Trigger warning: The following is a very honest, descriptive account of what depression feels like and what it’s like to live with. There is also mention of suicidal feelings and thought processes. If you feel that this may trigger you in any way then please do not read on.
Having depression is like having a rock in your chest. The rock weighs you down all day, every day. It’s there when you’re happy, when you’re sad, it drags down the good days and makes the bad ones even worse. It physically hurts. It’s so hard to imagine how it feels until you’re unlucky enough to do so but imagine lying down on the floor with someone’s foot on your chest, every time you try to move or reach up, they push down a bit harder. Depression often feels like this. It’s why we get tired more easily and why it’s so hard to escape once it’s got a grip on you. It also makes us lose motivation and concentration because everything is so much more effort than usual.
One of the worst parts of depression, particularly for me as an extrovert, is being in a room full of people or with a group of friends and just feeling empty and detached. You desperately want to immerse yourself in the conversation, laugh, make others laugh, join in in some way, but you feel separated and like a spectator rather than a participant. You feel so empty and hollow that you daren’t open your mouth for fear of sucking the life out of the conversation or worse still, people realising just how bad you’re feeling and having to explain or cover it up. You often feel completely numb and during the time you’re numb you dream of feeling, feeling anything, to remind you you’re alive, human, a conscious being. When you’re no longer numb you feel things very intensely but it’s only the bad things that feel intense and everything else seems to pale into insignificance. Being numb is horrible because you just feel nothing but feeling such intense sadness is just as bad! We often spend hours or even days fighting back tears or not managing this and bursting into tears in public. People can’t even help us stop crying because there usually isn’t a reason, we’re just so overwhelmed by how bad we’re feeling that we can’t hold it in anymore. You may be thinking that this sounds very similar to grief and bereavement and in a lot of ways it is, that’s why you can’t get a diagnosis of depression within 6 months of a loved one dying because they are so similar and you are probably still grieving rather than having depression. The biggest difference is that depression continues, often doesn’t have a trigger and isn’t about one thing, it consumes your whole life and doesn’t improve even through the passage of time or through your life circumstances improving. Depression just is – regardless of other events.
In the darkest depths of depression it feels almost like your soul has been sucked out, like your personality is crushed and all of the light, goodness and happiness in the world has been squeezed out and you’re left alone in darkness. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope, no point. All you feel is numbness or sadness, so intense that it hurts. You feel crushed and broken but most of the time people can’t see this. They can’t see the pain you’re in, the darkness, the desperation. If you haven’t had depression then I can guarantee that you can’t fully appreciate what this is like but try to just imagine feeling like this every day for weeks and weeks with no let up, no break. It’s exhausting and just so painful! It’s this absolute darkness that leads people to consider suicide. Most people who haven’t experienced depression won’t be able to understand why a person would consider taking their own life, particularly not when from the outside, it seems like that person has many reasons to live. It’s not that we don’t see those things, it’s not that we aren’t grateful but the pain, the sadness and all-consuming darkness are just so intense and long-lasting that it seems like there is no way out. We have to live for ourselves, not for others, living solely for others actually leads to a very miserable existence because your happiness is based on theirs, your purpose is them, you can’t be you in your own right. When you feel so low and unhappy that you can’t bear to look in a mirror and can’t think of even one tiny little thing that you like about yourself and your self-esteem and self-worth are just non-existent, there is no point, no reason to carry on because you believe that you’re just taking from the world and whole-heartedly believe that it would be a better place without you. I’ve heard so many people over the years say that suicide is an easy option, that it’s selfish, that it’s cowardly but until you’ve experienced the utter depths of despair I’d ask you to keep your opinions to yourself. You cannot possibly say how you’d feel or react until you’re there. I never thought I’d ever get depression, let alone feel suicidal, I myself thought it was an easy way out to escape whatever you were finding difficult at the time. I was so wrong!
For 3 years – from the age of 16-19 I thought about suicide every day. And I mean EVERY day. I thought about methods, reasons, ways of hurting the people around me the least, ways to affect as few people as possible who might find me. I wrote letters to the people around me trying to explain why I was doing it, saying sorry and telling them what they meant to me so that they wouldn’t blame themselves or think they could have done something to stop me. I hated the idea of upsetting my family and friends and them blaming themselves when it wasn’t their fault but I hated the idea of living even more. It was unbearable getting through each day, trying to be normal and not fall apart, trying to get through my GCSE’s and A levels when I felt like my life was collapsing around me. I have no words of advice for any of my readers who are feeling suicidal currently because I don’t know why or how or even when I stopped feeling that way but at some point I did. My life didn’t suddenly get better, I didn’t have some religious epiphany, I didn’t have a failed suicide attempt that scared me into wanting to live. The thoughts just seemed to gradually fade and instead of them being all day every day they got to a couple of times a week and now I only think about it when I’m having a really bad day or a lot is going on in my life. There is hope, but you’re also not weak or selfish for thinking that there isn’t. I’ve been there and I know how dark and miserable life can be and if suicide were easy then I definitely wouldn’t be here today. It is a way out, but it’s certainly not an easy one. All I can suggest is talk to people and when you’re at your absolute worst just get through the next hour – that’s certainly what helped get me through!
Depression is a truly horrible condition, it is all-consuming and seeps into every thought process, every waking minute and even your dreams. It feels like you’re being tortured day in and day out. You have bad days, months or even years and then you have better ones but it’s always there, trying to drag you down and I personally have to fight every day not to be dragged down into those depths again. Please don’t tell us to smile, think positively or say “cheer up it might never happen”. These things are so dismissive and make us feel even more alone. You may not be able to see it but we’re often fighting for survival every day and putting a smile on our faces and saying we’re fine when you ask how we are might just be too much. Give us a hug, tell us you’re there and keep in touch even if we struggle to reply. Those things do reach us and often remind us we’re not alone, we’re loved and we’re cared for. You never know what that could mean to a person and how much that could make their day. The following is a quote spoken by Albus Dumbledore in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban – “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light”. When you have depression you have no idea how to turn on the light but small gestures from you can turn the light on for us and help us find a way through the darkness. Help turn on some lights for those of us Living a Life in Darkness!