How Does Depression Feel?

Updated: Jan 28

I wanted to talk about how it feels to experience different mental health problems, so I decided to do a little series where I’ll be talking about depression, mania, anorexia and OSFED. This is the first post in the series talking about depression.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have bipolar disorder. However, I was actually misdiagnosed as having a recurrent depressive disorder for around 10 years. I read recently that it takes an average of 10 years to receive an accurate bipolar diagnosis so I guess I’m fairly textbook in that area.

In some ways it’s frustrating. I actually had a query bipolar diagnosis as an inpatient when I was 15, but it’s incredibly hard to diagnose in children so I understand why I didn’t get the label then. However, I can’t help feeling annoyed about the years I struggled as an adult on the wrong medication with the wrong support. I do see why it was missed; I struggled with eating all through my teens and early adulthood and a lot of my mood swings were easily linked to that I suppose. But it’s hard to think about all the money I wasted and time I lost. The last couple of years of being on the right medication have honestly been life changing; my mood has never been so stable. I just wish I’d have had the opportunity to experience this earlier.

One of the reasons I was misdiagnosed with depression for so long is that I have always struggled with low mood significantly more than high. Although I am well currently and I can spend months living my life with no symptoms at all, the fear of becoming unwell is always there, following me like a shadow.

Depression is suffocating; I feel like I am drowning and everything feels like trying to move underwater. The world feels incredibly slow, and thoughts start creeping in that I am a burden on people and that I am worthless.

That is probably the hardest part. When you’re in a place where your boyfriend is having to help you to wash and get dressed, and carry you from one room to another because you don’t have it in you to do anything other than fester away in your bed, it’s easy to start feeling like a burden. You can see yourself making people around you miserable, but feel entirely unable to stop it. That just adds to the self loathing you already have.

If you’ve never felt like this, it’s easy to look at suicide and think it is selfish. But to that person suffering, in the pit of despair, it doesn’t feel selfish. You think you’re actually doing people a favour. You genuinely think people would be better off without you in their life, and that you are relieving them of having to deal with you. That’s a really frightening place to be. To that person, it’s not selfish. It’s kind.

A close friend of mine ended her life in 2009. We met in hospital; she also had bipolar disorder and struggled with eating for a long time. She ended up a heroin addict with an abusive boyfriend, and killed herself in hospital, where she was supposed to be safe. That was very hard to come to terms with. I understand the gaping hole that her absence has left in so many of our lives, and I felt very angry at her for a long time. Suicide is a very complicated issue, and one that is never going to be as two dimensional as calling it ‘selfish’.

One thing that I think is often overlooked is talking about the physical sensations of depression. Emotionally, I would actually describe depression as, at times, almost a ‘nothingness’, numb, a complete absence of feelings. Physically, it is like my whole body is made of lead. I can’t move. I live in a state of being asleep and awake simultaneously. The air around me feels as though it is crushing me. It’s a very hard feeling to imagine unless you have experienced it, but I hope with all my heart that you haven’t.

I have a mood disorder. Inevitably, no matter how well I take my medication and live a healthy lifestyle, I know that this will get me again. I don’t know when, I don’t know how bad and I don’t know how long it will last. It could be this year, it could be in 30 years. All I know is that every episode has been worse than the last, and that statistically, bipolar symptoms worsen with age.

Having an illness looming over you is terrifying, but I’ve got through it many times before I know when that day happens, then I’ll get through it again.

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