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Depression

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.

 

Became aware that she was having a 'breakdown' on the bus on the way home from work, so called...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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And I was coming home from work one night after what had been quite a stressful day just because I didn't know my way around stuff, and you know, the stresses of a new job. And I suddenly became aware that I didn't think I could stand up out of my seat on the bus. I was just aware. It was like I felt this massive chemical change take place in me and completely debilitate me. And I kind of thought, "I'm having a breakdown". It's almost like I knew what was happening to me.  

And I managed to get off the bus and I was saying, "Please God let me get to a phone box somewhere'. Because I knew [Husband's name] would be home. Otherwise it was a fifteen minute walk which I could not have done. I found... I got to a phone box and I just said to him, 'Can you come and pick me up. I'm in such a place. I don't feel very well.' And he came and got me into the car and I was just shaking and I was just weeping and I just said, 'I can't go into work tomorrow. I just feel so completely anxious and ill'. You know I didn't know how to describe it.

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.

 

She felt so bad and so cut off from everyone in her family that she felt she was inside a very...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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I can remember particularly bad days. I would only take the day in ten minute chunks because that was it. I couldn't bear to think oh I've got all day at home here not feeling like I can do anything, yet feeling bored and feeling bad about myself. And thinking all these negative thoughts all the time. Everything in my head was negative. And that I couldn't feel anything. I couldn't feel anything for [Husband's name]. I couldn't feel anything for the children. It was like being inside a very, very thick balloon and no matter how hard I pushed out, the momentum of the skin of the balloon would just push me back in. 

So I couldn't touch anybody, I couldn't touch anything. And I know in my head I loved my husband and kids but I couldn't feel anything at all. My emotions were completely dead. And I was just very frightened. It was the most frightening, terribly frightening experience, and it looked like it was an unending one. I didn't know where it was going to go. And I thought seriously then about suicide. 

Because I just thought I can't bear another day of feeling the way I feel, and thinking there is no end to it. And I think what stopped me was that I couldn't figure out....I mean I'd worked out how I could kill myself. You know, I knew I'd got enough tablets of various sorts in the house for me to easily overdose. And if I did it just after the kids had gone to school, I would certainly been gone by the time they came. But I didn't want them to find me, and I couldn't work out how to do it without them being the ones that would find me. That I didn't want to happen.

 

Describes his loneliness and isolation, and feeling cut off from people, especially with no...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
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I mean I....certainly suffer from loneliness and isolation, I often feel cut off from the world. Which is not, you know, that pleasant or nice really, because as I've probably said, I don't have any other family, like brothers and sisters, and I don't you know have any other family around like aunts and uncles, well I do, but they're not in our area, or in my area. And so I feel, often feel cut off, and so I've got no one else to talk to or turn to, - follow what I mean.

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.

 

Managed to hide his depression at work, but when he could no longer read a story to his daughter...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 24
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I couldn't cope with, with other people at all. And also I developed coping mechanisms. I had managed quite well to, to hide it. And if someone sort of, you know at work sort of said, 'Well how's everything going?' I could snap out, 'Everything's fine thanks. It's great we're doing this, this, this and this and we're doing that.' 'That's good' and they would go.  

And boom. I'd go back and staring at my feet. So you know I could sort of put on a front at times and it was, yeah I think it was mostly, mostly a successful front. Until one evening, I remember, I was putting my eldest daughter to bed and trying to read her a child's story, and I actually found I could no longer read. I no longer had the concentration to read the book, a four year old's story book and I couldn't read it out loud. 

I couldn't follow the sentences to actually read it out loud. And that was a point where it was clear that yeah I had to, I had to seek help. And so I made an appointment with the doctor the next day. So that was, that was about three months after I, after I started feeling, feeling depressed.

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”.

 

She thought negatively when depressed, and her mind jumped to negative conclusions, and she felt...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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And.... your brain sort of leaps to conclusions about things and you think, well all my friends haven't phoned me, it's because they don't like me anymore. Rather than my friends haven't phoned me because they're busy, or because their baby's sick. or they're busy at work or what have you.  

You just think, you... you leap to the wrong conclusion almost every time. And I think that just sort of makes you become even.... a little bit paranoid, certainly I was. I'd think, oh why aren't they ringing me? Why are people looking at me like that? I'd take my baby to be weighed at the doctors and I'd think, everyone's talking about me, that's not ...That's very.... sort of a strange feeling. 

And on the one hand, it's like your mind's racing because I had so much to think of, you know.... I've got to this or that for, for the baby or I've got to get to see my Mum in the hospital, or I've got to do this or I've got to do that. But on the other hand, it's almost as if you're going in slow motion. If you've seen these films where you're standing still and everyone's going around you, it was almost like that.

 

Compares cancer with depression and says there is more professional support for cancer, and...

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Age at interview: 75
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 35
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Four or five years ago I was diagnosed as having cancer, and I made comparisons between having cancer and having depression. And cancer is [pause] there is so much help and people are so kind, particularly the professionals because they are geared up. They know the emotional problems people have. And there's a lot of backup. And I've received kindnesses beyond words [pause]. 

But with depression that's a different ball game really. And [pause] its'The two are so different. One is at one end of the scale, and one at the other. It's the loneliness and the feeling of being utterly down and out with depression. With cancer you can say, "Oh, I've got to have a treatment, lets see if that does any good.' And there is a sort of progression. 

But being involved inside the depression, you can't see the wood for the trees, and you depend on people close to you to point the things out that you are unaware of. So you are sort of running in blinkers with depression, which isn't the case with cancer. And I've found that people, not everybody, but lots of people involved in helping people with depression can say quite hurtful things. And that you're in a pretty low ebb when you've got it anyway, so I've found that much more difficult.

