Do you ever feel flat? Dull. Lifeless. Uninspired. It’s like, you’re not necessarily sad. Because nothing actually happened to justify this type of darkness. It’s just, you’re not happy either. For me, when this happens —because it does, in fact, creep up, it literally feels like something in my brain is missing.
It’s like sometimes, I want to cry. But I can’t. And I don’t actually want too. But it feels like I should. Everything and nothing. I also want to write. I love writing. And I am. I mean you’re reading this aren’t you? It’s just, it took me a few tries to finish this whole thing. Because as creative as I can be, sometimes I don’t have it in me. Sometimes I really have nothing to say even though I want to say so much. Because as much as this shit swirls around in my head, I can’t always get it out on paper.
That’s depression for you.
It’s not always sadness. I mean, yeah, it is. But it’s so much more than that. Because it’s not going to fit inside society’s box. You can be laughing one second and wanting to stay in bed all day the next. It’s like you want to do the things you love. The things that used to bring you joy, but you can’t make yourself get there. So yeah, depression is misunderstood. It’s also a serious mental illness that can interfere with a person’s life. It can cause long-lasting intractable feelings of hopelessness.
A loss of interest in shit you used to like is usually how it starts. Weirdly enough (because our minds are so powerful), it can also manifest into physical symptoms such as a change in appetite (whether you’re always hungry or not at all), pain, as well as insomnia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adults aged 28 to 59 report feeling depressed. However, despite its prevalence, it’s not easy to identify. And because it’s such an insidious illness, most people who have it don’t report it.
So what does depression actually feel like?
Well, I’m about to tell you what it feels like —at least what it feels like for me. Because symptoms and causes vary from person to person. No one’s definition is the same. Because genetics, gender, and environment also play a crucial role in why someone may be affected by depression. And this thing does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re rich. You can be old or young, happily married, have a good ass job and still be miserable. Because mental illness doesn’t care who you are.
It’s like you’re drowning. Except you’re safe on land and everyone around you is breathing perfectly fine. It’s feeling alone in a crowded room; wanting so hard to enjoy yourself. But the truth is, you want to go home. You want to run, but your feet won’t move. You want to scream. But nothing comes out. Grasp for air. There’s nothing left. Maybe you want to ask for help, but no one really hears you. No one understands either. It’s like your invisible —at least that’s what depression would say.
Because it’s quite terrifying to be imprisoned inside this inescapable bog that tells you not to leave the house. You feel utterly helpless, heavy, dull, unable to do anything. You’re trapped —an unwilling witness watching as those around us relish in their happy lives. You’re angry. Annoyed at everyone’s obliviousness as your condition invades. The waves of pincer-like pain keep pummeling inside your brain as your body drags itself down. Down onto the inky, cold depths of the ocean floor, choking you.
Do you stay fetal-like all day? Or, do you fight your way to the top?
I’m not sure. Depending on the day, I’d have a different answer. Because there’s a disconnect. It’s like my thoughts aren’t my own —seeing that when you’re depressed, you don’t control your thoughts; your thoughts control you. I wish more people understood that. Because obviously everyone wants to be happy. Those with depression are no different. This is where that disconnect comes in. Based on some research from the World Health Organization (WHO), depression can make a person feel like his or her mind has taken control of the show.
As the self-attacking thoughts grow louder, you can’t help but say: What’s the point anyway? I’m stupid. I’m a fraud. No one likes me. Fuck it. I’m getting back in bed. To someone afflicted by this chronic mental battering, that negative thought train, no matter how outlandish, seems entirely credible. I look at pictures from a few years back. How did I make happy look so easy? Was I happy? Or, was I just better at pretending? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that it feels like I’ve lost something.
Then one day you realize what you lost is yourself.
I don’t recognize me anymore is a common theme of someone with clinical depression. People call your name, seeing someone they think they know. Looking back though —all you see is a stranger with no expression. You remember feeling joy. Excitement. Animation. It’s just, lately, all of that seems so far away. Those happy memories are more like scenes from a movie you once saw; not as something personally experienced. I know I used to laugh. It’s just now, all I want to do is sleep.
Because you’re tired and restless all at the same time. Like I said, everything and nothing. It’s like your lips say, I’m fine. Thanks. But your eyes tell a different story. They’re blank. And your body is pale —seeing that you barely leave the house. When you’re in the midst of a depressive episode, it feels like you’re walking around with a sheet over your head—grieving the torment of being physically alive while emotionally lifeless. When you force yourself outside, rather than lighting your soul, the sun’s rays feel like pellets against your skin.
