What Does Depression Feel Like? (From Someone Medically Diagnosed With It)

woman curled up in a ball
** DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physical trainer, or fitness nor mental health professional of any kind. All thoughts expressed in this content come from my personal opinions and experiences only. **

Depression feels like different things to different people. However, there are some common traits of depression that most people who experience it will report. In this post, I’ll be sharing my experience with depression and all that that’s entailed.

As an additional disclaimer, please remember that this is an account of only one person’s experience with depression. If you suspect that you or someone you care about is struggling with depression, please contact your family physician or SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

My depression story: The early years

I first remember feeling that something was wrong in high school.

I middle school, I had the unfortunate pleasure of being in a clique of girls who felt it was their right – nay, their duty – to make fun of and talk down to anyone they had an opportunity to target. Even though I was “friends” with them, this did not exclude me.

I was a shy, awkward teenaged girl, with more acne than most kids my age (a problem that persisted and got even worse in my adult years). I was smart and got good grades, which seemed to constitute a personality flaw to the popular girls in my school.

One such girl was not my friend in particular, but was a friend of several of my friends, so we often hung out in the same crowd. She seemed to take a special kind of delight in whispering about me in obvious ways when I was standing right next to her, giggling as she complimented my off-brand clothing, and generally ostracizing me from conversations and weekend plans that she extended to the rest of my friends.

In short, I was bullied in the way that only teenage girls can bully other teenage girls: relentlessly and with such terrific subtlety that it’s impossible for your still-not-fully-developed-mind to tell if they like you or hate you.

Of the girls from that clique (about five or so of us), I was the only one to choose a College Prep. track for high school. As a result, I no longer had to tolerate their bullying because we were now all in different classes and had different lunch periods.

However, I was also completely alone.

As I mentioned, I was extremely shy, and the years of bullying had left me with a complete lack of self-esteem. I had also developed a non-life-threatening but amazingly persistent eating disorder, and so would sit at the lunch table by myself while the classmates I ate with went to get food. This did not endear me to them or make me seem any less “weird.”

I wasn’t especially interested in boys in high-school, either, mostly because I believed I was too ugly and worthless for any boy to be interested in me. Looking back, quite a few guys in my grade and grades above me found me attractive, but I interpreted their advances as cruel jokes. (I did date a few guys in my teenage years, but that’s a story for a different time.)

What I remember most about high school is how alone I felt. I often went entire days without speaking, being too shy to raise my hand in class, and not having any real friends to talk to. I wasn’t speaking much to my family at home, either, as I avoided the kitchen and dinner table as much as possible.

This is when I believe my first depressive episode took place.

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What depression feels like for me

woman looking into distance

Though I first started having real, pronounced difficulties with depression in high school, I have struggled with it ever since. I have had periods of time where I was less depressed, more depressed, and even completely depression-free. But it always comes back.

In describing what depression feels like, I want to clarify that this is how I’ve experienced depression not just in high school, but in my adult life as well. Even when I started eating healthier and exercising more, even when I graduated college and got a great job, even when I got promoted over and over again, my depression was recurring and always very similar.

This is what depression feels like for me:

  • I feel completely nihilistic. I feel as if nothing in life or in the world has any value or point to it, and that we’ll all be dead one day and nothing we do matters. (Yes, it’s dark, I know that. Depression is a very dark disease.)
  • I don’t enjoy anything. I don’t enjoy writing, reading, exercising, seeing friends, seeing family, anything.
  • I can’t experience joy. Even when good things happen, if I’m depressed I can’t see those things as good. For example, if I were depressed and I won $500 randomly, I wouldn’t think, ‘Wow, this is great! I won $500!” I’d think something like, ‘What’s going to happen next to take this money away from me?” Basically, I become hyper-pessimistic.
  • I don’t care about what happens to me. I’ve thankfully never been one to lean towards suicide per se, but when I’m depressed I experience thoughts like, “If that car were to hit me right now I wouldn’t even care.” I’ve never been actively suicidal, but I also don’t care about my life at all.
  • I want to sleep all the time. Being in bed feels warm and safe to me. When I’m depressed, I so dread having to drag myself through another day, week, month, etc. of pretending to care that it feels mentally torturous to have to leave my bed. I just want to pull the covers over my head and go back to dreamland.
  • I cry a lot. Not all depressed people cry, believe it or not. Some of us just turn off our emotions completely. But me, I’m a crier. The thing is I usually don’t cry out of sadness, I cry out of anger and frustration. During one of my worst depressive episodes, I was crying before and after work most days of the week. Work was going great, but I hated my job and was angry that I was unable to get a different one (not that I tried very hard).
  • Everything is exhausting. Being depressed leaves me with no motivation to do anything. I become physically and mentally drained, and the thought of having to do something like laundry or go get groceries feels like the biggest obstacle that could exist. I can get myself to do them but again, it feels like agony.
  • I can’t identify the causes of my emotions. When I’m depressed I have a very difficult time discerning what I’m feeling, and why I might be feeling that way. I suspect it’s because I’m so exhausted and numb emotionally, but I’m not a doctor so I can’t say for sure.
  • I feel utterly hopeless. The most poignant and terrifying symptom of depression for me is the complete lack of hope I feel. For myself, for others, for the planet, for everything. When depressed, I feel like nothing will ever be good or okay again, and it’s the single most concrete feeling you could ever imagine feeling. It feels like pure truth – that there is no hope for anything or for anyone in the world – and that is what makes this disease so terrifying and malicious.

