Post updated on October 4, 2019.
I was first diagnosed with depression in 2009 or 2010. The psychiatrist I saw told me that it was a “mild case,” of depression, wrote me a prescription, and sent me on my way. I never got the prescription refilled because, not only was I under the assumption that the medication would cause me to be zoned out all the time, but I didn’t have insurance so I knew I likely wouldn’t even be able to afford it.
In reality, I just had no idea what my diagnosis really meant. I was uneducated on what depression really was, and I didn’t have the slightest clue about being medicated for it.
The purpose of this post is to help shed some light on what depression is really like. It’s not just “feeling down” or “being sad.” It’s so much more than that, and it’s different for everyone, so I’ll be quoting a lot of my friends from the mental health community on Twitter so that you can learn what depression feels like from multiple points of view.
To me, depression feels like a dark follower. I can turn my head and see him following at a distance, or peeking his head around the corner, watching me. When I’m at my worst, it feels like he’s right behind me, so close that he can touch me. The closer he follows, the more intense the negative feelings are.
And yes, this photo is of me when I was experiencing a depressive episode.
What exactly is depression?
Depression is a dark and horrible thing. It causes a variety of symptoms and feelings in varying severity. Here are some of the more common symptoms:
Everyone experiences depression differently. Some people may experience only a few of these symptoms at a severe intensity, and others will experience most of them at a mild intensity. The number of symptoms you experience and the severity of said symptoms doesn’t make your depression any less valid than someone else’s.
In severe cases, depression can interfere with your every day life and make it next to impossible to function at home or at work, or both.
I’ll go over a few different types of depression in this post. It certainly isn’t all of the types of depression, but I hope to include the other types in subsequent posts. For the purposes of this post, though, I’ll touch on Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Postpartum depression.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, is a serious condition in which depression significantly impacts your life in a way that makes it difficult for you to go about your daily routine and activities. It is also known as clinical depression.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), you must be experiencing five or more of the following symptoms at least once a day for a period of more than two weeks to receive a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder:
- You are less interested in most of the activities that you usually enjoy
- You have difficulty concentrating, focusing, or thinking
- You frequently feel tired or have an unusual lack of energy
- You have difficulty falling asleep, or you’re sleeping more than usual
- You have a significant change in appetite (and your weight as a result)
- You feel restless
- You feel guilty or worthless
- You feel sad or irritable most of the time
- You think about self-harming or suicide
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a seasonal type of depression that comes and goes with certain seasons. Those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder typically start showing symptoms in Fall or Winter, and they usually subside during either Spring or Summer.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can appear in the summer, but it’s less common than winter episodes.
Like Major Depressive Disorder, a person must experience depressive symptoms for a certain length of time in order to be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. For a person’s depression to qualify as SAD, a person must experience their depressive symptoms that coincide with specific seasons for at least two years.
Common symptoms associated with the winter pattern of Seasonal Affective Disorder include low energy, excessive sleepiness, isolation or withdrawal, and weight gain that can be attributed to overeating or eating more carbs than usual.
Some symptoms of the less common summer pattern include anxiety, restlessness, agitation, episodes of rage or violent behavior, and insomnia.
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects some women after childbirth. It usually involves all of the symptoms as clinical depression. It can also involve feelings of worry or anxiety, anger or rage, trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby, doubts in her ability to care for her baby, and even thoughts of causing harm to her baby.
Postpartum depression has nothing to do with what a new mother does or does not do. It has to do with hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion.
One of the biggest contributors to Postpartum depression is the dramatic drop of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body after she gives birth. This drop in hormones can cause chemical changes in the brain that can trigger certain symptoms, including mood swings.
Another contributor to Postpartum depression is exhaustion and sleep deprivation. There isn’t a mother out there who gets enough sleep, but the mental and physical exhaustion that plagues new moms is a big factor in a woman’s mental health.
The voices of real people who have experienced depression
I asked my friends on Twitter for a brief quote on what their experience(s) with depression has been like. They all gave me wonderfully raw and honest answers, and I think they do a great job in paining a picture of what depression is really like.