Sometimes it feels good. But mostly, it all sucks.
Whether your eyes are open or closed, essentially all you see is darkness. You’re watching a comedy that’s always made you laugh out loud. These days though, all you can do is summon a plastic smile. You sleepwalk through your days, craving the ‘little death’ of sleep in order to escape the torture of being awake. Depression hits that deep. Because when you’re asleep, you don’t have to feel anything. It’s confusing, I know. Because feeling flat is weird. Because you feel so much. Because you feel nothing.
Because your emotional response to stimuli is always in overdrive. So why the fuck can’t I feel a thing? It makes no sense. Because you do. You feel everything and nothing like I just said. And yes. I’m well aware that feeling flat is a side effect of certain medications like antidepressants. But it’s a different kind of flat. It has a name and it’s called the flat affect. Like when someone experiences something (anything really), normally you’d expect to see an emotional response such as elation, fear, sadness, or anger.
But when someone has “the flat affect” that normal response is not exhibited.
For example, a person without it, who is experiencing something happy would typically display behaviors indicating happiness like smiling and laughter. But a person with it will show nothing. And that right there is why this shit is hard to identify. Because people think depression is crying. People think depression is dressing in black. But people are wrong. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. Being numb to emotions, being numb to life. You wake up in the morning just to go to bed again.
And yeah, sadness is a common feeling in the kaleidoscope of humanity. Most people cry it out, perhaps turn down a few social engagements, feel a little darker than normal but in time that kaleidoscope shifts to a brighter hue. However, for those with clinical depression, it’s darkness 24/7. It’s beyond sadness. It’s a throbbing wall of numbness. And even though nothing major has happened to trigger it, you still feel off. It’s like, you have various hobbies and interests. Maybe you’ve tried to get into all sorts of things but the enthusiasm isn’t there.
For me, I’ve attempted to break out of my comfort zone.
Like going to yoga class, finishing my book, attending church. And all these things were all well and good when I first started but I never lasted more than a few weeks before eventually, I stopped going. I stopped doing. Because I just couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t have the energy to get myself there even if I wanted too. It’s like I can’t focus on certain things no matter how much I have to do, I always find myself wandering off even though I may want to do it. So I try not to beat myself up. Some days it works and others it doesn’t.
But I’m finally realizing that tomorrow is a new day. And it’s OK to feel sad. I have clinical depression, after all. So I have to give myself permission to fail. A for effort, people. Keep in mind that it’s possible to overthink why you’re in a bad mood all the time, especially if you have depression like me. Basically, don’t be so hard on yourself. We really are our own worst critics. Normally, things aren’t as bad as we think they are. But give yourself permission to feel whatever it is your feeling.
Because your feelings are valid. Always.
Plus, mood changes normally have several causes. Small factors can pile one on top of another, especially when you haven’t had a chance to psychologically recover from the first thing before the next one hits you. Whatever provokes your flat affect, ask yourself whether you can ride it out. Or, if you need to take some action. That’s probably the most important point here and what I want you to take away from this piece. Because small simple fixes can, in fact, go a long way.
Like getting out of the house, walking around the block, exercising, eating healthier food, taking a break from social media, addressing your physical pain or simply getting started and forcing yourself to do whatever it is you’re procrastinating about is exactly what the doctor ordered. Speaking of doctors (and speaking in general), find someone you can trust to discuss this shit. It can be a therapist or a close friend. You could even blog about it like me.
At the same time, I want you to recognize that being in a bad mood can sometimes make you more passive. So give yourself a few days of self-care to see if you bounce back. And if you don’t, that’s OK too. Simply employ any of my suggestions above and take it one step at a time. One day at a time and sometimes, one minute at a time. Because yeah, life can be awful. It can be terrifying, annoying and bleak. But it can also be beautiful. And so are you. I mean, you wake up every morning just to fight the same demons that left you so tired the night before.
That my friend is bravery. And you’re worth more than your darkness.
If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, there are resources available —besides reaching out to me, which you can do anytime. Otherwise, consider calling The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free confidential emotional support and crisis intervention 24/7.
If talking isn’t your thing, there’s a unique Crisis Text Line where highly trained counselors offer support and guidance to help calm you down and make sure you’re safe —all without picking up the phone. Text “home” to 741741. And remember, I’m here. I care and I want to help.