October 16, 2019

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Haley Jakobson

100 People Told Us What Depression Feels Like

100 people told us what their depression feels like.

Trigger warning: this content may feel very sensitive to those who have experienced or are currently experiencing depressive episodes. If this list is not helpful for you to read at this time, please take care of yourself. Maybe one of our other articles will resonate more!

100 people told us what it is like to have depression.

It’s Depression Awareness Month and the MyWellbeing team has been focused on bringing real perspectives to the conversation around depression. It got me thinking - you know those commercials about depression? The ones that feel so fake and reductive? They always say the same thing: “Feeling numb, lonely, tired? You might be suffering from depression!” Or the handouts we got in health class on depression? To me, they all felt so one-dimensional and fake.

When my first depression hit, those commercials are not what resonated with me. It was what people had written about their individual experience of depression. People like Sarah Silverman and Andrew Soloman and Glennon Doyle and Jen Pastilloff. Real people who used their own metaphors and stories and specific examples that made me go: “Bingo! That’s what I feel, too.”

Because the thing about mental health struggles is that they manifest so incredibly differently in people. And that’s because everyone has a different brain, different environmental influences, biology, history, and situational factors that play into how their struggles show up. Sometimes the symptoms we are experiencing are nothing like the handouts and commercials we have been inundated with. And if those commercials and handouts are what our only definitions of depression have been, if we feel something different, we might discount it as depression entirely!

So we thought it might be helpful to get one hundred different perspectives on what depression feels like.

We were blown away by the answers. We got metaphors and descriptions we could have never thought of, one-word responses that made us go “yup!” and even some poetry!

Depression can feel like having your hands stuck in mud.

Depression does not feel the same to everyone.

Some of these answers are total opposites from others, too. And that’s what we hoped for - because we want you all to know that your depression does not have to fit under one definition, and certainly does not have to mimic the script of a two minute TV commercial. You are the only one who gets to know how your brain and body works and feels, and we just hope that having some varying examples of how other people have felt makes you feel less alone and seen. Some of these might resonate, some might not, and some might feel like such a mirror you’ll think you wrote them yourself.

The point is:

Every experience of depression is valid and real, and, most importantly: everyone deserves to feel better.

If every brain is different, then every brain needs a different therapist to hang out with. At MyWellbeing, we know the most important part of the therapy journey is fit, and that’s why we aim to find you your perfect match. If you’re in New York City and ready to find someone who can support you and help you navigate the tough stuff, head over to our questionnaire to meet your perfect therapy match.

How it Feels to Be Depressed:

