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A Q&A to Explain the Darkness of Depression

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Last week, I had quite a strong episode of darkness, and I’m still coming out of it. It was hard, very hard. A common theme in my life is that I have no one to support me during these times. I have to cope on my own. As a result, the loneliness I feel is overwhelming. I spent all weekend alone in my flat crying from so much pain.

One reason why I don’t reach out to people during these times is that in the past I have found it to be counterproductive. People find it difficult to understand what I am going through. As a result, at the end of the conversation all I am left with are painful feelings of being misunderstood. This exacerbates any already existing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

But I thought maybe… just maybe… if I could take the time out to describe what is going on with me, I can narrow the gap of misunderstanding between myself and others. It’s hard to explain subjective feelings, but I will try. This might be the first step in me finding the connection with people I so deeply long for. It also might help others understand people who are going through something similar to me.

Note that what I am describing below is what happens during an episode of extreme darkness. This is quite different from the darkness I experience day-to-day as white noise. But I suppose that’s another entry!

So here it is, a glimpse into my inner world:

You say you are in pain. Did anything happen?

Nope, nothing has happened. My life is absolutely fine – very peaceful.

So you just woke up and you were in pain?

Yes. Fine the day before, world comes crashing down the next. This also means though that it will lift just as randomly as it appeared.

What do you mean by pain?

It is a combination of both physical and emotional pain. The location and feeling differs during these periods of extreme darkness. This time round, my pain was predominantly located over my heart, but later on in the week I also had pain under my belly.

The best way to describe what it feels like is – it’s a feeling of tightness. Heaviness. Think of it like a block in your body. Like how you may have stiff shoulders. But that tightness is felt on different parts of your body.

Is it a medical problem then?

I’m not a doctor so I can’t tell you. But the fact that the blocks seem to move constantly throughout the day suggests it’s not quite a physical problem. I have my own theory as to what it is, but they’re very metaphysical.

Can you explain better what is going on with you emotionally?

Imagine yourself feeling deep, deep sadness. Add to that despair and anguish. These feelings are all concentrated in the blockages I’ve described earlier.

I’m sorry you’re feeling that way.

Don’t be. I’m not. Please, please don’t feel sorry for me. I genuinely see this as a positive thing. It feels like an emotional cleanse. Think of it like a cold. The symptoms are not pleasant, but you know your body is doing a good thing for itself. That’s what it feels like to me, and when I do come out of it I feel like something deep inside me has been released.

In addition, although I am observing the sadness, pain and anguish, most of the time I feel like my roots are still firmly on the ground. There is space between my sense of self and my darkness. One way to see it is like the ocean – the waves on top may be stormy, but the bottom is calm and tranquil.

So you’re OK then?

Well, not really. I am in pain after all. If I get extreme episodes like I did this week, staying in the zen zone becomes extremely difficult. The space between my firm sense of self and my emotions starts to shrink. When this happens I can get lost in the darkness.

What happens then?

Think of your typical breakdown. Hyperventilating, rocking back and forth, feelings of complete numbness, saying the same thing over and over again… you get the picture. Not pretty.

You were fine at work though – surely your pain can’t be that serious?

Darkness/depression takes practice, and I have had 15 years of training. This is why I can function fairly normally at work. I have learned how to still smile and make jokes despite the crushing sadness I feel on the inside. Also, when I am with people this takes my mind away from the pain on the inside.

But once I go home, it’s just my pain and me. This is when the true battle begins.

Is there anything you need during these times? What can I do to help?

I first will say that what I write here is what I personally need. Some people may have the same needs as me, others may be different. If you see someone in darkness, ask them what will help them.

Before writing what helps me heal, I’ll start off by what conversely makes things worse for me:

1) Feigned empathy

If seeing my pain and anguish is too much for someone, that is fine, I understand. I won’t take it personally. But if someone does say they would like to help, what exacerbates the hurt even more is if they shut me out because seeing my pain is difficult. I can feel it very, very strongly when people do. A wall goes up, and I can feel the person going into what I call “automatic fake empathy mode.” They will read out a learned script of things to say to people when they are in pain: “I’m sorry to hear that… It will be OK… Is there anything I can do?, etc.” It’s their way of distancing themselves from me while also saying the “right” things.

Again, I don’t want this to sound like an accusation. It’s OK if someone feels uncomfortable. I just want to say that feigned empathy hurts far more than someone straight up telling me they don’t know what to do when they see me in this state. What I need more than anything during these times is a fully open heart, not a closed one.

2) Sympathy

I run a mile from people who show sympathy towards me if they see I am sad. They are the last people I turn to when I am in pain. Why? The last thing I want to hear is a “poor you” type sentiment.

I am not a victim. I am not a broken human being. I stand proud in my darkness. I don’t feel sorry for myself, so why should you feel sorry for me?

Note that I do not think sympathy is the same as empathy. The former is to look down on someone, the latter to sit there equally with someone.

3) Giving me solutions

You probably hear this a lot (especially in relation to women), but solutions are next to useless when people are in darkness. Even if you did suggest something (e.g. How about exercise? How about meditating?) I really am not in a state or mood to do anything.

Also, I fully admit this is a personal thing, but when people suggest solutions, it triggers a pain point in me. The person may say, “Why don’t you go to the gym?” but my mind then translates that to, “You aren’t effectively coping with depression.” This personally makes me feel worse. But that is a thorn I need to pull out.

So on the flip side, what helps? It’s extremely simply really…

1) Empathy

When I am in this state I am in pain, and as a result I deeply long for human connection. I want someone just to sit with me. Just to be with me. I want someone to sit and hold me while I cry out my pain, cry out the anguish. You do not need to say or do anything special. Please just connect with me and share the space with me.

2) Love

An open heart goes a long way. If you open your heart, I will feel it, and I will be ever so grateful for it. I promise I will do the same for you. Please accept me as I am in my darkness. Please do not try to change me. I don’t need advice. I don’t need guidance. Don’t tell me I am doing anything wrong. I need love more than anything else during these times.

I have written my needs in this post, but I understand that ultimately I need to figure out a way to channel enough love for myself that I won’t need it externally. I’m working on it. Baby steps at a time.

Again, I hope what I have written can close the gap between people who are going through darkness and people who may not understand what we are going through.

Follow this journey on

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Originally published: March 11, 2017
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