What depression feels like ~ a moment by moment analysis

  What depression feels like ~ a moment by moment analysis

I’m sinking. I must have been sinking for ages but I couldn’t see it. I try to speak but words won’t come. They feel stale, overused and meaningless as I turn them over in my head like worn out clothes. I fall silent, all the things I might once have talked of now long forgotten, like those far off days on a summer afternoon after school, that lose meaning when you try and put those memories into some sort of adult order. My mind stutters, the words dry; there seems no point in speaking them. It won’t mean anything to anyone who wasn’t there at the time, and the memories vanish in a swirl of numbness.

I am eyes, seeing and observing, a pair of eyes in an ocean of nothingness. Some things are too bright, as if illuminated from within by the heat of decay; other things are dull as if a coating of filmy dirt covers them. I know some thing is beautiful but I feel nothing. It doesn’t touch me.

I am ears, hearing and remembering, but for what purpose I do not know. Like an idiot, I listen, trying to catch words in the chatter of sparrows, and make sense of the wind in the trees.

Someone once described to me what taking Ketamine feels like: you’re standing in a long corridor lined with doors. Each door leads somewhere but as you stand, the doors slam shut, hard, one after another. All that’s left is you, in a great long echoing hallway that goes nowhere with locked doors going on forever.

I can’t think. Every word I carve out of the rock with my fingernails, groping all the time for meaning in the darkness, the shape of things familiar and yet unknown. I’m aware of the things I know, but locked away somewhere, and I don’t have the password to open the doors again.

There are tears under the surface somewhere, bitter tears full of self pity and reproach. None of your sweet tears of release. These are pure acid and I will not shed them. They’ll corrode everything they touch.

So I sit, silent and unable to reach out and watch like a prisoner in a tower, waiting in that endless corridor, in the fading hope that one of those doors might not be locked after all.

It’s as close to dying as you can get, I think.

  { Edit. I posted this last night on http://thewildsheepsociety.wordpress.com for a number of reasons. For people who have no experience personally of depression, I’d like to remind them that it is an illness, it’s not something a person suffering with it chooses to endure, nobody enjoys it and it’s as damaging and debilitating as an illness or injury that can be seen plainly. I don’t write these sorts of things as a bid for attention, but initially as a way of trying to understand what happens to me, and I share some of them as a part of widening awarenss of an issue that is still somehow taboo. People who know me in the so-called real world are shocked to discover I have this illness because most of the time I hide it. When I suffer with the onset, I find I stop being able to talk. I can still write, usually, but my normal loquacious self vanishes and I will fall silent. I can still come out with the oneliners and the quick comebacks but only as a default setting. I don’t find them funny myself; it’s a way of diverting attention.}

36 thoughts on “What depression feels like ~ a moment by moment analysis

  1. This is all so true – somehow you have managed to put a comprehensive account of depression into beautiful poetic language. Everything you say I can identify with having been through; I won’t go through it bit by bit as the whole description applies, but somehow the last couple of lines resonate most among all the horrors, showing how you shut it all in and default with the oneliners. This is so moving, so well put, so true.


    • Sue, this was one of the few times where I have written while fully in the throes of it. I typed words over and over, still spelling them wrong, and just let the words flow when they would, and wept when they wouldn’t.


  2. I can relate to this, beautifully describes how I often am. I have learnt though that a sign I am heading into depression is a complete inability to cope with noise, everything seems loud.

    I feel that many non-sufferers see depression as feeling sorry for yourself and think you should buck up, they dont understand that it overwhelms you and you just have to get through it. They also, as you say, seem to think that it should be obvious – maybe they think we should be walking around weeping, looking a mess etc I dont know but depression is a hidden illness, often not obvious to the onlooker.

    Thank you for this post.


  3. If it’s true that there is purpose to all things, what on earth purpose does depression serve?

    Thank you, Viv, for your carving fingernails. Your description serves a deeper compassion and empathy.


  4. This is achingly beautiful… So often illness changes the way you see the world and your place in it. Challenges can be catharsic for those who have the determination to go on… I appreciate this essay on so many levels, stay strong!


  5. Beautifully written but painful to read. So sad to hear of this illness. Depression is a word that’s bandied about far too easily. The GP tried to put me on antidepressants when my husband and mother recently became seriously ill but I kept telling him that I wasn’t depressed, just sad and stressed. Now reading this I know that I was right and the GP was wrong. Take care of yourself.


  6. Thank you. I know this awful dead feeling only too well. I’m hanging on in there right now, taking one day at a time. I do believe that sooner or later one of those doors will open into a world you can touch, feel, taste, hear, see sharply and most of all feel. That’s what keeps me going day to day. I’ve not written anything for weeks and it sucks.


  7. So beautiful Viv – poetic and graceful – yet such an important piece of writing to articulate what it is to suffer a condition which is often so misunderstood. Good on you for bringing your feelings into the light so some won’t feel so alone & others may be encouraged to silence their critical lips.


    • I’m on a repeat cycle for the last 39 years. Round and round to the same point, over and over again. Bit like the Magic Roundabout, without the magic, or Zebedee.


