It's common to experience a change in mood occasionally or to go through a short period of feeling blue. Sadness and grief are natural emotions that we all have from time to time. Often, these feelings will dissipate on their own. But when persistent feelings of hopelessness, distress, emptiness, or a general sense of intense sadness begin to interfere with life, it may be time to take a deeper look at what’s going on. The experience of depression is never uniform. People’s experiences range from mild depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to severe depression, which can be extremely debilitating or paralyzing.
Before the global coronavirus pandemic, an estimated 21.0 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 8.4% of all U.S. adults. Since the start of the pandemic, depression among U.S. adults tripled from 8.4% to 27.8% in early 2020. New research from Boston University School of Public Health reveals that the elevated rate of depression has persisted into 2021, and even worsened, climbing to 32.8% and affecting 1 in every 3 American adults (source) .
What does depression feel like?
Some of the common symptoms of severe depression can include:
Even though depression can leave us feeling drained and hopeless, it is treatable and healing starts with awareness, understanding, and compassion. Together with you, I want to explore, piece together, understand and address the causes of your depression. I believe that the way we experience ourselves and the world around us in the present is impacted by past experiences and collaboratively with you, I want to explore these connections and your unique story.
Depression feels like a glass wall is separating you from people
When being in a room full of people or with a group of friends all you might experience is feeling empty and detached. You desperately want to immerse yourself in the conversation, laugh, make others laugh, join in in some way, but you feel separated and like a spectator rather than a participant. You feel so empty and hollow that you don’t dare to open your mouth for fear of sucking the life out of the conversation or worse still, people might realize just how bad you’re feeling and you would have to explain or cover it up.
You might not only feel separated from your loved ones but alienated from the rest of society. No one seems to understand or care and people seem insincere. You may find yourself cutting ties with former friends or family and walking away from or avoiding relationships. Your friends and family encourage you to talk to them when you’re having an episode. But how can you do that when it’s 3 am in the morning? Depression can feel like a dark lonely place and can be utterly isolating.
Depression feels either numb or like everything is upsetting
There are moments you might feel completely numb and all you dream of is to feel again, to feel anything, to be reminded that you’re alive, human, a conscious being. When you’re no longer numb you might feel things very intensely but it’s only the bad things that feel intense and everything else seems to pale into insignificance. Being numb is horrible because you just feel nothing - but feeling such intense sadness seems just as bad. You might spend hours or even days fighting back tears or not managing this and bursting into tears in public. You might be on the brink of tears because you dropped a glass of water. Instead of having the urge to clean up the mess, you fall on the floor and cry. When friends and family ask: "Why are you crying? What's wrong?," you might not have an answer. Often it’s just the overall weight of the overwhelm that you cannot hold it in anymore.
Depression feels like wanting to snap at everyone and everything around you
Irritability is one of the most common depression symptoms. Little things that once wouldn’t have bothered you may now irritate you or make you increasingly agitated.
Depression feels like sleeping too much…or too little
You may find yourself wanting to sleep all day, even though you had a full night’s rest. Or perhaps you lie awake at night with racing thoughts, thinking intensely about the past and future. Your body is tired enough to sleep but you just can’t.
Depression feels like all the energy was sucked out of your mind and body
People who are depressed often have a difficult time finding a level of energy that allows them to complete daily tasks. There are days on which you might come home and feel completely drained. You might decide to have dinner but realize that in order to do so, you need to get the food out of the fridge, put it on a plate, cut it up, prepare it, chew it and swallow it. So you decide to go straight to bed. In these moments, it is not sadness that you struggle with, it is the lack of vitality that seems to dictate your actions or lack thereof. You might feel ridiculous as for most people answering their phones, eating meals, having showers, or brushing their teeth is not a big deal and yet you feel paralyzed.
In other moments, you might find it incredibly hard to concentrate on work or school or you might struggle with indecisiveness: making even the smallest decisions can be agonizing.
Depression feels like a cloud of shame that follows you around
You might experience terrible shame about the actions depression dictates, such as not accomplishing the easiest tasks or snapping at people. Anything that used to give you a sense of meaning, value, or self-esteem vanishes. Your assets or accomplishments no longer matter, no longer seem genuine, or are overshadowed by negative self-images. Anything that ever caused you to feel shame, guilt, or regret grows to take up most of your psychic space. You feel worthless and stuck - like there is no way out, no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope. You feel crushed and broken but most of the time people can’t see this. They can’t see the pain you’re in, the darkness, the desperation.
Depression feels like not being able to eat or eating too much
You've either lost interest in food because everything tastes like sawdust in your mouth or you've suddenly started scarfing anything that's not nailed down to the table. Your favorite dish has lost all appeal or you'll find yourself eating an entire loaf of bread just for the sake of it. These changes in eating patterns are most easily identified by sudden weight loss or weight gain.
Depression feels like body aches
Depression can feel like intense pain that cannot be identified in any particular part of the body. For some people, it can feel like having a rock in their chest. A heavy rock that weighs them down all day, every day. It is there when they are happy, when they are sad, it drags down the good days and makes the bad ones even worse. It physically hurts. The most (normally) pleasant and comforting touch can feel painful to the point of tears.
Depression feels like no longer knowing who you are or what you like
You might have lost interest in your hobbies, work, and relationships. Things or activities you once enjoyed don’t seem to distract or entertain you and rather seem burdensome, hollow or like a chore that you just can’t take on. On bad days, depression can feel like an implosion of self - as if you become a sort of half-living ghost who you can’t even recognize yourself.
Depression feels like considering self-harm
People with severe depression can reach a point where they whole-heartedly believe that the world would be better off without them. You might not consider suicide directly, but every now and then sneaking thoughts of a tragic accident that will End It All pop up in your conscious mind. If these are more than sneaking thoughts and if you begin to believe that death is your only way out, get up NOW and reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional.