Hello and welcome to the final installment of the What It’s Like series! Previous posts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Today I’ll be trying to talk about the most amorphous of my diagnoses, Major Depressive Disorder. Once again, the disclaimer that these are my experiences. I am not a mental health professional, I don’t speak for all people with depression, and depression can look vastly different for different people. If you know someone who has depression and want to know what it’s like for them or how to help, I strongly suggest talking to them.
Onwards, to depression!
I cry a lot. I mean a lot a lot. I cry more than any other human being I’ve ever met. Sometimes out of absolutely nowhere a wall of just straight out pain hits me and my eyes get all watery and even if I hate it I can’t stop myself from crying. Depression is like having enough sad/bad/scared/aaah feelings that they start leaking out of your face at random times.
I can always tell when my brain is falling into depression or anxiety based on my sleep patterns. Anxiety means insomnia, which in turn comes with day after exhaustion. Depression means just being tired all the time, sleeping for 12 or 13 hours at a time, never feeling rested, never having energy. It’s the times when it’s sheer struggle just to stay awake through the day and my eyes start going out of focus every few minutes. Depression is down, anxiety is up.
Depression for me also tends to be whole world focused. Anxiety usually revolves around me and how horrible I am and what I’ve done wrong. It’s all the nasty little voices at the back of your head that tear you down. Depression is more along the lines of despairing hopelessness. I’m pretty far into nihilist territory in terms of my philosophical beliefs, and it’s also easy for me to fall into solipsism. These are the kinds of things that will trigger a deep depression for me. There’s a lot of evidence that the world is fairly purposeless, that most of our lives will be spent doing basically the same things, and that if you’re not satisfied with that you’re going to be miserable. Those are the sorts of thoughts that are quick to send me into a depressive spiral.
So what does it actually look like when I’m depressed? I get quiet. The whole world starts to feel overwhelming, too loud, too big, too bright. Basic tasks feel insurmountable, possibly because I just don’t care. Things feel heavy or thick, and it takes too much effort to remember or focus or smile. I feel tender and broken, and I curl into myself, physically and emotionally, to try to keep myself safe. My appetite goes wonky: sometimes I feel empty inside and just want to eat all the time, sometimes food sounds terrifying. More often than not depression is a feeling of having no idea what your emotions and your body are going to do next (but a strong conviction that it won’t be good).
The thing that I dislike the most about depression is anhedonia. I get anhedonia like nobody’s business. For those who don’t know, anhedonia is a loss of interest or enjoyment of things that used to be fun or engaging. I’m typically someone who enjoys a lot of things. I’m a joiner, and most of the time I’m trying new hobbies or filling every second of every day with things that make my brain feel engaged. So when those things stop holding any interest, it impacts me in a big way. I’ll try to go do something fun to pull up my mood, but it will feel pointless and joyless, which pushes my mood down even further. There is nothing that will make me smile, never ever ever again, everything will always feel like a struggle, and I’ve become utterly broken because the things that used to be awesome aren’t anymore.
It’s really easy for my brain to turn everything into the worst thing in the world when I’m in a down period. Something goes wrong and I’m inconsolable for days. It’s not a plea for attention or an attempt at drama. My feelings just won’t turn off, they won’t stop hurting. It feels like someone’s ripping my throat out through my stomach. I’ll cry so hard my whole body starts spasming. I feel it in my body. I get aches and pains, I can’t make it through a work out. I get sick.
And I get mean. When I’m depressed the whole world revolves around me. I want to make some allowances to myself and others for the fact that you get to be a little self absorbed when everything hurts, but it’s true that I ask for a lot and can’t give much back when I’m down. Being alone feels impossible because my brain won’t stop telling me bad things, but I don’t know how to do anything but complain since my brain also won’t let me see anything interesting or happy. So I end up compulsively texting and chatting, going on and on about how much I hate myself and my life and the world. I can see myself doing it and I can’t stop myself. It hurts to feel so dependent.
Depression for me also tends to come in long, ridiculous bouts. The worst was probably during my sophomore year of college, fall semester. I spent the entire semester so hopeless, lonely, and bored that I had to talk myself through each hour, promise myself that I could get to the next one. I spent a lot of time trying to numb myself to everything through starvation, mindless games, or any form of escapism I could use. Most seconds were spent wondering why I was still alive, what it was doing for me or for anyone, why it had to hurt so much. Sometimes it felt like nothing and sometimes it felt like everything packed into me all at once.
It’s hard to make any sense of depression or put it into a neat narrative. That’s probably why this description seems so disjointed: depression doesn’t make sense. It’s a lot of really unpleasant feelings and horrible thoughts mashed together in no discernible order. It’s assuming the worst, losing the good, and feeling like no one cares. And unfortunately, since my depression is chronic, it’s always lurking, waiting for a bad day that it can take advantage of.