[It’s] like floating through a fog with no discernible time or space. You can’t imagine any kind of future and you can’t remember ever feeling any different. The only thing that exists is today and not in a good way.
When people think about depression, people may think of being sad. But for many people, depression isn’t sadness. Sometimes it feels like anger, exhaustion, hopelessness, worthlessness, or feeling like they will never be happy again.
Here are examples of what people have said depression feels like:
- Fighting an exhausting battle against yourself
- Drowning and no one sees it, and you feel helpless to the water around you
- Soul-sucking torture
- A door to an empty room with no escape
- An overwhelming sense of sadness about life and about all that you are and all you do
Two people experiencing depression can have completely different symptoms. Or how you experience depression can change. All of this is okay. Remember that no matter what your depression symptoms are, your experiences are valid.
What depression feels like
[It feels like] a needle of pain pricking your body at every chance it gets.
Your head is surrounded by thick, black, unrelenting fog
You have lump in your throat, as if you’re about to cry at any moment, all day
[It feels] like gravity is literally stronger. Feeling like you are being pulled down to the floor and any movement takes all of your energy.
Depression is a mood disorder—mood disorders happen when changes in our moods go beyond the normal ups and downs that we experience from day to day. Episodes of depression last at least two weeks at a time, but sometimes they can last for months or even years.
Some of the symptoms that people with depression experience include:
- Feeling or appearing low, empty inside, or irritable most of the day every day
- Losing interest in activities you would normally enjoy
- Changes in appetite or weight—eating more or less; gaining or losing weight
- Changes in sleep—either not being able to sleep or sleeping too much
- Changes in activity—feeling restless inside or feeling sluggish
- Feeling exhausted even when you seem to be getting enough sleep
- Speaking or moving slowly, fidgeting, or pacing
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
You don’t have to experience all of these to be depressed. People living with depression often report that they feel heavy or empty or life feels duller. Colors aren’t as bright, food doesn’t taste as good, or they feel numb physically and mentally.
Some people find themselves easily annoyed with those around them, wanting to shut out the world completely or feel that they would be better off dead. Others may struggle with intrusive thoughts that make them guilty, unloved, or feel bad about themselves. These experiences probably won’t appear on a list of symptoms, but they are real.
So do I have depression?
If you’re wondering what depression is really like, you might also be asking if you have clinical depression or just “something else”. Try asking these questions:
- Do you experience a group (what doctors call clusters) of the symptoms above, and not just one symptom/experience?
- Have these changes been different from what you’re used to in your life? Was there a time when you weren’t as sad or empty and now it feels more than what you’re used to?
- Are these changes getting in the way of living your life the way you want to?
- Have you tried to make changes and nothing is making it get better?
Answering yes to the above questions may be a sign that something is going on that’s worth investigating. Your process for exploring your depression will help you identify where your depression might be coming from and how you can make changes to start feeling better.
Feeling low or any other symptoms of depression can affect your life—school life, work life, and relationships. And when you’ve lost hope or every day feels painfully the same, it’s hard to believe that things will get better, but they will. Finding a way through the heaviness of depression is hard, but possible.
There are many different ways to treat depression, so you can find what works for you. And you find that these may help you feel hopeful again. Here are a few examples:
- Lifestyle Changes: One of the hardest things about living with depression is finding the energy or motivation to do things. People have found that making lifestyle changes like getting good sleep, eating nutritious foods, and doing physical activity helps improve their depression. But if you find it difficult to get started, start with small changes. Baby steps always count, and these changes do add up over time.
- Talking to someone: Telling someone how you feel—whether it’s a loved one, friend, or stranger online—can help lift some of the heaviness you are feeling. It helps you not to carry the weight of everything alone. And the person you are talking to can offer advice, resources, or new perspectives that may help in the long run. It may also help to speak with a peer, a mental health professional, or call into a warmline.
- Medication: Some people find that medications like antidepressants are helpful in helping them regulate their depression. There are different types of medications, so it may take time to figure out what works. But remember that just because you are on medication, doesn’t mean you will be on it forever. Also, it’s okay to get a second opinion if you don’t feel heard by your doctor or acknowledge that a medication you’ve been prescribed isn’t working for you. Though medication may take some trial and error, you are the expert on your experiences. And only you can determine what works for you.
Depression can be an uphill battle, but it doesn’t mean that it is a losing one. There will be ups and downs throughout life, and some days will be better than others, but you can make it through.
If you need immediate help, you can reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or using the chat box at 988lifeline.org/chat. You can also text “MHA” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. Warmlines are an excellent place for non-crisis support.