What Does it Really Feel Like to Have Depression?

anxious depressed man sitting in a corner

What Does it Really Feel Like to Have Depression?

I used to stay out of the conversation. I wouldn’t advocate even as one who wrestled with anxiety and depression since my teenage years. The conversation is too hard and, at times, too muddy for those on the outside to make sense of. “Snap out of it.” “Your life is not that bad.” “Why can’t you just be happy?”

In the last decade, we have been trying more and more to engage the mental health conversation. Many are trying to change the stigma and narrative that lays before us about those who have a mental illness. That work, however, doesn’t change the facts of the epidemic of mental health globally.

Mental health covers a broad spectrum of disease and illness, including anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, and more. Yet, the number of patients facing depression has grown exponentially.

Globally, 264 million people are currently dealing with depression.

The hardest part of the conversation isn’t the number of those suffering daily, but the long-term effect of the illness.

Each year, 800,000 people die to suicide. It is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds, according to the World Health Organization.

The facts are hard to swallow; they are even harder for those who live in the middle of it daily.

I used to stay out of the conversation. I wouldn’t advocate even as one who wrestled with anxiety and depression since my teenage years. The conversation is too hard and, at times, too muddy for those on the outside to make sense of.

“Snap out of it.”

“Your life is not that bad.”

“Why can’t you just be happy?”

Those are common phrases that those who have never walked through depression will bring to the table.

The truth remains if you have never experienced the bonds of depression, you cannot begin to understand the turmoil that comes with it.

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Seeing Depression Today and in the Pages of Scripture

This isn’t a current-day problem. It is one that we see in the pages of Scripture. Through the Psalms, this idea of sorrow, depression, and lament are scattered throughout. David’s laments were poured out through Psalms. Depression isn’t new.

A sorrow-filled and depressed mind is the reminder that you and I live in a sinful and broken world.

It is not as simple as turning a light switch off and on. It is not as cut and dry as getting over it and moving on. Depression is a cage around the mind. There is no quick fix for that; it takes work, time, counseling, and sometimes medication to help your mind break free of the bonds.

Engaging the mental health conversation begins by asking good questions, then moving from questions to either getting help for ourselves or others. The fruit of good questions may also be learning to extend compassion and empathy to those facing depression.

Some good questions may look something like, "what does depression feel like?” “How do I know if that is what I am battling?” “How do I know if someone I love is battling depression?”

From my personal experience, there are 5 main indicators that come to the forefront when recognizing depression.

1. Loss of Interest

This isn’t just losing interest because you are bored. This loss of interest is long term. Often I will lose interest in things that usually bring me joy or satisfaction. I will walk away from things like writing, painting, reading, exercise; anything that I usually enjoy no longer brings enjoyment. Loss of interest may be gradual but often becomes noticeable when it goes on for a prolonged time.

For me, this is something that often comes along with fatigue. Being in bed sounds preferable to doing things I once enjoyed. In those moments, nothing seems enjoyable or worth the effort.

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2. Emotional Outbursts

Emotional outbursts can be symptomatic of a lot of mental health disorders. With depression, the outburst can be uncontrollable, crying without explanation. It can also come out in the form of anger.

This is one of the most common symptoms. When I cannot articulate what I feel, it can lead to frustration, which can lead to anger. Other times the uncontrollable crying will have no explanation. It can start without warning, and end just as quickly. Someone with depression cannot control their emotions, and often do not know how to extinguish them when they become out of control.

3. Mental and Physical Fatigue

When depression strikes, it brings mental and physical fatigue. No amount of sleep will feel like it is enough. Your body will feel run down and exhausted. Mental fatigue, however, can make one feel like they cannot string a complete thought together. There is an inability to concentrate or complete tasks that need to be done. Depression in some cases can make it feel impossible to get any work completed. Much less give it your best.

4. Withdrawal from Family, Friends, and Community

When someone suffers from depression, they will pull away from those they love. I tend to pull away when it all feels too much or when I do not feel seen or heard. Often, it can feel easier to isolate than to pretend and fake a smile. It can feel easier to isolate and avoid questions or feelings you have to explain your emotions to others.

If you have a friend or family member battling depression or mental illness, the best thing you can do is listen and let me know you are there. They will be grateful that they are seen.

5. Other Health Issues

Depression has been shown to wreck your immune system and can be an underlying cause for other health issues, and vise versa. Medical conditions can trigger depression, such as chronic pain, cancer, and other diseases. Undiagnosed or treated depression, in either case, can cause greater problems long term.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of symptoms, but rather warning signs that all may not be ok.

My battle with depression has looked like a lot of those things and more. It can feel some days that life is being sucked out of your bones by depression. It can take all the energy you have to even put your feet on the floor.

Some days there are uncontrollable tears, and lashing out at those you love. The important thing here is that we don’t stay in this place. We choose to get help for ourselves or those we love who are facing depression or other mental illnesses.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/globalmoments

Michelle Rabon is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who feels called to help women thrive in their walk with Jesus every day. In 2012, she started Displaying Grace, a ministry that is focused on helping women engage with God’s Word. Michelle has also served in women’s ministry for the past five years seeking to equip women in the local church through Bible study. When she is not writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, being close to the ocean, and drinking a lot of coffee.

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