-portraits were made while I was in the midst of a very severe depressive episode. I was unable to function. I could barely leave my house. My camera was my only companion. These photos illustrate more than I can try to explain. I try with words, but only with imagery can I truly speak. And I need to speak to feel alive.

Depression steals my voice. I can’t speak about what’s bothering me. I can’t explain my sadness. It silences me to where I can’t ask for help. It convinces me I have nothing to say and anything I do say doesn’t matter. I’m afraid to share what’s inside my head. My thoughts scare me, so I’m afraid others can’t handle them either. I’m afraid they’ll run away or abandon me out of fear.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her voice, hand clutched to throat

Depression steals my hope. Try to imagine being lost in a darkness from which you cannot fathom ever being free. Being in this place is one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had. I begin to believe the light will never come. You become not only stuck in the cold sadness but convinced it is eternal. There is no reason to fight when nothing seems worth fighting for.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her hope - double exposure of woman's hands covering mouth

Depression steals my body. My emotions come spilling out without warning, often amplified far past what the situation might typically evoke. I cry. And cry. And cry some more. I cry for no reason and I cry for every reason. My body heaves and strains through every sob, forced to release a terrible wail. I become trapped in a flesh prison I wish nothing more than to escape from. But there is only one escape, and I cannot let that be an option.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her body, woman arched over with hands behind neck showing back

Depression steals my connections. When it all becomes too much, I retreat. I am convinced my presence will hurt others far more than my absence. I ache with loneliness but I’m terrified of the world, of strangers, even of the ones I love. I must appear to be strong. I push everyone away, hoping they will never know the battle I fight.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her connections, image of woman pushing viewer away

Depression steals my mind. It hijacks all of my thoughts and any ability to think rationally. Everything is cloaked in fog and suddenly my mind is my enemy. It tells me lies: I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’ll never be good enough. Then my depressed thoughts turn to anxious ones. “Life is hopeless” becomes, “what if it never gets better?” I believe it, and that’s when the panic sets in.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her mind hands behind head grimaced in pain

Depression steals my joy. It is a dark place indeed when you truly can’t remember what happiness feels like. Depression sucks the life out of everything, including myself. I try to laugh or even smile, but it’s hard to dream when it feels like nothing matters.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her joy resting head on hand

Depression steals my soul. It steals my energy, my motivation, my hopes and my dreams. Everything loses all meaning as depression will not allow me to care about anything. It steals my ability to fight back. Some days, I can’t leave my bed. I lie there, willing myself to move, begging my mind to ease up, trying to regain control. But my tank is empty. There is nothing left. It’s as if a concrete slab has been lowered onto my bed with me still inside it. You’re stuck. You’re frozen. The weight is just too much.

Black and white image of photographer's representation of how depression affects her soul woman lying face down hair covering face

Fighting depression has been one of the greatest struggles I’ve had to fight. It can’t be seen and often can’t be explained, but it is there. And it is real. My hope is that these photos might help portray the pain to those who haven’t been able to understand because understanding can provide hope. And hope is the most vital thing we need.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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All images are self-portraits via the contributor

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