Everyone Gets Sad Sometimes: This is What Depression Feels Like (TW: depression, suicide)
If I was the betting type, I would wager that the number one thing clinically depressed people hear from the uneducated masses operating as their “support systems” sounds something like, “everyone gets sad sometimes.”
I hear this a lot. “Everyone gets sad”, “you just have to let it go”, “If you just decide to be happy, you will be!”
But I’m not sad. I mean, yeah, sometimes I am, because it’s true that everyone gets sad sometimes. Sadness and depression aren’t the same thing, though. You can be sad, you can be depressed, you can be both or neither.
Depression isn’t sadness on steroids, either. Depression is a whole different thing, and if you haven’t had it, it can be a really hard thing to wrap your mind around. Hell, I’ve had it on and off since I was pre-teen, and when I’ve been doing really well for a while, it stops making sense to even me. “It can’t have been that bad,” I think.
It can be that bad, though, and hearing things like, “Everyone feels sad sometimes” doesn’t make it easier to live with. When you’re having trouble getting out of bed every day and all the people around you can say is, ”Everyone has bad days”, what you hear is, “Everyone has bad days and they handle them better than you. You’re whiny. You’re weak. You’re lazy. You’re worthless. What you’re dealing with isn’t a big deal, you’re just not strong enough to handle it.”
That’s a lot of negative feedback to get from one well-intentioned sentence, but that’s how depression works. Having depression is a lot like having mental termites- it eats you up from the inside. By the time other people start noticing there’s a problem, most of the damage has been done.
People aren’t (usually, because I think we all know that some people are dicks) deliberately minimizing the struggles of people with depression when they say things like, “if you just think positive…” or “I’m sure you’ll feel better tomorrow”. They’re honestly trying to be comforting, but mental illness is hard to understand. You can’t see it, you can’t measure it, you can’t give it timeline or prognosis, so “anxiety disorder” is answered with, “You worry too much.” “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” inspires ”Just don’t do that anymore”, and when people hear “ADHD”, they suggest you should “just try harder”.
If it were as easy as that, if we could just stop worrying or stop engaging in compulsive behaviors, if we could be healthy by simply trying harder, why in God’s name wouldn’t we have done it already?
We haven’t done it because mental illness isn’t a choice. Saying someone has an anxiety disorder isn’t a fancy way of saying they worry a lot, “ADHD” isn’t synonymous with “lazy”, and being depressed is not the same thing as being sad.
I’m going to tell you what it’s like when I’m depressed. I feel like it’s important to point out that this is not my every day life. This isn’t even the majority of my life. The person I am when I’m depressed is completely different from the person I am when I’m healthy, and that’s how I know it’s a problem.
These are my experiences, not statistics out of a book or anything, so they’re not going to apply universally. Everyone experiences depression differently. For me:
Depression is disassociative. I start feeling like I’m watching my life through a television screen. It’s like the parts of me that are me are trapped inside my head, incapable of reaching out, not really part of the world around me. It can feel like someone else is living my life and I’m watching them do it. When I’m depressed, I become this whole other person, and the person I become is an asshole. The first time, I felt like I had lost everything good about myself, and I didn’t think it would ever come back. (I was wrong.)
Depression is isolating. The disassociation plays a part in this, I’m sure; even when I try to connect to other people, the sense that I’m not really there gets in the way. Even if it doesn’t, my douchebag brain is always there to feed me information like, “No one really likes you”. I start feeling horribly vulnerable; when people reach out to me it feels like pity; when they don’t, it feels like abandonment. Going out socially becomes painfully awkward because I feel like I am a burden that they shouldn’t have to bear.
Yeah. When I’m depressed, I feel like people are burdened by my presence at the movie theater, and I am ashamed of that. Depression is an asshole.
Depression is exhausting. When I’m depressed, my mind feels sluggish and I have trouble thinking through problems or figuring out puzzles. My body feels both heavy and weak, and it starts to require serious effort to do things like, “get out of bed” or “get off the couch”. I have trouble staying awake. Simple tasks become overwhelming, even impossible. I clearly remember the time I sat down and sobbed because there were two dishes in the sink, and I couldn’t put them in the dishwasher. I just couldn’t. Those two dishes were too much for me that day.
That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That two stupid cups would bring me to tears. Just put them in the dishwasher, or put them off until later! But at the time, neither of those things seemed like an option. I recognized that was two cups and that it shouldn’t be that hard, but it was that hard.
