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What It's Like When a 'Depression Attack' Hits

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

This afternoon, I was in a grocery store looking at produce prices and a sharp voice came into my head that said, “You should just kill yourself.”

This voice is a real bitch at times, let me tell you. She’s the same voice saying I’m too privileged to be depressed, despite having been clinically diagnosed as such at age 11. But yeah, she’s right. I’m much too “functional” to be sick.

I feel the blood rush through my arms and legs, making me hyper-focus on the fact that they are attached to my body. I want to throw my limbs at the man standing too close behind me. I want to dig my fingernails into my arm and bite my lip until it swells. A cold sweat ensues as my mind digs into suppressed details of my story. I want to cry. I grasp the cart handle and squeeze. I cry.


Faker, she says. You don’t really want to die. You’re just drawing attention to yourself, and it’s ugly. You are ugly. There are people in this world who are so much worse…

I need to get home, but I’m scared to go to the till, to leave the store, to drive. I stand there, wiping fast-paced tears and trying to take a full breath.

Calling it what it is: a depression attack 

No one tells you what to do when you have a depression attack because no one talks about such moments as “attacks,” but that’s what they are. They’re a surge in your sickness that can happen whenever, wherever. They can dip you down lower than you felt before, making it harder to combat the potentially dangerous nature of depression.

We have a name for when our anxiety spills from our spines and rises from our feet and we can label it and call it what it is: a panic attack.

With a name, we have a categorization. With categorization, we have a place to put other names that signify things we can then understand by association. For example, we know the “tight ball feeling” that billows in our chests as a possible symptom of a panic attack. We know of other symptoms such as shaking, sweating, interrupted breathing and heart racing. We understand these as responses to a certain stimuli, or triggers.

Since we can make these connections, we can go a step further and discuss how to avoid and remedy panic attacks. For instance, it’s widely known that deep breathing exercises may be useful in states of onset and sudden panic. Over the years, I’ve been able to use deep breathing to slow and still panic attacks since I understand what’s happening because it has been named.

Naming gives us this power, but we haven’t used it to our advantage when it comes to cases of chronic depression. When you have chronic depression, you may experience persistent low moods, oftentimes accompanied by physical pain and disbelief in your diagnosis. So no, I’m not talking about, “I had a really rough week,” or, “Everything is blah today” kinda low moods. I’m talking about underlying darkness that dulls the light of life everyone else sees.

For many of us with chronic depression, this lower-than-average state of mood can be considered our “normal” or baseline mood. It goes largely unnoticed, which is why depression is considered an invisible illness. There are times, though, when our low mood dips even further into a state of temporary, but dangerous, despair.

During such moments, it’s both helpful and reassuring to know that you are having a depression attack. Prepare for a possible disheveling and emotionally and physically draining experience. Know that while everyone’s attack will look unique, these moments of intense heave-crying or silent screaming or thoughts of self-harming need to be named and addressed in the same manner as we have with panic attacks.

Depression attacks should be followed by medical professionals; they require treatment and coping strategies, and they are survivable.

Remember, when you’re having a depression attack, it is caused by your illness going into overdrive. Breathe. Touch base with your depression or suicide prevention kit. Call someone. Book an appointment with your mental health doctor. Have some water. Rest. This too shall pass. You’re doing a great job of being alive.

 Photo Credit: Koldunova_Anna

Originally published: September 16, 2019
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