 
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Severe depression is more serious than physical illness because the mind is ill, and because...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 32
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With regards to depression and the effects it has, I feel that what I would like to stress is that the symptoms and the effects that it has on people, it varies from person to person, from a low to a very extreme level. 

And for somebody at the extreme end of this cycle of depression I feel that it is very, very important, in fact crucial that the help and support is available to them not only from their close-knit of friends and family circles but also from their GPs and also from the therapies that are available and accessible to them. 

Because if you can imagine someone who's going through a physical illness that's serious and you can imagine the physical pain that the person has to endure and deal with, you can actually provide support for them because it's all very visible and tangible and you can see it. 

However, with depression because it is a mental anguish, very often the full brunt of what that person may be going through may not come out in the way that you would see in a physical way, which is why it's important that that person is given all the help and support they need. Because I feel having a mental illness is far more serious than a physical one.

And why is that?

Because I feel a strong mind, a sound focused, stable mind can deal and cope much better with any kind of physical disability, trouble, illness than a mind that's diseased with mental trauma.

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.

 

Was restless in hospital, and remembers that he felt such self-hatred that he feared he would...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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And I was also very restless at one time in the hospital I'm'..I later found that I was'I'd been diagnosed as manic depressive, and that was a bit of a surprise to me. But I can remember being so restless [papers rustle] during my stay in hospital that I couldn't sit down, I wouldn't sit down for a meal. I would just have it on the hoof sort of thing. I wouldn't sit beside anyone to talk to them, I can remember that.  

And that may have been part of the manic thing, I don't know, but it was partly because I felt I was such a horrible person that I would contaminate anybody somehow by sitting, even sitting beside them, they would somehow be able to tell how awful I was if I sat beside them. 

So it was something to do with that sort of feeling of self-hatred and it was so painful. I had a feeling if they did talk to me, they'd only be doing it because they were sorry for me, I was absolutely convinced. So that, that period in hospital was, it was like being in hell.

 

When he was suicidal, he looked at everything in terms of suicide, and he felt angry he was not...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 22
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I remember during those 3 weeks everything that you seemed to look at was a way, you know, you looked at it from a suicide aspect, when you went over a bridge and you thought, that might be an idea, or a knife in the kitchen, yes, that would be a good one. All horrible sort of thoughts, looking back. 

And then I got the... I was sort of like a zombie at that point, probably from medication partly, also because I was I felt I'd let everybody down' But yeah, during those 3 weeks at first I was sort of very uncommunicative and very obviously, people say my eyes just looked totally dead. And then, I was being quite closely sort of protected during that stage'. Yeah, and at times I've resented the fact that I wasn't allowed to die, as I had made it very clear in my intentions that I didn't want to be kept alive. But, as I say, that's in, you know, some of the lowest points, which I've never got to again. Although I have, you know, been depressed.

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.

 

When his depression is severe, he feels physically different, including a pressure around his...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
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So, when I was in the union job I definitely had some periods of depression and possibly the first periods where I had what I called my deep depression. My mild depression is being generally pissed off, having a negative attitude to life, thinking that things will go wrong, but generally functioning reasonably well. 

The deep depression, I feel physiologically different, I have this sort of pressure around my brain, you know I feel that someone's got their hands inside there. I feel confused, I don't function properly. One of the worst periods I had about 5 years ago I went to the supermarket where I normally get my fruit and veg and I get my petrol on the way out. 

And I came back and I got my shopping and there was no fruit and veg, I mean that's where I get it for the week. I hadn't any petrol for the car. I came back and I thought' Where was I for the last hour? You know I was sort of in this other place where I, I bought some stuff but I mean, I just knew then I wasn't functioning properly.

 

Lacked joy and was lonely, needy and despairing when depressed, and felt that people could tell...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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I felt more, I didn't seem to be able to enjoy any of the things that I tried at first, and I was just feeling very low and very lonely, needy. I was aware I needed something, I wasn't quite sure what and I was, I think, probably about 4 or 5 months after starting my first year, I did become very depressed, actually, and just took to moping around. 

I think people could tell from just the way I was looking, the way I, not looking after myself, the fact that I spoke in a low monotone. The, my posture, I tended to stoop and just looked generally dishevelled and not at all, not really able to cope, actually, quite despairing.  

Despairing of being able to do something for myself, despairing of ever being anything myself, despairing of being normal which, you know partly, I would like to'. 

 

Had an eating disorder as well as depressive symptoms such as sleep problems and tearfulness. ...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 39
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Yeah, I was bulimic, yeah, definitely. I still am now a bit.... see when I gets... when I gets down in the dumps I start doing silly things again. But yeah, I chatted to my mate.... my psychologist as I calls it, and I said, "I've got problems with my stomach" and she won't tag on what was happening. 

And also, as well, my, I was, because I wanted to overtime but, and because I was depressed and not realised it, I was having problems sleeping. And they knew that I was.... like the core money-grabber. They could phone me up at 12 o'clock, 1 o'clock in the morning and ask me to go in, and I thought, yeah, I could have a cup of tea and I'd go straight into work because I couldn't sleep properly. 

And in the mornings, when I come to work, excuse the way I speak, but I'd go to work and I'd be yawning and when I'd be getting my ID I'd be yawning, "God, bloody hell, [name], you ought to go to sleep when you go to bed." And I'd go in the toilet and start crying and also my eating habits as well, but it weren't everything, it's just chocolate. In all the years I, since about 11 or 12 I won't eat chocolate and all of a sudden I was chucking it down my neck so my mate said to me, "You ought to go to the doctor" so that's what I done. And she was brilliant.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated April 2015.

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