10 Ways to Describe Depression

Depression and anxiety seem to be two very ubiquitous terms in current times, and ones that deserve the attention they are rightfully receiving.

But has more attention on these issues really brought about the level of understanding required for people who don’t experience or understand symptoms of mental illness?

Over the years that I’ve had depression and anxiety symptoms, I’ve struggled to be able to put my experiences into words. Explaining what it’s like to feel “hopeless, have a decreased interest in activities, guilt, and general discontent” is a challenging thing to describe. Even more so when, if someone were to take a snapshot of my life, things seem perfect on the outside.

It becomes even harder to describe it to people who think “well everything seems like it’s going so well for you” because, at least for me, a lot of times it is! However, there’s something inside that’s just not quite right. Something that’s hard to put your finger on when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode and even harder to describe if you’ve never had to explain it to someone before.

Another aspect of talking about depression and all mental illness which is near and dear to my heart is the story telling aspect. Being able to put yourself and your story out there, even if it’s just with the people in your day to day life, is beneficial and healing. Without getting on my soap box of the importance of story telling for the human experience, suffice it to say that I genuinely believe telling our own stories to those ready to listen is a crucial step in healing and moving forward with a renewed sense of self and purpose. For example, this blog is filled with posts of me detailing the thoughts and experiences I have before, during, and after depressive episodes. Many people have reached out to me to say that they too really resonated with what I had to say and began feeling comfortable sharing their struggles with their family and close friends. All I had to do was work on putting my experiences into words.

The challenge of that lies in being able to find a starting point – a place where you are able to articulate your experiences in an easy to understand way. For me, that didn’t start to happen until I came across other people on the internet – one of which being The Bloggess aka author Jenny Lawson who writes openly and candidly about her own experiences with depression and what they are like for her. (If you haven’t read her blog, you are truly missing out.)

For those reasons, I’ve compiled a list of the ways I could describe depression for someone who doesn’t quite understand. Some of these are even ones I’ve had to use to explain my situation to my husband or other family members who do not live with depression. This is meant to be a starting point – a place that allows you to go, “Hmm, that’s what it’s like for me too!” or even better to think, “Nah, she’s got it wrong, THIS is what it’s like for me” thus opening the door for you to be able to explain your own experiences in a way that is unique to you.

10 Ways to Describe Depression or Mental Illness:

  1. Depression is like a rainy day when you learn that you have a huge hole in your shoe. You’ve already walked through a series of puddles and now your socks are completely soaked for the rest of the day. You don’t have a backup pair of socks or shoes (why would you? You didn’t know this one had a hole to begin with!) and now you’re stuck walking around with a mushy, cold foot that no one else notices, except for you.
  2. Depression is like spending your last few dollars on a coffee to treat yo’self and you drop the whole thing on your lap the minute you sit down.
  3. Depression feels like drowning and everyone around you can breathe. (This is not my own quote, but one that resonates deeply just the same.)
  4. During a depressive episode, it’s like you’re no longer in control of your own thoughts. Again, another complex situation to describe. It’s like you’re a video game character and someone else is in charge of the thought patterns you’re experiencing. You’re at the mercy of whatever is running through your mind and you can’t distract yourself from it.
  5. Like a shot of Novocain through your whole body and soul. You’re numb to so many sensations that otherwise feel wonderful or even terrible. It’s not that you can’t feel the joys in life – you can’t feel any of it, good or bad.
  6. Like being trapped in endless, thick fog with seemingly no way out. You’re left with the sensation that you’ll just have to wait it out, and there are times where it feels that the fog will never lift.
  7. Sleep doesn’t help you feel less tired. Have you ever taken a nap or slept for way too long only to wake up groggy and unable to feel alive and refreshed? That’s what all sleep feels like during depression. There’s seldom a point where you wake up and think “Wow, I’m refreshed and revitalized to take on whatever comes my way today.”
  8. You feel like an Oscar Winning Actor because you’re so good at getting people to believe you’re doing okay. You play the part that you know makes other people comfortable, meanwhile you’re a completely different person than the character you pretend to be all day.
  9. Depression and anxiety is a special mixture, but still a common one nonetheless. It’s feeling unable to be productive while also terrified of failing or letting someone down. It’s not being able to socialize, but still wanting to maintain the friends you have. It’s like feeling and noticing everything at once, but also being completely numb to it all.
  10. Feeling that despite any explanation you could provide, other people still won’t get it.

To read more of what I have to say on How To Talk to People about Mental Illness, check out another one of my posts here and to read a post about my personal mental health story, click here.

What are some ways you might describe your symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness you may experience? There’s much more out there than just the major two, so please feel free to share your own descriptions in the comments below knowing that you are safe and loved in this little corner of the internet.

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