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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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How to Keep Yourself Awake at Work Without Caffeine

How to Keep Yourself Awake at Work Without Caffeine

Keeping yourself awake at work can be a real challenge when you’re bored, exhausted or sleep-deprived.

But before you reach for that can of Red Bull, bottle of Mountain Dew, or pot of coffee, try these healthy remedies to stimulate your 5 different senses and help you stay awake at work:

Sight – Visual Stimulation

The first thing you do when you wake up is opening your eyes, so your visual stimulation is very important to keeping your energy level high.

1. Maximize your exposure to light.

Your body’s internal rhythm is regulated by the amount of light you receive. The greater your exposure, the more alert you will feel.

Open the shades and let in the sunlight. Step outside or look out the window. Turn on all the artificial lights in your office or around your work space.

2. Exercise your eyes (or give them a break).

Roll your eyes up and down, side to side and diagonally. Rotate them clockwise and then counterclockwise. Squeeze them shut and then open them wide. Do this several times.

Reading and sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods can lead to eye fatigue.

Take regular breaks with deliberate blinking and looking out into the distance.

3. Take note of your environment.

Learn to enjoy people-watching. Observe their activities, speech, body language and interactions with others. Notice the details of building, trees and other objects around you, including their color, shape and size.

By doing this, you’re not only relaxing your eye muscles but also calming your mind.

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Hearing – Auditory Stimulation

What you hear or listen to have direct effect on your brain. This is why we feel so annoyed and sometimes angry when we hear construction noise when we’re working.

4. Engage in conversation.

Talk to a friend or colleague. Trade funny stories. Discuss your business venture, a creative idea, the latest political scandal, or any other topic that interests you.

Practice mindful listening to what you and the other person are saying. Tune into the tone, volume and content of the conversation.

Learn how to practice better listening from this guide:

Why Listen to Reply Instead of Understand Is the Key to Failure

5. Listen to upbeat music.

Try hip hop, rock or jazz to keep you alert. Instrumental, non-distracting music works best.

Sing, whistle, and hum along if you can. Plug in the earphones if you must.

Smell – Olfactory Stimulation

If you’re feeling sleepy and suddenly smell the coffee, you’ll probably feel more energetic. This is why smell is an influential stimulation.

6. Work your nose.

Aroma therapists recommend essential oils of peppermint (to boost energy), rosemary (to build awareness), eucalyptus (to increase oxygen), cedarwood  (to activate your mind), and cinnamon (to improve your reaction time).

If you don’t have essential oils on hand, you can use lotions or burning candles that provide the same scents.

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Citrus like lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges are also natural olfactory stimulants. Get a whiff of these citrus scents to stay awake.

Taste – Gustatory Stimulation

If you want an energetic day at work, you can’t let your tongue feeling plain and flavorless.

7. Have a good breakfast.

Start off with the most important meal of the day.

Think fresh, light and healthy: bran cereals, wholegrain breads, fruits, and yogurt.

Nix the heavy stuff like sausages, greasy eggs or pancakes.

Need some breakfasts inspirations? Check out these ideas:

20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time

8. Drink lots of water.

Keep a glass or bottle of H2O near you and sip from it throughout the day. Dehydration can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and sleepy.

So make sure you drink enough water throughout the day. Not sure how much to drink? This can help you:

How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day (and How Much Is Too Much for You)

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Think that you’ve been drinking too little water? Try these friendly reminders:

3 Best Apps To Help You Drink Much More Water

9. Eat energy-boosting snacks.

Nuts and fruits (like bananas, apples and strawberries) are sure bets. Pairings with staying power include baby carrots with a low-fat cream cheese dip; celery sticks with peanut butter; red peppers with hummus; and plain yogurt with granola.

Avoid carb-filled, sugary snacks that make you crash and leave you feeling tired.

Here you can find some healthy snack ideas:

25 Healthy Snack Recipes To Make Your Workday More Productive

Touch – Tactile Stimulation

Last but not least, your sense of touch will make you physically feel more energetic and less stressful.

10. Splash cold water on your face.

Do this in the morning, during bathroom breaks and in the afternoon. Being exposed to cold water pushes your body to adjust and regulate its internal temperature, which in turn keeps you alert.

This works the same as you take a cold shower to increase mood and alertness. Take a look at this article to learn more about it:

5 Surprising Benefits of Cold Showers

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11. Use acupressure.

Apply pressure to, massage, or tap on the stimulation points of your body. These include the top of your head, the back of your neck, the back of your hand (between the thumb and index finger), just below the knee and your earlobes.

Watch this video to learn about the acupressure points you can try:

12. Get moving.

Move away from your chair and stand, walk, run or climb the stairs. Feel the earth under your feet. Stretch and twist. Do jumping jacks, lunges, push-ups and back bends.

And if you need to move more discreetly, wiggle your feet, bounce your knee up and down, scrunch your toes, or cross your legs.

You can also try some simple stretches and exercises at your desk:

Unlike addictive caffeine fixes, these remedies activate your senses, engage your attention, amp up your energy and prevent morning grogginess and afternoon slumps without the side effects or health risks.

Pick a few ways from this list of suggestions and practice them consistently. And when you do this consistently, you’ll soon see the positive results — a more energetic and productive you at work.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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