What Does Depression Feel Like?
Depression is all-encompassing, like a haze that has descended upon your mind and life that can’t be cleared.
Depression is the most common disabling illness to affect the world’s population. Affecting mood, mind and body, it is characterised by feelings, memories and experiences being perceived through a lens of despair, fragility, fatigue or defeat.
Often, depression can feel like a life sentence: an experience doomed to minimise your ability to live with purpose, richly and fully, or experience relationships and connections with meaning. This however, is just depression talking – and feeling a loss or absence of such things while coping with depression does not need to take away your capacity to experience these wonderful parts of life.
Thriving After Depression
In fact, the article ‘Optical Well-Being after Major Depression‘ shows that people who suffer from and recover from depressive episodes can go on to thrive in life. In other words, many, many people get support for and successfully bounce back from depression to experience even greater, more thriving outcomes in their life- characterised by gratitude, frequent satisfaction, and joy, fulfilling relationships and a strong sense of efficacy.
While depression often has cautious, gloomy connotations to it, at its core, depression stems from a cognitive bias– or coloured lenses for the mind and memories through which we look at life. If sadness, defeat, and fatigue are blue coloured lenses, depression is where the mind takes on these blue coloured lenses as a given way of seeing life and keeps them on for extended periods.
Worn for long enough or through enough situations, your mind can be tricked into thinking that the blue tinge is true of the world- and it takes some retraining and homework to remember what life looks like without the coloured spectacles.
Evidence-based treatments for depression very much focus on helping you better choose which lenses you put on, and helping you to see the world in full colour again.
After experiencing depression, this can be really exhilarating and charging and may explain why some people after suffering depression don’t just end up recovering, but also experiencing even richer lives and wellbeing.
They go on to truly appreciate things that most people can take for granted.
Though, when you’re still in the haze of depression, this is not to say it’s easy to get unstuck from. It’s very, very hard, all-encompassing and a deflating experience- well characterised by the feeling of taking 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.
This feeling and internal monologue are often what stops people suffering with depression from getting help – an unfortunate statistic given how effective recovery from depression can be with the right help.
If you’re not sure whether you could benefit from depression-recovery counselling, you could consider the following:
- Have I felt stronger feelings of despair, defeat or gloom/sadness in response to life situations than I have felt joy, hope or optimism?
- Have I felt like I couldn’t enjoy things that I have usually found enjoyable in the past?
- Have I been feeling tired for no real reason?
- Have things felt more effortful or more tiring to get done than previously?
- Have I felt worthless recently?
Why Might I Have Depression?
It’s very common to experience depression because life can be very difficult and plagued with hard situations.
Most research says that there are two main causes of depression- there is ‘endogenous depression’ (chemical imbalances in the brain) and ‘reactive depression’- depression caused by events or life situations. Overwhelmingly, most cases of depression or feeling depressed are triggered by negative events in life, and without enough tools to differentiate the negatives of these situations and such thinking patterns from the rest of life, your brain has a clever way of turning this into a pattern, or lens, of thinking and perceiving.
In other words, it’s not you and it’s not personal- depression is a pattern that the mind gets into, a way of perceiving and looking at all things through the same lens, which can bog you down and feel hopeless.
Situations that can begin a pattern of depression can be wide-ranging, but are commonly:
- Work/jobs that feels meaningless or powerless
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Grief or loss
- Losing a job/ finishing a job/ retirement
- Changes/transitions in life
- Assault/unresolved trauma
- Relationship changes
- Financial stress
Quality depression counselling largely focuses on helping you flesh out which parts of your assumptions, experiences, and memories might be holding the negative biases, or ‘wearing the blue lenses’, which are contributing to feeling depressed across lots of situations. Learning, or retraining the mental ‘shift’, and learning how to spot the biases when they appear, can be very helpful for coping with depression. A good quality counsellor can also help to explore more adaptive ways to cope, and positively manage challenging situations.
What’s more, once you have learned the tools and experienced the mental shift out of depression once, you are a lot more capable of spotting another depressive episode sooner and have more resources with which to tackle future episodes of depressive thinking.
Depression is as unique an experience as we are different; but getting help to train your brain and internal voice to work for you, instead of against you, can help you gain a more empowering sense of control over parts of your life that are important.
Rottenberg, J., Devendorf, A. R., Panaite, V., Disabato, D. J., & Kashdan, T. B. (2019). Optimal well-being after major depression. Clinical Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2167702618812708