When I’m depressed, I become incapable of being loving. I become short-tempered and touchy. Anything anyone says to me can lead to an angry outburst. This is where the disassociation really kicks in; I watch myself say horrible, cruel things to people who I love and I am helpless to stop myself. My mouth can be spewing poison, but on the inside, it’s like I’m pounding against a glass cage, screaming at myself to stop.
If that sounds uncomfortably scary, it should. It is. If it sounds crazy, it should. It is. And it gets worse.
Depression hurts. ”Depression” sad isn’t like “regular” sad. It’s not the sad that “everyone gets”. Depression sad feels like an enormous harpy dug its claws into my chest and tore half of it away, leaving the other half to fester and seep. Depressed sadness is agony. I feel it physically, I can’t breathe past it, and it feels like it will never stop.
Depression means that I can’t trust my own brain. My brain will say things to me like, “You’re never going to feel better.” “Your family would be better off without you, you’re just hurting them.” “You’re worthless, and you’ll always be worthless.” “Everyone knows you’re weak.” “No one really likes you, they just tolerate you.” And on, and on, and on, an unceasing flood of negative messages from my own brain. (It’s like a horror movie; you know, “The caller is inside the house!” Only the house is my brain, and the twist: The caller is also my brain.)
All the while I am hearing these internal messages, I am telling myself, “That’s not true, that’s the depression, these are lies.” The longer this goes on, the harder it gets for me to tell the difference, until eventually I can’t. Eventually, I start believing that the few positive messages I’m still holding on to are the lies, and that I’m hopelessly pathetic for believing them.
When depression gets like this, when it’s really, really bad, this is when I want to die. Not in a slangy “omg I’m so embarrassed I could just, like, DIE” kind of way, but in the way that says, “I can’t hurt like this anymore”. The way that involves making plans, finding ways that maybe my life insurance will still pay out or my kids won’t be as badly traumatized.
I’ve only reached this point once. I am terrified that I’ll end up there again.
When my illness reached this point, it’s wasn’t because I’m weak. I wasn’t being selfish or vindictive or giving up. (I hear these ideas about suicide a lot, and I can’t imagine they’re ever accurate. )
When I reached that place where dying seemed so much better than living another day, it was because I knew I was never going to get better. I didn’t just believe it, I knew it. I was always going to be this person that was mean to her husband and kids, that couldn’t connect with them emotionally, that couldn’t take care of them. My illness had infected every part of our lives. I knew I was hurting them, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew I was in agony, and that was never going to change.
When I was making those plans, I believed, with every ounce of my being, that dying was the greatest gift I could give my children. My sick brain had convinced me that if I killed myself, I would be protecting them.
If I had done it, I would have done it because I loved them so much.
I didn’t do it for two reason: because, when I was pregnant with my son, my best friend had called in tears and said, “I just read a story about a woman with postpartum depression that killed herself. Promise me you won’t ever do that.” I wasn’t very sick at that time, so it was an easy promise to make. It was not an easy promise to keep.
And I didn’t kill myself because I realized that if I did, my children wouldn’t understand. They would always believe that I didn’t love them enough to stay. I couldn’t do that to them.
I got better. My family healed. I got sick again (not as badly, thank the maker), and my family survived. I got better again.
I will get sick again.
Depression doesn’t just go away. That was the hardest lesson for me to learn when I was recovering. It can feel really hopeless, because you know even if you drag yourself out of it you’ll just end up back in the same place. For me, it’s terrifying when I’m doing well because I know it will be back, but I don’t know how bad it will be or how long it will last.
Depression is hard. It takes a wrecking ball to your life, sets fire to all your relationships, and breaks any internal mirror that shows you anything about yourself that is worthwhile.
Everyone does get sad sometimes.
That has nothing to do with depression.
Depression is a stupid, lying bastard and if you have it, it wants to destroy your life. If it can, it will kill you. All those messages my brain gave me about how good it would be for my family if I died were awful, poisonous lies. Killing myself would not have helped them or protected them; it would have broken them in ways that can’t heal. If you’re reading this and your brain is telling you the things my brain told me? Tell it to fuck off. And then, please, PLEASE call someone and tell them what you’re going through. If they can’t or won’t help, keep calling until you find someone who will. Try the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or any of the resources at suicidehotlines.net.