Dear 100 Hour Board,
What does it feel like to have depression? I've been wondering if it's different for every person or if most people experience it the same way. I'd like to be accurate when I'm describing it to people who don't understand.
I find it to often feel like a complete lack of motivation and energy . I'll know I need to get out of bed, work on homework, or whatever else I have to do and I just will not be able to make myself do it; even if it's a very simple task. I'll tell myself, all I need to do is sit up, get off the bed, walk 5 steps to the bathroom, undress, and get in the shower. Pretty simple task right? Well, when depression hits, I'll get hung up on that first step of sitting up in bed because even though I know I need to I just don't feel like I have the energy to do so or like there's enough reason to motivate me.
This sucks on its own, but considering I also deal with anxiety (more so, generally, than depression) it becomes awful because my anxiety kicks in with all the awful things that are gonna happen because I can't make myself get out of bed, but instead of motivating me to do the stuff, it just makes me feel 1) awful for feeling so apathetic, and 2) overwhelmed by every single simple thing I need to do. Basically it's like I feel no feelings and all the feelings at once, and if that's a sensation you've never had the singular pleasure of experiencing then I envy you.
As I said though, generally I struggle more with anxiety than depression, so usually I'm dealing more with the "Paralyzed by the thought of everything that needs to be done" aspect of the above and the apathy/lack of motivation and energy thing is less common for me, though it does happen. Other people who have to deal more with depression than I do probably experience it in a somewhat different way because of that difference in severity of the issue.
I speak from personal experience, and my answer isn't at all based on science, but I've thought a lot about this recently, and this is the most accurate way I've come up with to describe it.
Depression feels like your brain has lost the ability to process pleasure. Again, I don't speak from a scientific standpoint, because I have no idea what depression causes physically or chemically. But it feels like happiness is no longer possible because you can no longer appreciate pleasure.
Naturally, this affects everything, because you'd be surprised by how much the anticipation of pleasure motivates your actions. You get no pleasure from eating, so what's the point in doing it? Being clean doesn't make you happy, so showering takes way more effort than it's worth. Nothing has the potential to make you happy. So you don't feel the urge to do anything at all. You don't want to read or watch TV or hang out with friends, even if you used to love doing those things, because they no longer hold any pleasure for you.
Like Dr. Occam said, this feels like exhaustion. Nothing feels like it's worth the effort, not going to school or work or even getting out of bed. So you do nothing.
Depression saps your ability to feel pleasure, but it doesn't drain all of your feelings. You can still feel sad, lonely, and a host of other negative emotions. For me, I feel about 50% numb and 50% hopeless. Because there is no happiness to mitigate the negative feelings, they consume you, and you feel worthless and as if you would be better off dead.
When I'm depressed, I mostly stay in my bed because I don't have the motivation to do anything else. When it's at its worst, I sit in bed and do literally nothing for hours because nothing brings me pleasure, so it's a series of hellish hours devoted to only pondering my own loneliness and feeling as though nothing will ever get better.
Depression does feel different to everyone, but there are often common themes or similarities. Even for myself, depression can feel different depending on the severity, length, or cause of the depressive episode. The following are some of the feelings:
It feels like my brain is shutting down all the feelings to avoid the fact that the only feelings settings seem to be "vaguely defined sense of guilt", "crying", or "indescribable mental pain that has no particular source whatsoever". Unfortunately, this shuts down feelings such as "happiness" "enjoyment" or "caring about basic responsibilities"
It also feels like the air is made out of syrup and my thoughts are made out of goop and every simple task takes way more physical or mental energy than it should. Kind of like how walking upstream against a current is harder than walking through air. I just want to sit down on the ground wherever I am and never move again.
It feels as though everything is my fault and something terrible is going to happen at any given moment.
I feel terrified of bad things happening, because I feel so emotionally weak that I can't handle even the smallest bad thing. But at the same time, I want something to really hurt me, because I want to be able to point to a reason for feeling this way or have my feelings reflected in reality.
I feel terrified of failing, but I want to fail everything so I have no more responsibilities or expectations.
It feels as though focusing on something for longer than 5 seconds is like being asked to hold my hands in boiling water. Even something as simple as a 5-minute youtube clip of my favorite comedian.
It feels either like my brain is spinning too fast to fall asleep, even though I'm too depressed to even have thoughts or care about them, or it feels like I have been awake for 30 hours straight and desperately need sleep, even if I've actually slept for 18 hours. Or a combination, where I feel like I desperately need sleep but I'm wide awake.
It feels either like my stomach is too tightly clenched to accept any food and there's a lump in my throat too big to let me eat anything, or like I just need to keep finding different things to eat, because somewhere out there is the perfect piece of food that will trigger all the endorphins and dopamine and make me happy.
It feels like any period of my life where I haven't felt this way is just a small blip on the radar and the inevitable default brain setting will always be depression. It feels like the effort it takes to get to a happy place is completely disproportionate to how much time I get to spend there. (Even though when I am happy, I recognize that this is completely not true and I actually spend way more time being happy than my depressed-brain is able to remember. When I'm depressed, I usually dismiss this as an illusion from my happy-brain rather than recognizing that my depressed-brain is creating the real illusion).
Doing normally low-stress things like going to work or sitting in a lecture make me feel so anxious that I can't focus and feel like I need to leave, even though literally all I have to do is sit there and do something relatively simple.
Having a conversation with someone, even a short "hi how are you" or casual conversation with someone I know well and like, feels like an impossibly overwhelming and exhausting task.
The blog Hyperbole and a Half also has a good explanation of what depression feels like. Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here. As a warning, the blog posts do contain swear words and such.
It's pretty fascinating to read how similar yet different all of our experiences with depression are. I, like Dr. Occam, struggle more with anxiety than depression. But often they're a package deal. It's basically your brain going on revolt, but in two entirely different ways.
Anxiety feels like I'm losing control of my whole world. There's this scene from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close where the kid is yelling at the old man and saying how uncontrollable and pointless and confusing and overwhelming and MASSIVE life is. That's how anxiety feels. And depression is usually the result. When I'm just sick of feeling out of control and confused, something snaps. It's like I subconsciously come to this conclusion: if this is causing me so much pain, why do I even care? My brain shuts off the feelings bombarding it and I'm left with this big, empty space of...meaninglessness. The 2nd Part of Hyperbole and a Half captured it pretty well.
An interesting fact I notice about myself now is I crave feeling. Especially sad feelings. It sounds creepy, but I love the feeling of shock and deep hurt. That sounded a lot worse than I thought it would. But I'm wondering if that's why I enjoy watching war movies so much. Maybe I shouldn't say enjoy. I don't know how to explain it. I just crave those deep, profound feelings.
I'm going to quit while I'm ahead here.
The Lone Musketeer