  1. Smallness. Like you can’t breathe deep enough to expand into significance.
  2. Shit.
  3. Complete blankness.
  4. Constant irritation and dissatisfaction.
  5. A total lack of imagination for the future.
  6. Like every negative thought I have of myself becomes my true experience.
  7. Suffocating.
  8. I ghost people like it’s Halloween. And then I feel terrible about it. Vicious cycle.
  9. FOMO, but the party I didn’t get invited to is actually just human connection and understanding.
  10. Random stomach pains and nausea! We love a psychosomatic response!
  11. Depression feels like I’m living on another planet, where I don’t belong. At first glance, no one would think anything of my being there; I look just like everyone else, I act like everyone else, I seem to function just like everyone else on this planet. But the air and the gravity are different, and my body hasn’t acclimated to this new environment. I can still function on this planet, yes, but it’s a little bit harder to breathe, a little bit harder to run or jump, and I get tired out a little bit faster. And I’m trying to hide all this from the planet’s residents because, if they find out I don’t belong here, I’m not sure how they will respond.
  12. A void too apathetic to be hungry.
  13. The unbearable lightness of being.
  14. Everything is meaningless and I’m the only person who realizes that.
  15. It’s heavy and lonely.
  16. It physically hurts. I feel confused and betrayed by my joints, back, knees, and brain.
  17. Constant need for sleep, migraines, no appetite except for foods that are bad for me.
  18. It feels like there isn’t time to be an adult and to rest, so I rest and rest and life piles up.
  19. Like there’s not enough room for me to fully be in my body.
  20. Hides in the places I least expect, and it all hits when I make space to observe these little things.
  21. Pushing everyone and everything I love as far away as possible…with regret.
  22. Not finding joy in anything, including moments of joy.
  23. List a vast nothing. Nothing matters. Everything is too hard.
  24. My depression physically manifests like the flu with no light at the end of the tunnel.
  25. Drowning and floating numbly.
  26. Like fog has taken over my brain. Like a failure.
  27. It feels like someone switched off the world around me.
  28. Like everything is dirty.
  29. I can’t think or feel and I’m not in my body.
  30. Fatigue, no desire to do much of anything, withdraw and isolate myself, feel anger towards myself.
  31. It feels like I am cracked and pain is tangible and seeping out of me.
  32. Losing sight of the answer to why anyone really does anything that doesn’t have great purpose. Like small talk, going out, getting dressed, wearing makeup, etc.
  33. My inner introvert takes the wheel.
  34. Like wanting to crawl into a cotton ball because everything around me is too much.
  35. Like I’m on an island, deep in a dark cave of shame and self-hatred.
  36. Like being a zombie.
  37. Losing myself and what I love to do.
  38. Feeling like I’ve forgotten my purpose in life.
  39. It feels like I won’t be safe. Like I am broken and everyone else is going to be okay but not me.
  40. It feels as if my legs have been paralyzed. It’s hard to put one foot in front of the other. It hurts.
  41. Depression feels like everything I know is gone and I’ll never be able to get myself back.
  42. Not being able to get off the couch.
  43. Any effort results in depletion.
  44. Feeling hopeless and worthless without an obvious reason.
  45. Sometimes removing myself from bed feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
  46. My depression feels like being trapped in an empty treasure chest.
  47. Like every task is a chore. Like I can’t relate to anyone.
  48. Like everyone is lying about being happy. They’re really just suffering.
  49. My depression makes me feel guilty and wrong for having good days.
  50. A comfortable yet dark and scary void.
  51. Looks like my normal routine: school, gym, healthy eating - but without the ability to FEEL.
  52. A lump in my throat and like the world is on a 3-second lag.
  53. Questioning why I am even here. Feeling like I am a waste of space and oxygen.
  54. Physical pain in my heart.
  55. Obsessed with finding “acceptable” reasons to bawl.
  56. First like darkness, then like emptiness, then the feeling of blank thoughts and no energy.
  57. I can’t even imagine getting up to go to work, let alone living the rest of my life like this.
  58. Like doing anything is impossible.
  59. It feels like a layer of heaviness that lives in my skin.
  60. Crazy energy or excitement followed by complete exhaustion and too much sleep.
  61. It makes the smallest tasks - like drinking water, showering, playing with my kids - feel so hard.
  62. Feels like a big void of nothing that sucks me down into it.
  63. A cloud that just kinda hangs out.
  64. Depression feels like a long-lost friend that’s more excited to see me than I am to see them.
  65. Like being on the outside looking in and feeling uninvited.
  66. Like the deepest and most absolute form of loneliness.
  67. Like I don’t deserve to feel better.
  68. Like I’m floating outside of my body and watching it interact with the world.
  69. Shoes by the door unworn, clouds of shame above, ears sipping on disapproval.
  70. Like the world would be totally unaffected if I was no longer a piece of it.
  71. Like the world around me is blurry and the world in my head is far too vivid and loud.
  72. Like I am slowly sinking into darkness and if I don’t reach out for help I’ll get lost forever.
  73. Frustration. For not being able to get myself out of the rain cloud.
  74. 100% humidity in a fur coat.
  75. Like the act of getting out of bed is equivalent to climbing Everest.
  76. Total disconnection.
  77. Like someone is sitting on my chest and my lungs are collapsing from the weight.
  78. Feeling homesick even if I am at home.
  79. Constant. I know it will always come back.
  80. Like a hole I’ve sunk into slowly, not realizing I was sinking until it’s dark.
  81. Eating until I am so heavy I can feel myself again - I need the constant taste of food in my mouth.
  82. Spending days watching TV - aka immersing myself in other people’s lives.
  83. Anger, annoyance, incredible tiredness, lack of motivation, apathy.
  84. Like I’m underwater to my nose, eyes can see the air but I can’t reach it.
  85. Hopelessness and inadequacy.
  86. Unconscious fog that wraps me up and doesn’t want to let go.
  87. Heavy days are filled with tears, mom-shame, and guilt.
  88. Like (happy) memories from my life before my depression hit aren’t real, and that depression is the actual reality.
  89. Hard to breathe.
  90. Like the air around my body is a 1000-pound weight and every move I make is a huge battle.
  91. Like a force field I am stuck behind. It separates me from everything and everyone.
  92. Impossible to get out of my own way.
  93. An endless pile of dirty laundry.
  94. Like I’m sleeping through my life and letting it just happen, instead of living it.
  95. Like constantly coming up short for every. single. person/animal in my life.
  96. A brick on my chest.
  97. Knowing I love something but feeling like I cannot physically do it.
  98. A loss of basic functions.
  99. Lonely but withdrawing from company anyway.
  100. When I feel a depressive episode coming on it’s like a tidal wave in the distance headed straight for me and only me.

We also received this beautiful poetry submission:

Chlorophyll

Depression looks like a leaf in winter
After all the chlorophyll wandered out of its body
Leaving only a lifeless outline
A cyclic reminder of seasons passed

No matter how many times you yell to wake up
It lies lifeless as if Depression
Is capable of sucking all the chlorophyll out of This body too

Depression sounds an awful lot like Adele on full volume,

set for every 5 minutes, every single day. All day long.
A vacant dance party.
Lifeless. Unresponsive.


Depression looks like stillness under covers
in a bedroom with blue skies and white fluffy clouds painted on the ceiling.

When the alarm clock Depression purchased for the hearing impaired goes off
It vibrates the bed, the floor, the ceiling
My skull
The sound of an 18-wheeler backing up directly into the walls
while the dog continues barking at Adele


But It does not stir Her still body
Depression lies as stiff as a brown crunchy leaf in the dead of winter.

A blatant reminder of seasons changed.

You are not alone. And you deserve to feel better.

Hey, this list is a lot to take in. It was a lot for me to read and compile. But as I was doing so, I found myself nodding my head at each submission that resonated with my experience of depression. I felt really seen and understood.

But I also read this list and found myself so thankful for the support that I have found, and our mission here at MyWellbeing is to find people the help that they need and deserve. If you find yourself currently feeling the way many folks described depression in this list, then know that there is help available to you and this in no way has to be your reality. Trust me, I have been there. There is so much hope on the other side of what you are feeling.

And please check our therapists’ response to this article in “What Therapists Want You To Know About Depression.”

For coping tips and more information on how to help someone who is depressed, take a look at this article and this one too.

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About the author

Haley Jakobson is a writer of plays, poetry, and creative non-fiction. In her writing Haley explores mental health and wellness, sex and trauma, queerness, and bodies. When she isn’t scribbling on the subway, she is hanging out with the MWB team as their Digital Content Manager, and acting as the Artistic Director and co-founder of Brunch Theatre Company, an inclusive platform for emerging theatre artists to join the conversation. A poet in the millennial era, Haley reaches an audience of 11k+ readers on her instagram page. Haley lives in Brooklyn and is a gemini.

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