What Depression Feels Like

black-squareDepression is the opposite of Love. If Awake is the most expansive being, depression is the most contracted.

Depression is deep futility. Every emotion is numb. You can’t feel pleasure or pain. You can’t remember what emotions felt like. You can’t imagine how it is possible to feel anything but the way you are feeling.  If you remember what normal felt like, you could perhaps reach for it. But you don’t. Your state knows no other state, cannot even guess that there are other ways to feel.

There is no energy, turning your head takes conscious effort. If there were a magic pill that will make you feel completely better, and you have to cross to room to get the pill, you cannot do it. It’s a weight of chains around your neck.
Depressives always use the same imagery. It usually has something to do with darkness and falling. It has to do with spiraling down an abyss, falling into a pit, crawling in or out of hole….It feels like, first slow, then accelerating vertigo, like you’re falling when you’re not; it confuses the fuck out of your mind. Where are you? Please stop the spins just for a second so you can know where you are and who you are and then you’ll be strong enough to handle this.

And that’s how depression feels, but slower, so that you can enjoy and appreciate the terror in excruciating slow-motion. You beg, just give a little bit of relief, for five minutes, so you can gather your personality and your strength and fight the battle. It is not a grayness, it is a blackness. There is no pin point of light to reach for. There is blackness, fear, dread, hopelessness, suffocation. Even your face looks different. You don’t have the energy for even the small muscles in your face to work; your expression is dull and blank. Your eyes are hollow. You cannot focus.

And you get up and go to work and pull through the day, and then another and another. Sometimes you can’t even do that. You stay home for days, weeks. You don’t do anything. You don’t watch television or read. You just sit.
There are months during which you cannot sleep. Literally, cannot sleep. You gain weight rapidly. You lose strength and muscle. You know it’s happening. You don’t want to face it so you say it will pass. Just get through the day today, and tomorrow will be better. When you feel this way, what does it matter? What does anything matter? Does morality matter? Can you have empathy for anyone? It feels like your head is simultaneously empty of all emotion and full of dread. You do feel pain: headaches, stomach aches and sore muscles.
You have anxiety, where you have fevers and profuse sweating and nervousness, and claustrophobia. Your bed sheets are wet with sweat. Plane travel is difficult; you have to breathe consciously to get through it. You can actually be claustrophobic in your own skin. Where ever you are, you want to be somewhere else. Whatever you’re doing, you want to do something else. If you’re alone you want to be with people, if you’re with people you can’t wait to be alone.

When you drink, the first glass of wine or beer or vodka, you feel relief. You feel an emotion. You feel like smiling. Then another drink and you may say something. Another and you are funny, the world is funny, and there is reason to live. Another, and you have desire; women are beautiful and emotional and warm and safe. There is no mystery to why you drink. When you don’t drink you are scared and you are numb and you feel nothing and you enjoy nothing. When you drink you feel again, and the world lights up and people are interesting and funny. It is the only time you feel human. The pinpoint of light in your darkness is through booze. What’s the price of drinking? Ruining your body, jeopardizing your job, losing your woman? That’s a small price to pay for relief from a living death.

Getting better is not hard. Get up early, exercise, do yoga, meditate and go to work. That’s all you need to do. Get in a routine. Don’t drink. Be honest. That’s all, and you do it for a few days and it will seem hard, but then it will get better and it will be natural. You can then snap out of it.

This is the biggest fiction. This is what other people tell you, snap out of it, just get better; it’s in your head. This is what you tell yourself, buckle up, you’re a disciplined, accomplished, intelligent person, maybe the first few days will be hard, the first month, then you’ll feel better. Just do it. You can get a master’s degree from an ivy league school while working, you’ve built a house, you’ve been a single parent; you’ve been a refugee; life has been hard and easy; how hard can it be to show up for work?

Medication helps sometimes, sometimes not. But the best it does is gives you a little boost when there is no internal drive. It is like drinking coffee when you have the flu. You don’t feel better; you’re just more aware that you don’t feel better.

Then there are times when you are better. You want to make the most of it because you know it’s temporary. You will slip again. You live as much as you can. You think how lucky most people are, that they feel this way all the time. Projects, travel, exercise, whatever, you want to do this, cram it in. And sure enough, sure as black death, one day you get up and you know. And you know you will drink again, and you will get fat, and people will look at you and wonder what’s happened to you, and you just have to go through it again.
The dread and fear are not exhilarating; there is no adrenaline. When you are startled, or frightened, there is a quickening of your heart, a more acute awareness, shallow and rapid breathing, and a survivor’s sharp fear that runs through your core. Anxiety is this, but without the physiological benefits. It is a fear deep in your core and it is not short-lived.

