I’ve had a few commentors recently, especially since posting about Robin Williams, explaining that they have never been depressed and therefore do not really understand what it feels like. It’s an interesting question and it is not always easy to explain in terms that people who have not suffered mental health issues, would understand.
Huffington Post has given it a good go though and asked readers to send in their thoughts and feelings. There are some good examples and some that I can personally identify with, particularly:
- The army boot on the chest / tightness
- Feeling nothing, (which can be worse than feeling despair)
- The almost indescribable “heaviness”
I would also add feeling disembodied, that your head and body are two magnets, both charged in the same way that are repelling each other but unable to fully separate because they are too heavy.
Expanding on the feeling nothing above, which must be difficult for people who have not been through it to comprehend, you really do feel no emotions. You try to read a book you find inspiring and you may as well be reading a laundry list. Watching a favourite television programme or film that would otherwise make you happy… well, may as well be watching a screen of white noise; listening to music may as well be a persistent monotone buzz. When your concentration is gone (which is something I have experienced), your favourite comedy may as well be in a foreign language that you have no hope of understanding. You feel no joy, no anger, no fear, no sadness, no happiness, not even despair.
Sometimes, sadness or despair is an improvement on this state and I once commented to my ex-wife long before we broke up (long before we got married actually), that I sometimes felt I wanted to cut off my own arm so that I would at least feel something. It was at that point I came to understand why some people self-harm. I know for some it is an extension of their negative thoughts and self-punishment, but I have also heard from others that it can be so that they continue to feel something. I often wanted to break down in tears because to me that would have been an improvement in feeling something for a change.
That tightness mentioned in the article is generally in the region of the chest and when it happens to me, I get palpitations and irregular heartbeat and believe me, that can be pretty scary when your heart doesn’t beat for five seconds and then beats ten times in the next five seconds before returning to normal.
Emotional rollercoaster which I mentioned two years ago, just before my last major bout, was to me the most surprising effect. I’d wake up one morning feeling a million dollars “Nothing can stop me today, I’m so amazing! I’m going to go to work, show them how brilliant I am, I’m going to work through my lunch break, go for a 6 mile run straight after work, come home and then dive into another project. I’m going to bake a cake! Then I’m going to try a really adventurous recipe from the cook book! Fantastic, I feel soooooo great!”
The thing is about rollercoasters is that the exhilaration of the up is matched in intensity of the mental stress of the down and boy did I come down on those days. I felt anxiety before my up, energetic and restless during it and then sink into a pit of despair on the way down – it’s like every positive emotion hits you at once on one day and then overnight every negative emotion piles in like an invading force that destroys everything in its wake. I call this “Crashing” or “The Crash” and thankfully, I haven’t had one for two years.
Inside I’m Screaming and it is taking all of my energy not to lash out at people near me. That’s why I seem withdrawn, uninterested, irritable, unable to concentrate, emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted, and able to only focus on one thing at a time – whatever it is I am doing at that moment. I’ve not experienced this for several years now, but I went through it a lot while doing a master’s degree during the worst economic crisis for 80 years.
I hope this has explained depression a bit more to those who have never experienced it.