Experiencing depression

Depression can greatly affect your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical wellbeing. Depressed people usually have a sad mood that does not go away, loss of interest and lack of energy. There are many other symptoms that people may also have (e.g. excessive guilt, loss of confidence, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, change in appetite, thoughts of suicide, agitation, feeling worthless, panic). People with more severe depression have symptoms which are more extreme. A doctor needs to diagnose depression because these symptoms could be caused by something else (e.g. a side effect of medication, a physical illness). Some people also had hypo-mania or mania in-between episodes of depression where they felt euphoric or high. Some felt they yo-yoed between depression and feeling high.

People tried to tell us what depression actually felt like and how different it is from just 'not being happy'. Some felt you could only truly understand depression if you had had it yourself. A few people had such dramatic experiences of depression that they could pin point the exact moment of becoming depressed. Some said that when depressed, there is no joy, life is all blackness (e.g. 'life isn't as colourful') and they could not see a future, or remember being happy.

One woman said depression was like 'a black pit', another said it was like 'a million bees buzzing' in her head. One man said it was like 'trying to run through treacle.' Still another man said it was like 'rotting in the depths of hell.' A number of people described the way they felt totally cut off from their feelings and from other people' It was like being 'locked in' and isolated behind Perspex or inside a very thick balloon as one woman said. Some described being very lonely and isolated. Adding to the isolation, many avoided friends and family when depressed. As one woman said, you feel like a 'burden' to your friends.

Many became tearful and some cried uncontrollably. One man recalls watching the 'FA Cup Final in floods of tears'. Many described becoming very sensitive, and reacting badly to the 'slightest' remark. Some people found they were hyper-sensitive to any kind of stimulation such as noise or music, and just wanted to 'sit in a dark cupboard'. Many also found that it became very difficult to concentrate and remember things. One man said 'I really couldn't string two sentences together'. Another knew he had a problem when he could no longer concentrate enough to read a story book to his four-year-old child.

Eating and basic self-care routines such as dressing and applying make-up can seem insurmountable tasks to people who feel “mentally, completely debilitated and physically exhausted”. The little details of life - like choosing what to wear - can become “enormous problems you are incapable of dealing with”.

Negative thinking was described as “things going around in your head, so you don't sleep anymore” and you leap to wrong conclusions, even to the point of paranoia. One man said his mind was “zooming into miserable places” and described a “sheer onslaught of negative thoughts”. The trouble with depression is that the mind is broken, so you cannot use your mind to fight depression in the same way you could a physical illness. Indeed, people had trouble knowing anything solid about themselves during depression. One man described it as if “your whole self gets put into the mixer and could come out in any old form”.

Many people talked about feeling “bad” and guilty as if they had done something terrible. One man felt such self-hatred that he believed he might actually contaminate others, and he once gave himself up to the police because he felt so guilty. Many people had trouble sleeping, and variously woke up early, could not get out of bed, felt like a 'zombie' and/or 'shattered' during the day. Very many people we talked to had thought about or tried to commit suicide because their thoughts focused on committing suicide, and they wanted to escape their torment.

Most people also described anxiety, fear and even panic as being very closely tied to their depression. For instance, one man developed a fear of the phone. Some also had obsessive thoughts. One woman had overwhelming thoughts of throwing herself under a train.

Many people described bodily changes and physical illness along with depression symptoms, such as upset gut or gripping head sensations, extreme tiredness or chronic fatigue (ME). For some, it was an enormous effort just to get out of bed. Many people had trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, and their chronic lack of sleep meant they were exhausted and 'shattered' during the day. One woman said her voice changed when she was depressed, and one man felt his posture was stooped during depression. One woman had an eating problem that was connected to her depression.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated April 2015.


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