This is what you have, this is who you are. You will be this way all your life. You get better but it never lasts. Getting better is now in fact frustrating. When you’re better you are motivated to lose weight, to work out, to work, to fix relationships, only to watch all that recede away from you. Feeling better is stressful, because you are walking along the edge of the abyss, going around and around the circumference, waiting for the inevitable slip. Does love matter? Can you care how someone feels when your life is this way? Do you have time for morality, for empathy, for love, for how others feel? And then it happens. You fall. It’s happened so many times that you don’t even panic. You smile wryly, here we go. When you are falling backwards into a blackness, and you are looking at the world spinning and receding away from you, watching your love and your relationship and your work and your body and your self-worth spiraling away, does it matter that someone loves you?

You tell people that you love that you never have thoughts of suicide. But it isn’t true, is it?

Next: Recovery

30 thoughts on “What Depression Feels Like

  1. mikeS

    Kaushik,

    Deep stuff here bro! And with much of what you write, been there done that. Tried various antidepressants many years ago because the affliction was so debilitating I wouldn’t even leave my apartment. Although I consider myself no longer ‘afflicted’ (just seasonal blues now) However, those years left wounds that are still healing.

    For the past 25 yrs I’ve worked as a licensed psychotherapist and see these folks weekly. Your deep and penetrating analysis of the ‘experience’ might be beneficial for many.

    I await your cure!

    Thanks,
    mikeS

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Thanks, Mike. I know about not being able to leave the apartment, and even when I was able to, life was simply tiring motions until I got home. Life is very different now. Your perspective as both ‘afflicted’ and a psychotherapist would be invaluable. Take care.
      k

      Reply
  2. I love you to pieces

    God it’s like reading my own life during withdrawal. This is EXACTLY what withdrawal feels like, which totally makes sense since an opioid high is the exact opposite of depression.

    You’re in hell in your head and no matter what you’re doing, you want to be doing something else. The physical symptoms suck, but the mental are the absolute worst. You never sleep.

    This is so beautifully written.

    I’ve read it before but never related to it like I do now.

    Reply
  3. I still love you to pieces

    and the cram it in part…oh man is that ever the same…. i remember, i just felt so good so i’d do it all, make all these plans…

    then we’d run out, then our guy’d run out or we’d run out of money..so we’re a mess and we’re spiraling down again.

    the difference is you didn’t choose this and it’s not your fault. i really feel for you.

    Reply
  4. Sally

    Wowww, appearantly, you told me! For years, my life always was in this way…. Sometimes good, kind and some time later, I was the meanest person you may ever see! I am going on reading you. Thank you

    Reply
  5. Sarah

    This is a moving and accurate account of how it feels to suffer with depression. Thank you for your honest and eloquent words.

    Reply
  6. Jerron

    wow precisely what my life feels like on an everyday basis. the part where you mentioned “Does love matter? Can you care how someone feels when your life is this way?”…its difficult to love when u fight with yourself everyday…really deep stuff man i’m sure many can relate

    Reply
  7. JJ

    Hello Thank you for your comments on depression, and the insight into how it feels. I have a few concerns however. Depression is not universal in its impact. a) it can be biologically determined and can be lifelong. b) it can be situational. c) it might be environmental (work issues, loss of a relationship). d) it can be about personal resources and the need to improve these (ie cognitive understandings and interpretations; increasing social supports). Whatever it is very serious but it does not manifest the same way always……. . It runs in my family, I have had it, my brother committed suicide. Medication can help a great deal with certain forms of depression but the important thing about them is that they can assist people to change their habits. If they go off the medication hopefully these habits will continue. Also, mindfulness and acceptance of deep diffucult feelings can be helpful. Our mainstream culture has us running away from feelings…. and if we experience anxiety or depression or anger, we try to get rid of them fast rather than exploring what they mean to us, how are they manifesting, etc. Depression is complicated, it can last a lifetime for some, but it can also be temporary even if for a long time…..but even if it is helped ten percent by some of the above methods that is a great change. I wish everyone well here, who is reading this. Again, thank you for your lovely article, it was very powerful. So I am saying a) it can manifest in different ways b) it is ongoing for some but not all c) it can be assisted by some methods and medication d) mindfulness is important e) the stress diathysis model: someone can have a genetic vulnerability to it but it does not manifest as they have good supports and environment and coping skills, there are three things to consider: genetics, environment, coping skills and working on all fronts is important. Be well. Much love to you.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi JJ,

      Thanks for your very open comment.