Getting diagnosed with depression

When I was about 25, I finally went to see my family doctor. It was almost Christmas, and I remember it was already completely dark outside by the time I got to my appointment.

A nurse walked me back to an exam room and gave me a short survey and a pen. I checked boxes that asked how much I agreed or disagreed with statements like “I don’t enjoy hobbies I used to like,” and “I feel I am worthless.” After I returned the survey to the nurse, I waited agitatedly in the empty room.

My absolute worst fear in coming to the appointment was this: That I would tell my doctor I thought I was depressed, and she’d evaluate me, and tell me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.

This may sound odd but, in hindsight, I guess my fear was that if I wasn’t depressed, what was wrong with me? Or worse, what if I was normal, but weak? What if I was just a weak person?

But that isn’t what happened.

“What can I help you with today?” My doctor asked in that way that all doctors do when they step into an exam room.

I mumbled and mixed up my words, and finally managed to tell her that I thought I might be depressed and I was interested in trying antidepressants if that was something she felt I might be suited for.

My doctor talked to me about how I’d been feeling, and I described to her more or less everything that I shared in the section above. She asked if I exercised regularly – I did. She asked if I had tried yoga or meditation – I had. And nothing had helped? No.

By the end of the visit I had been prescribed a very low dose of a popular antidepressant (to be increased over time as we evaluated its effectiveness), and the shiny new diagnoses of “Major Depressive Disorder – Moderate.”

What getting diagnosed with depression feels like

For me, getting my diagnosis brought me an amazing sense of calmness and peace. I know that seems ironic considering my brain at the time was telling me that everything was pointless, but it was the first time in my entire life that I had a professionally evaluated reason for why I was the way I was. A reason for why I couldn’t experience life like other people; why some things were just emotionally harder for me. And, more importantly, I had a way to start treating it.

I understand that antidepressants are not for everyone, and I am by no means saying that you can’t overcome depression without medication. However, for me, antidepressants gave me my life back. They didn’t make me feel fuzzy-headed or strange, they simply allowed me to feel like me again.

The medication helped give me the mental clarity I needed to start making long-term changes in my mental health. I was soon able to see that there were a lot of things that I needed to work on. I tried to work on myself in my own way for a while, but eventually started going to therapy, and still do to this day.

What depression looks like for me now

woman kissing a dog

Roughly five years later, I still take antidepressants, though I’ve changed which specific medication I’m on. I have made massive progress in my personal growth and how I understand myself through the help of some excellent therapists. I now only go to therapy once every few weeks, or as I feel I need it, but I suspect I will always go. It’s just that helpful.

Now that I understand so much more about myself and my depression, I can recognize when a depressive episode is coming on and take steps to ease the symptoms before they become too bad.

Some of the ways that I’m able to prevent my depression from getting too out of hand these days are:

  • I keep taking my meds. No matter what, I keep taking my meds.
  • I tell my boyfriend that I’m feeling depressed. This helps him understand what I might need from him in the next few days, as well as explain any low moods or quiet behavior on my part.
  • I try to eat healthier. Generally, eating more nutrient-dense foods makes me feel better than eating junk.
  • I practice being kind to myself.
  • I write.
  • I try to find events or TV shows or hobbies to be excited about.
  • I talk to my therapist about it.
  • I remind myself that the feeling will pass and is not permanent.

Help spread awareness about depression and mental health

I felt that my experience with depression was important to share this month, as it’s National Mental Health Awareness Month. However, raising awareness about mental health issues is important every month.

If this post resonated with you, or if you just really enjoyed it, please share it with others on social media. Who knows, maybe it’ll reach someone and help them feel less alone on their mental health journey.

And, again as a reminder, if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health you can call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for mental health information and treatment referrals.