Posted in Mental Health

What Depression Feels Like

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.



I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

4 thoughts on “What Depression Feels Like

  1. One of the wort times for me is when I’ve been going through a “nothing” phase for a while, sometimes days, sometimes weeks. During that time I may ache to feel anything, watching movies or TV shows that usually make me cry, and just sit there blankly. Alternatively, I may just wallow in that nothingness, let it embrace me. I only struggling to push past it when I have something due for school or work that could threaten my GPA or people’s perception of me as a type of superwoman that can get everything done.

    Inevitably, out of the blue, something will pop up that makes all my emotions come back in a flood. Sometimes it’s a book, a conversation, or something emotionally heavy that breaks through the nothingness. The most awful is when its something minor, something that I might usually be able to brush right past easily when I’m feeling “normal.” The reason that is so terrible is that my emotional wave, my “crash,” is always accompanied by uncontrollable sobbing.

    It doesn’t matter where I am or what I do, I can’t stop it. It has left me crumpled on the floor in my bathroom at work, tears and snot streaming down my face after reading a chapter in a book (which I was only doing because I lacked the emotional capacity or motivation to accomplish anything actually related to my job). It has happened at the smallest comment from my boyfriend, launching me into a crying fit that shook my body so hard it felt like a seizure, made worse by his comforting hug to the point where I could barely breathe between the sobs and snot buildup. It’s happened in cars, hotel rooms, and business trips, but thankfully never on a plane, in a meeting, or somewhere extremely public thy I couldn’t escape from quickly.

    That is the wort way that depression plays with my emotions.

  2. The most awful is when its something minor, something that I might usually be able to brush right past easily when I’m feeling “normal.”

    I feel for you beautifulmess7, I’ve had this a couple of times and never been able to understand it, where it comes from etc. Yet it has been so powerful each time.

    I had an incident during a tough time about 5 years ago. My ex-wife and I were discussing an upcoming holiday when she asked me an innocuous question – I think she was asking if it was ok if she used my camera to take photos because hers had broken hers a few months before and we couldn’t afford to get her another one.

    BANG. That wall of emotion hit me and I burst into tears, telling her that she didn’t need to ask my permission to use my camera while we were away. Afterwards I wondered what the hell that was all about, all she did was ask to use my camera. Similarly, about 18 months later, a song came on the radio and it reminded me of my dog that had died a year before. I was driving at the time and had nowhere to pull over.

    Just a couple of months ago when Mirror Image and I were on holiday together for the first time, we were eating breakfast one morning and something similar happened. A certain look passed over her face, a look of total vulnerability and innocence. I’m not sure that she was conscious she was doing it, but in that moment I just wanted to grab her, hold her tight and tell her how wonderful I think she is. Instead I sat there smiling at her until she did notice, then I took her hand and kissed it. It was all I could do really.

    I don’t like that feeling, even though it is rare for me.

  3. Thanks for this informative post. I have been thinking about this disease in the back of my mind lately, and and this exact question came up, wondering how it feels. I think I knew what depression looks like, but not what depression feels like.

    I tried to think of situations to think how depression may feel like: a painful break-up, losing a loved one — where there are very strong emotions involved. But now I think it’s more than that– even the opposite of that (no emotions!). It’s truly awful what you have been through, I am glad you are in a better place now.

    I know it sounds bad, but I used to think depression was just entertaining negative thoughts and letting it control your life. But I am trying to learn and dispel these biases that have been planted.

  4. I know it sounds bad, but I used to think depression was just entertaining negative thoughts and letting it control your life.

    Sadly this is how most people see it because that is how it has been promoted in the media – compared to mere sadness that you can get over if you only force a smile.

    Thankfully the tide is turning against these over-simplifications and tragic misunderstandings.

    Thank you for continuing to read! If I can help just one person understand then I will see I am doing a good job 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s