Imagine you’re underwater in a pool. There’s something tied to your ankles and weighing you down, keeping you just below the surface of the water. You can just reach your fingers or a hand out of the water; sometimes, you can strain against the weight just enough to get your head above the surface and gasp in a few breaths of air before you’re pulled back under. But ultimately, you’re stuck under the water’s surface.
That is what going through depression feels like.
In TV shows and movies, depression is always depicted in the most intense form. The person can’t get out of bed, is suicidal or self-harms, is always down – your essential stereotypes of depression. They usually have what’s called low-functioning depression.
But can we talk about how depression doesn’t always present itself that way?
Not every person with depression is unable to function. We’re not lazy, we’re not completely dysfunctional, and we’re not crazy. And we’re certainly not all suicidal.
I’ve had high-functioning depression since I was a kid, and I’m 21 now. My episodes used to be a lot worse – and frankly, I didn’t learn until recently that depressive episodes aren’t always the “lost to the dark thoughts and crying” kind.
I have my good days, sometimes even good weeks. If I’m lucky, sometimes even a mostly good month. But those good days don’t last.
With depression, you never know when it will strike. Sometimes you can predict the onset of a depressive episode based on certain triggers, but other times, it just creeps up and takes over.
Straight up, depression sucks.
There are moments, days, weeks, where it feels like depression has taken over and it’s never going to back off. Depression is an ongoing, lifelong battle that millions face, and millions have to overcome the ridiculous stigmas and lack of necessary discussion about mental health.
For a frame of reference, in 2017, 7.1% of the U.S. population ages 18+ (aka 17.3 million people) were diagnosed with major depressive disorder. 1.9 million American children ages 3-17 were diagnosed with depression in 2018. (More stats available here.)
17.3 million people. And that’s only people who were officially diagnosed – that number doesn’t account for those don’t get psychological help or can’t afford treatment.
Depression isn’t just intense sadness.
Trust me, there is a VERY big difference between “depressed” and “sad.” (So no, not everyone “gets depressed.”) The whole “feeling sad” association with depression isn’t inaccurate, but it negates the fact that sadness is only one of several emotions that arises during depression.
Depression is more like an overwhelming wave of emotions: anxiety, hopelessness, worry, shame, and self-hatred.
Oftentimes, depressive episodes are like walking through a fog.
Depression is a lack of physical, emotional, and/or mental energy to do anything. You genuinely don’t know how you’re going to get through the day, every day, because you just feel So. Tired. Coffee helps, but it’s not a substitute for natural alertness.
Depression is just moving through each day and watching as they become almost indiscernible from one another because nothing is happening. You just…exist through each day, going through the motions of your daily and weekly routines. You still feel low, but you make it through each day. Time goes by either super fast or super slow, with little in-between.
Depression is lacking the motivation to do literally anything. It’s not wanting to do even the things you love, like reading or going for a run – not because you don’t love that activity anymore, but because it just isn’t bringing the same sense of enjoyment you feel outside of a depressive episode.
Depression is knowing you have work to do and due dates to meet, but you just don’t have the creative and/or mental energy to tackle that work. Which of course only worsens your mental state because you’re worried about meeting deadlines but your depression is making it hard to get things done.
Depression is going out with your friends and having a great time – but once you’re back in the car, the high disappears really quickly. The positive energy that was just coursing through you just flips off. You feel happy, sure, but it’s more of a background feeling to this…blankness within.
In short, depression is sinking into a deep, dark funk and often not being able to do anything about it until it passes on its own.
No really. When you have depression and one of these episodes hits, sometimes there’s really not much you can do beyond continuing to move through each day. You do your best to still do the things you enjoy, treat yourself to bring your spirits up even a little bit, and just push on through.
Since I began medication over a year ago, this is primarily how my depression has manifested. It’s a hell of a lot better than the constant intense depression, but it’s still no picnic.
It’s easier for me to feel better mentally when I’m busy. If I am busy with commitments that take up a lot of time – like school, internships, working – my brain has a harder time sinking into a depressed place because it’s actively working on things that keep me happier. But if I have too much free time, I start sinking further below that metaphorical water surface.
When a depressive wave hits, I’ve found it’s sometimes easier to just ride it out instead of fighting it. Think of it as saying to yourself “This is happening. It’s not how I would choose to be and it sucks, but I’m going to live with it instead of trying to shove it down or away which will ultimately just make me feel worse.”
Thankfully, we live in a time where mental health is now taken seriously (well, sort of). Medications exist to help stabilize and regulate depression. There are therapists and psychologists across the country that work purely to help those with depression find healthy ways to cope and get through their depression, even if it’s just by providing an ear to listen and be a part of the person’s support system.
Please take care of yourself.
Take care of your mental health. I know depression can make the world seem gray and hopeless, but there is always something worth living for – yourself. (Yes I know how cheesy that sounds, but trust me, it’s true.)
Also, remember that you are never alone. There are so many people out there who are battling the same demons as you, going through the same fight. This article and so many similar ones show that others do get it, that others are experiencing what you’re dealing with too.
There are social media communities out there that are filled with people who get it, too. Find them. Find your people, both online and in person, and you will be ok. You will get through this day.
Mental health organizations:
National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI)
The Trevor Project – for LGBTQ individuals
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255