What It Can Feel Like to Live With Constant Depression
Sometimes I read back over my past writing and I find I’ve been fairly prescriptive when talking about depression. As in, if you have X problem, try out Y and Z and you may feel better.
And to a certain extent, I think it’s appropriate for me or for other medical professionals to offer up suggestions, particularly if addressing the topic of dealing with depression.
After all, multiple and varying clinical studies have shown psychotherapy and/or medication and/or other behavioral modifications can be a tremendous support.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage exploring this with clients in my office or in writing here on the blog.
But what can sometimes get lost in those more prescriptive writings is an acknowledgment that perhaps, for many, depression isn’t something that will ever be “fixed,” but rather is something that has to be lived with, either consistently or cyclically. And then I think it’s less helpful to talk about depression as a thing to fix and solve, than rather to simply acknowledge what life can be like when depression is something you have to bear, when depression is something you have to live with and tolerate and it can’t be so easily “fixed.”
So, what can help with this bearing, this tolerating? Perhaps — sometimes — just reading words that make you feel less alone, that make you feel seen.
And so today I want to offer a less formal post, a collection really, of thoughts and musings about what life with depression can feel like, in hopes this helps you feel less alone, more seen and even just one bit more supported to go about your day while living with depression.
Depression can feel like a settling in, like a slow, gradual creep on you that you didn’t quite see coming. Depression doesn’t announce itself loudly; it’s so much more subtle than that. It grows and grows layer by layer until you wake up one morning filled with dread about the day, afraid to put your feet on the floor and even to check your phone because the thought of emails and notifications are too much. You realize you don’t want to open your eyes and come out of sleep, not because you’re still tired, but because sleep helps you avoid life. Depression can feel like this when it settles in and arrives one morning.
Depression can feel like forcing yourself to move through the motions of human life: brushing your teeth, putting on your makeup, drinking water to stay hydrated, responding when your partner calls out to you. Depression can feel like being on autopilot, being there, but not fully being there because so much of your mental and emotional energy is consumed, sucked inward by how badly and hopeless you feel.
Depression does not necessarily feel like sadness; sadness is characterized by a surge of emotion, a strength of feeling. Depression, rather, can feel like an absence of feeling. Like numbness. Like coldness. Like a blanket of heavy draped on top of a general state of vibrating fear and dread. Depression can make it hard to find any ounce or spark of excitement about the things that would normally excite you — plans in the future, looking at old vacation photos, texts from your best friend. Depression is characterized by a void.
Depression makes you will yourself. Like willing yourself to get out of bed, willing yourself to leave the house, willing yourself to eat a square meal and drink water, willing yourself to show up at work. In depression, these things don’t come easily, they take effort. They can take so much effort! It’s like that scene in “The Matrix” when Trinity is lying at the bottom of a stairwell after escaping and says to herself, “Get up, Trinity. Just get up. Get up.” In depression, it can feel like that, but with less motivation and energy.
And speaking of energy, depression can rob and drain you of energy like few other things in this world can. So much energy is consumed inward just trying to maintain some small sense off equilibrium, of trying to be a functional human, that you can feel a bone-deep weariness and fatigue thinking about anything beyond surviving moment to moment. Prospects of walks can feel overwhelming, a gym workout impossible, lasting through a dinner party and making pleasant conversation laughably unrealistic. Depression can make you feel all you have energy for is to curl up on your bed or couch, hidden by blankets, with a TV show to get lost in.
Depression can make you wonder why your life has to involve contact with other humans when clearly you are so not up for that.
Depression can make you doubt photographs or memories of times when you seemed happy. Depression is seductive and makes you question whether that will ever be possible again. When you will ever feel joy, energy or happiness. Depression can make you forget prior versions of yourself, thinking (falsely) this is the only true version.
Depression laser focuses time. Depression can make thinking about the future impossible, the past unbearable and depression begs us to live in the smallest slice of time we can possibly manage. Which isn’t much, honestly. But the clock ticks on, and so in depression, we conquer another 10 minutes of pretending to be functional.
Depression can rob us of our stalwart coping mechanisms: 30-minute workouts, chats with girlfriends, some solid sleep, being outside… all of it can fall flat when depression arrives and says, “Those won’t be good enough. They won’t even make a dent.” Depression is hard that way, the good self-care stuff we’ve learned through therapy, personal growth reading or just being human suddenly is inadequate to face this new level of feeling. Depression unmoors us.
So, what do we do if we are living life with depression for the first time, this most recent time or all the time?
I do think it’s important to reach out for help.
Call your therapist, your doctor, your clergy, your mother and best friend. Isolation fuels depression and the self-imposed shame many of us add to the hard feeling of depression doesn’t serve us at all.
Ask for help, allow help in whatever form that may take for you whether this is connection, professional psychotherapy support, medication or some combination of all of it.
But also, consider this:
Depression invites us to act like people who have religion and faith do: trust. You may not be able to imagine a future where you don’t have these feelings, but keep acting as if and putting one foot in front of the other. Fold the laundry, take your vitamins, show up to work, tuck yourself into bed. Have faith these repeated, compounding moments of good self-care (on autopilot they may be) will add up and the tide will turn.
Depression can feel like the loneliest, scariest slog in the world. Like a trek through some proverbial Mordor minus the fine companionship of Samwise Gamgee. Depression is a trickster who says, “You’re all alone in this and it will always be this way.” Both things are untrue. Even with the most chronic and persistent depression, there may be moments of levity again. And all around you, though you may not know them and they may not open up about it even if you do know them, countless other people are struggling with depression, with their own proverbial treks across Mordor.
Depression doesn’t mean you are flawed or broken. Depression, from a purely biological lens, says our brain chemistry is imbalanced and we’re feeling the physiological impacts of it. Depression, from a spiritual lens, may say there’s a wound in our soul that needs tending to. And there are countless other lenses and perspectives of depression out there, but the one I don’t buy into in the slightest is the idea depression signals something is “wrong” with us.
I hope this felt helpful and maybe a little soothing to read.
So often in the world of psychotherapy and personal growth, we and our experiences are reduced to “problems to be solved.” And I don’t think that’s very helpful.
Instead, what I think can be more helpful, is more truth and sharing and connecting around the experiences we find ourselves having — particularly if they are painful or isolating in the way depression can sometimes be. This sharing, this connecting, this truth-telling is, in my professional opinion, a powerful healing force. So please, reach out and connect with someone if you’re feeling depressed. Read the stories of others who have journeyed through depression. Take life moment by moment and care for yourself in the same way you would for a precious child or beloved pet.
And until next time, take very good care of yourself.
Unsplash image by Annie Spratt