What depression is really like

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.

Nicole Carman and depressionThe 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:

  • A loss of interest or pleasure in things you usually find enjoyable
  • Feeling excessively sad, empty, or overwhelmed
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, or thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of energy
  • Lethargic speech or movements
  • Trouble with or excessive sleeping
  • Experiencing headaches or other aches and pains
  • Decrease or increase in appetite, which causes weight fluctuations
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Frequent crying, sometimes for no reason
  • Suicidal thoughts

    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

    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.


    My name is Nicole, and I’m very happy that you decided to stop by and visit my blog! I write about mental health, and I post the occasional product review. I’m most passionate about writing, mental health advocacy, and gaming. My husband and I live in the South with our five tabby cats and two parakeets. If you ever want to connect with me, please don’t hesitate to visit my Contact page.

    Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

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      • Nicole
        October 4, 2018 / 12:43 PM

        Thank you for taking the time to read it <3

    1. October 4, 2018 / 1:01 PM

      Dear Nicole,
      I read this post, and the whole time I was thinking the Internet just needs more of this. It’s beautiful, vulnerable, and telling. I applaud you for your courage in sharing from your own experience with depression. I have taken a similar photo of myself during an episode. They say anyone who hasn’t experienced mental illness can’t possibly understand it – but I think posts like these might help the rest of the world to come a bit closer. The collection of tweets were especially powerful, I think, because it serves to further highlight the fact that we are not alone. We fight together. We are strong together. All my best to you.
      <3 Rachael

      • Nicole
        October 4, 2018 / 2:03 PM

        Thank you for reading, Rachael <3

        I definitely believe that there is a pretty big gap between those who have experienced it and those who haven't. If someone hasn't been through it, they certainly won't know the extent of the pain and suffering. They still won't ever fully understand, but I just hope that we can all help close that gap so that it's easier for them to understand and to be able to empathize.

    2. October 4, 2018 / 2:26 PM

      Great post. I really liked being able to hear from other people what they feel when they are going through a depressive episode. I don’t have them as frequently and still suffer mainly from anxiety and panic attacks. I appreciate getting to understand the experience of other people, especially in areas I don’t fully understand personally! Prayers and thoughts for everyone, and I hope you all will do the same for me ❤

      Gabrielle | http://www.TheOpinionatedOne.com

      • Nicole
        October 4, 2018 / 3:04 PM

        Thank you! And yes, everyone gave such raw and honest thoughts about what depression is like for them. And of course, you’re in our thoughts as well❤

    3. undoubtedlyyoung
      October 4, 2018 / 10:15 PM

      This was such a wonderful post. I absolutely loved all the quotes at the end. It truly highlights that although the name “depression” is heard quite commonly, it really is completely unique for everyone.

    4. suktara29
      October 5, 2018 / 11:39 PM

      This was such a moving post. Thank you for sharing what depression actually feels like. It’s so difficult to explain to someone. I could identify with so many of these quotes. We need more informative write-ups as such for anyone who says depression is not real. Lots of love❤️

      • Nicole
        October 7, 2018 / 7:48 PM

        Thank you for all of your kind words <3 I was glad to share what it was like for people other than just me because everyone experiences it differently.

    5. October 17, 2018 / 1:46 PM

      Wow, this really hit deep in my heart as I read this post. I’ve been struggling with depression since childhood and growing up in an Asian household, my mom would belittle my serious condition by saying I’m too young to be depressed or too young to be stressed [major stress developed my depression over time] and till this day, I struggle but everyday is a new day and I try really hard to be the person I was born to be rather than give in and end my life as I always thought of doing as a child until late after my teen years.

      I am so glad to have finally found a mental health blog that really gives me insight and teach me some new perspectives into another’s life.

      Thank you,

      • Nicole
        October 17, 2018 / 2:00 PM

        Thank you for reading <3

        I'm sorry that you went through that while you were growing up. It's a really horrible feeling when we don't get the emotional support that we need when we're younger. My feelings were often downplayed as well, and so were my husband's during his childhood.

        If you don't mind me asking, do you struggle with anything else in addition to depression? If you'd rather not answer, it's okay. If you struggle with something I also struggle with, like anxiety (example), I'd love to write a post about it like I did with depression.

    6. Julie
      October 17, 2018 / 2:32 PM

      Thank you for sharing this. I have had periods in my life in which I have been depressed based on something that has happened, but I do not live with depression. I have a family member that struggles with depression, so I am trying to educate myself about it to know how I can help. I will read your article about how to help too. Tx!

      • Nicole
        October 21, 2018 / 2:26 PM

        Thank you for reading <3 And good for you, for educating yourself. Sometimes that's all that we who experience depression can ask for. It's one of those things that shows us that you care since you're putting in that effort. <3

    7. December 12, 2018 / 11:25 AM

      Gosh, I can relate with so many of these quotes… I suffered major depressive episodes when I was younger, and I self medicated with sex, booze, and cigarettes..dur dur that time I felt numb, worthless, pointless, and frustrated with myself..

      I wrote about it here: https://georginawangui.com/2018/11/27/depression-sex-and-drugs/

      Give it a read when you have some time…


    8. December 12, 2018 / 1:06 PM

      I was diagnosed with MDD back in 2007, so I’ve been carrying that with me for years now. I haven’t been seeking or getting treatment since 2010 either, so when the tide rolls in and things get really hard I find myself slipping into some unfortunately unhealthy coping mechanisms – like sleeping too much, forgetting to eat, and drinking like a fish.

      And I keep telling myself it could be worse. I invalidate my own feelings. Because depression can make you do that too.

      • Nicole
        December 14, 2018 / 9:19 PM

        Yeah, I fall into those same unhealthy coping methods as well. I invalidate my feelings as well by telling myself that other people have it worse. It’s a vicious cycle for sure.

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