  8. I grew up in a household of a (manic-)depressive (no re-termed bi-polar) and was inducted into the world of adulthood by having to try and manage it and its effects on the incomprehending spouse.

    Released from home to college, I then did my collapse of stout party and suffered depression myself.

    It is an illness, but like many mental illnesses I think it’s about a different way of seeing. Of seeing life and reality and humans as totally flawed and with the prospect of death totally meaningless. By which I mean to say depressives are maybe just the most supreme of realists, that we cannot just jolly ourselves along in purposeless drift, because we see the bargain with the devil (ourselves) that lies behind that for the conjuring trick it is. For me death is ever present, pertinently my death, and I can never get over that fact. it informs everything I do. Sometimes it’s inevitability overwhelms me and I go into meltdown and am unable to function. Depressives cannot keep the weighty, destructive thoughts of self and the human condition remote 24-7 like most ‘normal’ people. This impairs our ability to function within the world at times.


  9. I’m interested why you decided to water it down? But I think we share a broad consensus on what lies behind. It’s not just depression either, but different ways of seeing are persecuted as mental illness of other stripes as well. I’m not saying there are not psychotic people, but it’s defined as collapse of one’s reality – well maybe that reality just isn’t acceptable to some people’s ways of thinking. It becomes a problem when they act upon other people in say violent ways. The autism spectrum becomes a question of managing behaviour, more than maybe different ways of seeing and being – the fixations and often brilliant creation that arise from it, in music, or art or number problem solving.

    I just can’t help feeling that somehow we as a society are approaching the concept of mental illness from completely the wrong end. The notion of a ‘normal, well-adjusted’ person is I think a chimera. I think we are all flawed and prone to being poorly-adjusted at times. We were discussing this & notions of alienation on litchat on Twitter last night. Writers generally see through the patina of normality or reality we are presented with. Whether they choose to interrogate the slippage in their writing, or provide escapist fantasy to it seems to be to be the only artistic choice that matters.


    • If you are interested I can send you the article/essay, Marc. Be warned, not one of the friends I have ever sent it to has actually ever commented on and and have refused to do so.
      I agree with what you say about normal. I had some blood tests done last week to eliminate an organic cause of a semi-seizure I had on Easter Monday; they all came back normal and I commented to the person who gave me the results that it was probably the only way I was normal.


    • Thank you Anne. I’m up and down quite a lot, so I watch myself for changes to at least understand what and why something is happening.
      I’ve been busy getting my new book project up and running but last night I felt the blueness again, gnawing away, that feeling of total lack of belief.
      hey ho.


  10. More bravery from you. But for me its not just sinking, but being pushed down, held under. And sometimes it goes so deep I DO start to enjoy it. Its the shock of returning that is so much more painful. The burning of taking that gasping breath. Pushed again to rejoin the social world of other’s confusion.


  11. I think it is the hidden nature of this illness that makes it so destructive. When you’re in it, it is like a python wrapped around your soul – squeezing the life out of you from within. The suffocation leaves no breath to speak out. But the strange thing is that often I can act and be cheerful, if distant. In reality it isn’t cheerful abandon but rather fey, where there is no difference, no care; life and death – both are one and grey.

    Thanks Viv for expressing your feelings so well. From reading some of the other comments it is clear that a few more people know that they are not alone in their suffering; that there is understanding out there. Hopefully, through posts like this more people will at least recognise the illness of depression, and not try to “cheer up” sufferers. Speaking for myself, being “cheered” like this either makes the pain infinitely worse or, if I have a little inner strength left, it makes me soo mad and angry that all I want to do is share may pain with them – suddenly and very physically!


  12. “So I sit, silent and unable to reach out and watch like a prisoner in a tower, waiting in that endless corridor, in the fading hope that one of those doors might not be locked after all.”

    I love that. That’s exactly what it feels like.


  13. Hi Vivienne. For those who have experienced these feelings I can’t see how even your darkest version would shock or surprise. I agree with Marc about depressives being realists, I’ve even read psychological papers that have found experimental evidence for that. One of the things that is so difficult as you and the other commentators have said is this feeling of dichotomy between what we feel and how we feel we should be or what we feel others and society want and need us to be. We are meant to be able to function continuously at the same level and sometimes that just isn’t possible. At times when we’ve experienced loss, trauma, illness, upset, it’s almost psychotic to be able to function, we bury everything and soldier on but it takes it’s toll. There are different ways of looking at the world. Depressives and people on the autistic spectrum are among them. Accepting that is a first step. Accepting the absolute black of where our stark view of the world takes us in another. You mentioned Christmas. It’s a season I’m finding more difficult to take. I always feel like there is this fake patina over everything, it becomes overwhelming, similarly sometimes small talk makes me feel uncomfortable and I can’t watch shows like x factor because I can’t take the embarressment factor of those being criticised. What is great about blogging etc is that people like us who might never say these things out loud, can share our ways of seeing the world and our struggles.


  14. I hope you are feeling better, brighter, less rubbish today. I recognise all of this in myself. Yesterday was a really hard day for me.
    I just want to thank you for your honesty and wish you well x


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