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How to Define Depression If You Struggle to Define It

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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.

I wrote this story initially for only myself, to make sense of my varied and sometimes conflicting feelings and experiences of living with depression. After sharing it with a few friends, I discovered that several of them felt the same way but hadn’t been able to express it themselves. More importantly, many shared this story with their spouses, children, parents, and even mental health providers to explain, often for the first time, some of their daily struggles. I hope this story provides a voice for those battling depression and prompts conversations with family and friends for greater awareness and understanding of this complex disorder. – Mark R.

Sometimes depression is not what most people think it is.

Sometimes depression doesn’t make you hide under your bedsheets or eat ice cream from the carton or weep in your therapist’s office, or any of the other tropes from movies and TV.

Sometimes depression is not easy to define or even understand; less like a big, dark ominous cloud and more like a tense conversation that you overhear but can’t make out the words, only the tone of the voices. Sometimes depression feels like a cliché, and sometimes it’s as unique as you are in the universe at this very moment.

Sometimes depression doesn’t stop you from going through your day and trying to manage your responsibilities like everyone else. Sometimes you seem “normal” on the surface, even when you’re carrying the burden of depression alone in your soul. Sometimes you wish you didn’t feel compelled to hide the despair within you, to show a brave face to the world and then withdraw to a bathroom stall at work, quietly sobbing because so much is overwhelming and there’s no relief in sight. Sometimes there are no tears, only sluggish emptiness.

Sometimes depression takes a vacation from tormenting you, maybe an hour or an afternoon, occasionally for days. Sometimes you feel real joy in those moments, and you’re able to laugh and love and you wonder if this is how most people experience life. Sometimes you even forget about the darkness, until it subtly creeps back upon you. Sometimes it occupies a small corner of your life, and sometimes there is nothing else but depression.

Sometimes depression doesn’t overwhelm you with grief. Sometimes it’s a little voice that whispers to you: “You’re not worth it.” Sometimes that voice doesn’t hurt you at the moment you hear it. Sometimes it’s the 10th time, or 100th, or 1000th before you start to believe it.

Sometimes depression doesn’t stop you from being grateful for everything you have. Sometimes you can love others deeply, even when you can’t love yourself.

Sometimes depression doesn’t mean you want to harm yourself. Sometimes thinking about death doesn’t mean you want to die. Sometimes it means you think about what the world would be like without you in it, maybe from a fatal disease or accident. Sometimes you wonder if you’d feel relief if your doctor gave you an expiration date.

Sometimes you wonder if anyone would miss you if you died, if your absence would really affect anyone else’s lives, if anyone would shed a tear besides reflexive weeping at your funeral, and sometimes you fear how few of them would. Sometimes the thought of an empty funeral is scary. Sometimes you skip over the death entirely to ponder what happens after, whether you’d leave behind a legacy or the world would simply carry on, unaware.

Sometimes depression has companions — other illnesses and disorders and behaviors that amplify your depression and each other. Sometimes depression causes physical pain in your nerves, your muscles, your joints. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell where one condition ends and the next one begins. Sometimes you wish you knew if one is causing the others or if they gain strength by feeding off each other in an endless loop.

Sometimes depression makes you turn your back on those you love or run from the people who bring joy to your life, because you feel at your core you don’t deserve them. Sometimes you think they agree.

Sometimes depression is all of these things. Sometimes it’s none of these things. Sometimes you are acutely aware of all of these feelings. Sometimes you know nothing more than you simply don’t feel right.

Sometimes you want people to leave you alone because you don’t know what to say to them about how you feel. Sometimes you worry that your depression is hurting them too.

Sometimes you crave someone to hug you tight, to love you unconditionally, to encourage you and stand with you as you seek treatment. Sometimes all you want to hear is that, despite what you feel at this moment, the world is still beautiful, you’re still capable of happiness and worthy of receiving it, and the future still holds amazing possibilities.

Sometimes there is still hope. Sometimes that’s enough.

Originally published on the author’s blog and

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 reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Originally published: March 28, 2018
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