      I don’t think I disagree with anything you’ve said. My outlook is very simple these days. My mind was afflicted for a long time, probably since birth–afflicted with a wound which made me believe that life is separate from me. It made me believe that life is harsh, something to control, something fearful, something outside of me. And this is the premise that I looked at everything from–everything I’ve learned, believed, thought, felt, experienced, was suffused with this premise.

      When I saw this, there was a tremendous relief. I didn’t even have the solution–but just the understanding of this simple problem brought about a tremendous relief.

      Is there a solution to this problem?

      Yes, I believe there are at least two. One is that the simple recognition of this problem, in its clear and exclusive statement, brings about healing. Another is to look at you. This is what John Sherman and Nisargadutt and Ramana suggest. So I’m trying that.

      Will this cure depression?

      Well, it did for me. Though I can’t really say this with certainty. I will only know this after a few years have passed.

      If depression has a biological cause, as you say, then this will not cure it, but it will cure the psychological consequences of it.

      k

      Reply
  8. Who?me??

    Beautifully written first of all. I’m positively floored at the dead on accuracy you have so eloquently described. As we “speak” I am still trying to pick my jaw up off the ground from some pretty profound insights I had while reading your article. I almost feel like crying in relief that I’m not the only one!! I have been cintemplating my own sanity, tjhinking if people knew how i really felt all if the time I would be deemed a waste of society & lockedin a padded room. id have always suffered ftom panic/anxiety disorder, which meds are on & off- I keep thinking “this time it’ll work” & give it the ol’college try, to no avail, over the past 15-20 yrs. I am also a recovering alcoholic so reading your article, finally feel like I can take a real breathe. Thank you so much for sharing. I needed that… <> Thank you again.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Thank you for your kind words. I think many people who have suffered from depression/anxiety and resulting substance abuse probably feel that they are alone in the world, that there is something especially wrong with us. It’s the same problem for everyone–it just manifests as depression in those of us who are not able to pretend.

      Reply
  9. So true

    Wow….these words ring so true. I am 39 years old and am diagnosed with depression & anxiety. I look back and was always depressed as a child. My first panic/anxiety attacks appeared when I was about 15, with suicidal thoughts for many years after. It is a daily struggle just to live and the bad thoughts are always there. The only thing stopping me is the fact that I have an amazing supportive husband and three children that fully understand. My question daily is ‘what is the point in living’….I still don’t know the answer to that….and quite often just want to go to sleep and never wake up again. But then I get better…not for long, but just long enough to know that life is worth living, but then it all starts all over again. Only those who live with depression or live with someone who suffers from it can fully understand. Thankyou for sharing your insights

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi,

      I completely understand and empathize. You are fortunate to have a supportive family who understands!

      I have come to see depression as a very natural reaction to the context of fear in the mind. I have found some success with using a technique like the one John Sherman suggests (look at the sense of you) and in knowledge I’ve picked up from and tested in my own experience from Tolle (Power of Now) and Walsch (Conversations with God).

      Thanks for sharing!

      k

      Reply
  10. man

    very correctly have u given voice to Our feelings sir. thanks… just relieved somehow to read it.. maybe catharsis.. but felt good.. God bless thanks…

    Reply
  11. jollylovesjuliet

    I love the idea of getting up, do exercise, do yoga, make a routine to combat depression…
    mine is every morning I read the holy bible the daily gospel reading, meditate on it and pray my hardest so even when life really seems so low I still thank God I’m alive…

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      You’re right–during the periods that I exercise and do yoga, I always feel better overall. The trick is to sustain that, and during times of depression it can be hard to do even the simple things. The Conversations with God says that we both are afraid to die and afraid to live. And so it always comes down to fear. I think now that depression comes from fear. Fear sets up the context wherein hate turns inward and anger turns inward.

      Gratitude for being alive, as you say, can be very important.

      Reply
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