Honestly, I have no idea.
If you have no idea how you feel yourself, how are you meant to answer when someone asks you?
Explaining depression to people who have never experienced it is one of the hardest things to do. Especially if, like me, there’s no specific trigger point. No horrific event that started it. No reason to be unhappy.
My husband has always been very supportive and on numerous occasions I’ve tried to explain to him how I feel and, more importantly to him, why I feel like that. I’ve not yet been successful in either.
In my previous post, Girl, Interrupted, I said that I would be doing this series of posts to help those struggling with depression and anxiety and also to help the people who are supporting them. I’m really hoping that this post will help others who, like me, have found it impossible to explain how they feel to others. I’ll point out now that I’m well aware that these issues are extremely personal and that no two people will ever feel the same; this whole series of posts is written from my viewpoint, how I feel and what I have been dealing with for over 10 years.
A lot of people will say that they’ve been “depressed” at some point in their lives, but what they really mean is that they’ve been unhappy. Depression isn’t an emotion and not something that comes and goes. It’s part of your life and part of who you are. It’s a mixture of feelings and often presents itself physically as well as emotionally which makes it even more difficult to explain. It’s also not constant and the way you feel can change several times in a single day.
I’ve found that trying to explain how you feel to someone out loud is a huge challenge. I always find myself using clichés and lines I’ve heard in films. After a while you start to doubt the words coming out of your mouth. In writing this post, I’ve actually realised that writing down how you feel and turning the laptop screen around for your other half to read is a million times easier (for a start, you can go back and edit the bits that don’t sound right). So, if you take nothing else from this post, at least try this approach and try to explain how you feel in writing. I think it will really help.
Anyway, this is what I have come up with. The short paragraph below is what depression and anxiety feel like to me:
It’s like when you wind yourself and you’re trying desperately to catch your breath. It’s like the worst feeling of guilt you’ve ever felt – you feel like something has gone horribly, horribly wrong but you can’t quite remember what it was. It’s the worst, deepest sadness you’ve ever felt and at the same time it’s a paralysing fear of everything and nothing. It’s laughing hysterically until you’re crying uncontrollability for no reason at all. It’s feeling lost and empty; it’s questioning and doubting yourself and everything you do. It’s a sense of uselessness and hopelessness. But most of all, it’s exhausting, all-consuming and impossible.
I think that just about covers it! But if not, there’s a great article I read a while back here.
Living with those feelings on a daily basis is tough. There are days when just the thought of getting out of bed brings you to tears and lifting the kettle to make a cuppa physically hurts. There are days when you feel nothing at all. And I mean literally nothing – you’re not happy, you’re not sad; you’re not tired but not quite awake either; you’re not hungry or thirsty; you’re nothing. But then there’s days when you are “the old you”. You have energy and the motivation to do everything you ever wanted to all in one day. You love, laugh and live.
One of the hardest parts of this is that there’s often no reason for the change in mood and no way of telling how you’re going to feel in five minutes’ time, let alone in two or three days’ time. It makes planning things extremely difficult because that night out with the girls that sounds like a brilliant idea today may actually be completely overwhelming and terrifying on the day. Or, it might be just what you need. Who knows? It sure as hell isn’t you!
The key thing that I have found over the years, the thing that helps both me and Sean the most, is to remember that it’s nobody’s fault. I used to get unbelievably frustrated with the fact that I was so desperately unhappy when I was so lucky; I have a good job, a roof over my head, an amazing husband and the best family and friends. I’ve spent every summer since I was 18 working with orphaned children in Ghana. I know how lucky I am and, as strange as this sounds, I know I’m happy with my life. I’ve started to cope much better since realising that, just because I have depression doesn’t mean that I’m unhappy with my life (although, I do appreciate that for other people, there may be stresses and triggers in their everyday lives but, like I said at the beginning, I can only write about my own feelings and experiences). Don’t try and find things to change just because you feel like you should; you’ll end up destroying the good things.
It’s important that you don’t pressure yourself to “feel better” and important that those around you don’t blame themselves for how you feel. It’s also really important to embrace the good days, make the most of them. And, as hard as it is, trying to explain to someone how you feel really does help.
I was going to add a section at the end of this post of things that you can do to help and support those who are struggling with depression and anxiety but I’ve realised that the list is quite long and probably deserves a post of its own so I’ll get started on that now.