The Merriam Webster dictionary defines depression as (1) a state of feeling sad: Dejection (2) a mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) criteria for the diagnosis of depression is at least 5 of the following symptoms have to have been present during same two week period:
- Depressed mood (obviously)
- Diminished interest or loss of pleasure in almost all activities (anhedonia)
- Significant weight change or appetite disturbance
- Sleep disturbance (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate; indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide
According World Health Organization, over 300 million people world wide, and of all ages, suffer from some form of depression. The CDC states that antidepressants are one of three most commonly used therapeutic drug classes used in the United States. In a study done between 2011-2014, the CDC reported that 12.7 percent of persons aged 12 and over had used an antidepressant medication within the past month.
Psychotherapy and medications are the most commonly used treatments for depression, however there are more types of treatment available, including:
- Brain stimulation therapies
- Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
And some experimental treatments (Ketamine infusion therapy, Deep brain stimulation.
Those are some facts and statistics about how medical and mental health professionals define, diagnose and treat depression. But, what does depression feel like? What is the experience of depression? Well, I can only speak for myself on this matter. I can only attempt to convey MY experience battling the beast, to you dear reader, as each individual’s perception, experience and struggles are unique.
For as long as I can remember I have struggled with depression. Over decades I have seen numerous psychologists and psychiatrists. I have been put on and taken off various medications and, up until somewhat recently, self-medicated with alcohol, resulting in hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease). Despite all of my efforts to ameliorate the symptoms of my depression, I simply could not seem to transform myself into a “normal”, happy, functional person. All of the drugs and alcohol had diminishing returns. They only worked temporarily and seemed to worsen my mental state after they had left my bloodstream.
Depression still carries a lot of stigma, despite it’s prevalence in our society. I myself, have heard, on more than one occasion “what do you have to be depressed about? You have a great life.” This is true. I do not lack perspective. I am fully aware of how good my circumstances are in comparison to some others. Which exacerbates my depression further, as I feel guilt for being depressed.
I am not sad. Sadness is situational. Sadness is an ordinary emotional response to a tragic event or undesired circumstances. The loss of a loved one or pet, poor health or chronic illness, financial struggles or job loss. Any of these circumstances would make even the happiest, most upbeat person, justifiably sad. Sadness and grief are normal emotional responses to loss.
My depression is not situational. Sure, I have lost loved ones, pets. I have experienced tragedy. All of these things leave a mark or perhaps a scar on ones psyche. But, the overwhelming feeling of an all consuming emptiness, persists. A nagging darkness.
I remember reading “Beyond Good And Evil” by Friedrich Nietzsche and the line “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” This was forever burned into my brain. This famous line, ironically, provides a little illumination on the experience of depression. Have I gazed into the abyss so long that I am merely a reflection of it? Is there any ME left? Who was I to begin with? I can’t remember. All that I see is a reflection of the abyss.
I’ll admit that I find it difficult to unpack the contents of my skull. To convey to you, dear reader, the feeling of the void, the abyss. It’s an absolute loneliness. It’s invisibility while completely naked to the world. If you allow it to consume you, you’ll find a strange comfort in the melancholia, a loss of self. Sinking into it’s depths and disappearing like a stone in a murky lake. You remain, however with an ache of that lost part of yourself, like a phantom limb.
If you suffer from depression, you may understand the feeling that I am attempting to express here. If you do not, than it will likely be difficult for you to comprehend the depth of despair and emptiness that one feels when suffering from depression. Hopefully, I was able to shed a little bit of light on the experience of this disorder. Like I mentioned earlier in this post, this is MY experience. Every individual is unique. We all view the world through different eyes and lenses. As you can now see, the lenses I peer through are not rose colored.
I wish that I could offer a solution. A way to hush the chatter and persistent whispers that may be inside your head. I wish that I could tell you how to vanquish the demons that plague you. There is no cure for depression. There are however, ways to manage it. To keep the wolves at bay, so to speak. I am of course speaking of pharmacological intervention and therapy.
If you are suffering from depression, please talk to someone. If you know somebody who is suffering from depression, please talk to them. If you are the former, please know that there are others out here in the world that may not share your exact experience, but understand your suffering.
So, how does depression feel? You tell me.