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This Is What Depression Feels Like – In The Words of Sufferers

This Is What Depression Feels Like – In The Words of Sufferers

Depression is a really difficult condition to understand, which can make it hard for us to offer meaningful support if we have a friend or relative who’s facing it. Depression isn’t the same for everyone, so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ explanation. In order to help you better understand, I’ve explored some of the common themes and feelings experienced by people struggling with depression so that we can all be a better friend to people who are depressed.

1. Sometimes, you feel nothing at all

People who are struggling with depression will often talk about a complete lack of emotion and feeling:

“Nothing, that was what I felt. All day, every day, NOTHING.”

After a while they might even forget what it feels like to feel, leaving them unable to know how to respond to things that happen each day:

“I didn’t have the energy, empathy or motivation to feel happy for my friends. I vividly recall a friend telling me she’d got engaged and I felt nothing. I think I said ‘congratulations’ but in a dull, emotionless way that led her to believe I didn’t care. And I didn’t. But that wasn’t me talking, it was my depression. I really hurt her but I didn’t intend to, I’d just lost the ability to care for and be happy for her. You can see me in all of her wedding photos. The unsmiling bridesmaid. I wanted so much to be able to smile and feel happy for her but I just couldn’t remember how.” 

2. Nothing feels real

Often, people who are struggling with depression will talk about their life as if they are living in a kind of dream (or nightmare) state where everything feels somewhat meaningless and surreal:

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“When you’ve been devoid of feeling for a while, things take on a different meaning – well a lack of meaning really. Until you’ve lost all feeling, you don’t realise how important a part of the fabric of day to day life our thoughts, feelings and emotions are. I felt like I was kind of sleepwalking. Awake enough to interact with those around me, but never feeling fully present or real.”

Many people use analogies like being stuck under water or down a well to explain the feeling of distance from the rest of the world.

“Every minute of every day was lived as if I was almost at the point of drowning. The point after you’ve stopped struggling and you’re just lying there, watching the rest of the world as your lungs fill with water and the water envelopes you and you think ‘I don’t belong here anymore.’”

3. You can feel like an observer in your own life

It’s common for people to talk about feeling absent from their own lives. Depression can make you feel like an outsider looking in rather than an active participant:

“It was like watching a TV show of my life. I didn’t necessarily like all of the episodes but I felt incapable of changing them – like some producer had made the decisions, not me. It all just washed over me as I watched on.” 

4. The future can feel inconceivable

Both the short and the long term future can feel hard to grasp. This doesn’t necessarily mean feeling suicidal or not wanting to live, but rather just not being able to imagine it.

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“My Dad was talking to me about college choices and I just found myself thinking ‘college? is that even possible?’ – not in an ‘I’m stupid’ kinda way, more in a ‘that’s a thing people do, I’m not really ‘people’ I’m just this blob of….nothing…. how could college be for me?”

“My friend suggested that as I was managing a bit better now, perhaps we could get coffee next week. I said no. Not because I don’t like coffee, or didn’t want to be with my friend, but just because I couldn’t get my head around the idea of this afternoon, let alone next week”

5. Just occasionally, you have happy moments when it’s all okay

People who struggle with depression sometimes have minutes, hours, or days when things feel real again and they can see a glimpse of what it feels like not to be depressed.

“Every now and then the clouds would clear, and it was like I was alive again. It never lasted long. At first I would just feel so low knowing it would pass, but after a time I learned to grab these moments of respite and do all my living whilst they were with me.”

6. But you feel guilty if you feel okay

There’s a common misconception that if someone is depressed, they never feel okay and never smile. This can leave sufferers feeling confused and guilty during respite periods:

“I was signed off work for depression, but here I was walking through the park enjoying the sunshine and the bird song. I felt like a total shirker as I thought of my colleagues back at the office picking up my workload. The day before I had not left my bed and, as it turned out, that was also true of the day after too, but right then I felt okay – and I felt guilty for feeling okay.”

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7. And sometimes you put on a brave face and everyone thinks it’s okay

It can be pretty easy to fool everyone if you want to:

“Before I leave the house, I check I’ve got my wallet, my keys, and my fake smile. If I’ve got those three things, I’m set.”

“After a while, you teach yourself how to act normal. It stops people getting upset and worried. It means that all day, every day is a lie and it’s kind of tiring but it does stop people from worrying so much.”

8. People want you to be fine, so they believe you if you try to fool them

We can all be guilty of not looking past the ‘happy mask’:

“When people say ‘how are you?’ they never mean it. The thing is just to say ‘I’m fine’ and plaster on a fake smile. Hardly anyone sees past it.”

9. It really helps when people reach out, but you don’t know how to thank them

When we’re struggling with depression, sometimes we need the friend who sees past the happy mask more than we need air. But we don’t know how to tell them “thank you” or to acknowledge the fact that we need them. We may even ignore them. But it doesn’t mean we’re not grateful:

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“I had the most amazing friend. She stuck by me. Every day she would text or email. Every day I would ignore her but she continued. Just little messages that let me know in her kooky way that she cared. No one else persisted like she did. The rest all took my lack of response as a sign to stop. She, somehow, realised that I needed those messages. They were a lifeline, and the fact that they came without the expectation of a response made them all the more precious.”

10. It affects your friendships deeply–for better and worse

Depression is a tough illness to face. Many people who suffer from it will lose friends along the way. However, sometimes it’s also a time when someone really special steps forward, and we develop a lifelong friendship with them:

“It’s hard to be friends with someone who’s depressed. I get that. Most of my friends kind of drifted away.”

“Before I was depressed I had so many friends. Afterwards, I had just one true friend. But one true friend is worth more than a thousand friends who drop away when things get hard.”   

I hope this helps you understand – or explain – this difficult illness just a little better. You’re a good friend for caring enough to read this far. Good luck.

These quotes all come from people who are currently suffering from or have recovered from depression and who have shared their experiences with Dr Pooky Knightsmith. All people quoted have given their permission for their words to be shared anonymously.

Featured photo credit: Shi Xuanru 4 by Jonathan Kos-Read via imcreator.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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