Like a drowning. When it’s only mild, it feels like small waves lapping on my feet. But sometimes the waves are big and so sudden. When I’m into deep, it feels like the water is closing in on me. — @kreistnq
An invisible group of people holding you down to the ground, restraining you and leaving ur whole mind and body numb, powerless and self loathing. — @MaddDawgDailey
Like trying to live life, while walking in mud. Some days it’s ankle deep, some it’s waist deep and most times, it’s somewhere in between. — TiredInOntario
A cloud of numbness. — @CaroElise96
Nothing. You feel nothing. You don’t feel what you’re supposed to feel. You do feel a mild blandness that makes you want to medicate with stuff you know you shouldn’t do. — @AutisticPriest
An overwhelming sense of dread that never leaves, coupled with a tightness and pressure over my heart. Like looking at the world with storm-cloud colored glasses. — @WhatiCanChange
It feels like flying high, only for you to have your wings chopped and you watch yourself drop. — @ArunKapur47
Once a month it hits me and I feel worthless. And filled with regret. I feel constantly tired even though I lay in bed all day and my motivation levels go from 100 to 0 as fast as the thought that came into my head. — @loki420mew
Depression. It’s hard to describe. I’ll have to put it like this. U ever have that dream where you’re falling but you never hit the ground. Just like that, only you’re blindfolded + you don’t know why you’re falling + you don’t know if you’ll ever hit the ground. — @jeremyemery1984
I often feel useless, worthless, & purposeless. I just want to crawl under a rock most days. I feel dark, empty, & numb. I feel like I’m not living just merely existing. — @MoodyJayyy
It feels like a rollercoaster that teases to stop by then takes off again when I’m ready to get off. It feels like bitter cold rain while everyone else has sunshine. It feels like loneliness and isolation. It feels like weakness. — @NadiaMalley
Just like there is nothing you can do that matters. Like emotional quicksand. — @HomeTechHacker
Two words: worthless and pointless. The feeling that everything you do is worthless, which makes doing anything pointless. Inevitably, it turns inwards making life feel worthless and pointless. — @DJAlienToe
Could be any of; irregular sleep or eating, not wanting to go out but wanting to, feeling low but not sad (opp of bouncing), feeling unwanted (even by relatives in future) – to diff degrees for varying amounts of time — @h82fran
Like trying to run in waist deep water while the waves of reality crash into you, trying to knock you over. And with each step taken, you’re more and more bogged down, water logged, until you realize you’re actually wading in the tears you’re holding in. Then the dam breaks. — @JerricaMLevi
Like being underwater. Everything is dull, blurry, and it is hard to move. I feel like I am in slow-motion. Even my thoughts are slow and dull. — @ladyhawke70x7
Like watching everything move around you as you are on pause…but watching from inside looking out a window because I am afraid (for unknown reasons…or many small ones) to leave the house…my anxiety and other MH issues amplify. — @broken_n_words
Where everyone’s normal or average state of their mood is what you experience on only your happiest of days. And then you feel like you’re not human since you hardly ever reach the surface so you end up sinking deeper. Like the world is at light speed and you can only crawl. — _moondoll_
Like not wanting to get off the couch and feeling worthless for canceling plans. Wanting to sleep to forget everything you’re dealing with or feeling. — Lindzanne1
Depression to me feels like I’m failing :/ — @yajaira90029
The lead blanket the dentist drapes over you during x rays — @TerminallyNice
It feels like I’m being engulfed in darkness and that there’s a black hole where my heart should be. — @LittleKatsumi
Like an unwavering storm and I’m in the center. — @ebonaffects
Torments of hell! Like somebody pushed you down the hillside and you’re falling endlessly. — @innerCeeCee
It felt like I was suffocating & drowning; beneath a powerful waterfall; that I couldn’t escape. Depression created a physical, mental, and emotional sense of being trapped inside a powerful waterfall; where I was constantly struggling to escape the drowning and suffocating numbing pain!
That constant struggle drained all of my strength and energy; leaving me exhausted. — @Sadie_75Resist
Like a very big black dog on my shoulders, snarling, barking words of hate and shame in my ear. Constant barking and snarling, pushing me to the very edge during my waking and sleeping hours. When it’s gone I feel lighter. — @crybabybunting
At my worst moments i felt like i didn’t want to live/exist anymore. it isn’t necessarily about wanting to kill yourself all the time, it’s just that you wouldn’t mind if you’d die (at least for me). — @sadematilde
Depression for me: Saturdays were spent in my blue bed with my blue blanket wrapped up on my blue thoughts drowning in my blue tears; burying my feelings with one handful of life’s beautiful dirt at a time. Then one day; there was no longer any light on Sundays. — @Robbie_Millward
Can you relate?
Can you relate to any of our experiences with depression? If so, which one(s) can you identify? If not, how have your own experiences been with depression? Please let me know in the comments!
Also, if you or someone you know is dealing with depression, I wrote a post about how to help someone who is going through a depressive episode, so you might find it useful.