Reflections on Depression

How it feels

The Bridesmaid by Sir John Everett Millais

Note: Quotes in italics are mine.

I tell people it’s like being dead. It feels like being a ghost, maybe. You float through your days feeling insubstantial, cut off from warmth, light and all feeling. Sometimes it feels like you’re in a coffin buried alive. You’re screaming inside your head, but no one can hear you.

“It was not really alarming at first, since the change was subtle, but I did notice that my surroundings took on a different tone at certain times: the shadows of nightfall seemed more somber, my mornings were less buoyant, walks in the woods became less zestful, and there was a moment during my working hours in the late afternoon when a kind of panic and anxiety overtook me…” – William Styron, Darkness Visible

“I’m frightened. I’m always anticipating that someone is going to scream at me, a cop in the street, my boss. I’m sure I’m going to be held up or get a flat tire at rush hour. Every ache and pain in my body convinces me I’m going to die of cancer. I can’t sleep. I wake up in the early hours of the morning terrified. I’m either afraid of dying or that the house is going to be broken into. I have nightmares. I wake up sweating, paralyzed with fear. It’s been several weeks now. I think I can’t make it, I can’t go through another day and night feeling this way. I feel beaten up, my body feels as if I’ve been in a fight. Nobody seems to understand.” – Richard, You Are Not Alone

“I have secluded myself from society; and yet I never meant any such thing. I have made a captive of myself and put me into a dungeon, and now I cannot find the key to let myself out.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“I didn’t know what was the matter with me. All I knew was that I was feeling lower than a snake’s belly…I remember we used to go to restaurants, and I’d say ‘Everybody’s pointing at me, the cheat, the fraud, the fake.’ You really believe these things! Astonishing!” – Mike Wallace, On the Edge of Darkness

“I was much further out than you thought and not waving but drowning.” – Stevie Smith

“When you’re depressed, there’s no calendar. There are no dates, there’s no day, there’s no night, there’s no seconds, there’s no minutes, there’s nothing. You’re just existing in this cold, murky, ever-heavy atmosphere, like they put you inside a vial of mercury.” – Rod Steiger, On the Edge of Darkness

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better it appears to me.” – Abraham Lincoln

What it Does to You

I become virtually inarticulate; I can barely speak, which is the complete opposite of how I am normally. When I’m not depressed, most people would tell you it’s hard to shut me up. But when I’m depressed, putting words together into a simple sentence is like carrying water with a sieve.

The Siren by John William Waterhouse

” I had pains in my arms and a kind of weakness in my legs. I would be asking questions in an interview, and suddenly I wouldn’t be able to hear the answer, or think of the next question. My mind was on a completely different plane. I had no memory, no powers of concentration. If you asked me questions about a newspaper column I’d read two minutes before, I wouldn’t have been able to answer.” – Mike Wallace, On the Edge of Darkness

“It’s difficult for the public to realize how powerful the mind is, and how much pain the mind can give you. When you’re depressed, it’s as though this committee has taken over your mind, leaving you one depressing thought after the other. You don’t shave, you don’t shower, you don’t brush your teeth. You don’t care. The one thing I did do, I still ate a little bit. But I didn’t have much of an appetite. I know a lot of people who say they didn’t eat at all.” – Rod Steiger, On the Edge of Darkness

Coping

“I went to my church and found a free counseling group. The people there have stories similar to mine. We help each other. We talk about how we feel. I’m amazed that so many people feel like me. I thought I was alone.” – Jodie, You Are Not Alone

“The first thing I try to remind myself is not to look at the big picture. When I’m depressed I tend to worry about the big picture, the issues I can’t control. I work myself into a tizzy about my financial future, my health, whether my grown children and grandchildren are in danger, whether my house is going to be broken into, all the chores I haven’t done in the house, whether my wife is going to have an accident. I self-abuse with anxiety about things that haven’t happened. To counteract this bad habit I say to myself, “Earl, small tasks, small steps, one at a time. You can only manage the immediate. If you waste your energy worrying about the future you’ll ignore the immediate, and it’s only the present you have any control over.”

Then I find small tasks that I can accomplish and – most important – that I like doing. I’ll prune my lemon trees. I’ll putter around in the garage, maybe even wash the car. I’ll carve an animal for my grandson. Once I’ve accomplished them, I stop and congratulate myself for a job well done.” – Earl, You Are Not Alone

“You just have to watch yourself, you have to take your medicines, and you have to be more intelligent about yourself. You have to keep moving when you begin to feel like you don’t want to move. You have to occupy yourself, get out of the house. You have to learn all those things, go for a swim when you don’t want to swim, go for a walk when you don’t want to walk…I know all the intellectual things. Have the courage to keep moving. KEEP MOVING, that’s what my license plate on one car says. The other plate says COURAGE. Don’t stay in bed. Get out. Now that I’m better, if I feel a little unhappy or uneasy or I feel what I call the cold water begin to fill up and my legs turn to icy concrete, I head for the swimming pool, exercise and get the endorphins up, get them going. I exercise for a half hour, twenty minutes, and I feel better.” – Rod Steiger, On the Edge of Darkness

Friends and Family

Image: Love Among the Ruins by Sir Edward Burne-Jones

“Some of my friends were intolerant of my depression. Every time I was with them I felt guilty. They always said something that made me feel guilty. Perhaps they’d say, “For heaven’s sake, cheer up, you’re making us feel horrible.” Or, “What you have to do is get up and do something.” Of course, I was so depressed that I couldn’t even think of what I might want to do. I’d feel like a failure because I couldn’t do anything. On top of it, I’d feel responsible for my friends’ feelings.

Other friends showed concern. They’d talk with me about my feelings and invite me to the movies. Slowly I learned to spend time with friends who supported me.” – Craig, You Are Not Alone

“I don’t know how you explain depression to people like my wife. I can’t even approach the subject of anybody’s emotional disorder. She can’t even fathom why it would happen…My wife has a chemical balance that works twenty-four hours a day, with very few ups and downs, and she has very little sympathy for anyone who has mood swings. Her reaction to the problem is ‘You’ll be all right tomorrow. Don’t even think about it.’ It’s like Scarlett O’Hara, ‘I’ll worry about it tomorrow.’ Those people are very fortunate. But they don’t make good counselors. If you are one of those people, in the company of someone who’s depressed, you’ve got to realize that your happy, cheerful, pat-them-on-the-back, it’s-gonna-be-all-right attitude won’t work.” – Dick Clark, On the Edge of Darkness

“Only my really good friends know. And even my daughter I don’t show it to. You cannot take a twenty-two-year-old girl and burden her with ‘I’m so down, I’m so depressed, I’m so scared, I’m so worried.'” – Joan Rivers, On the Edge of Darkness

“How can you tell anyone how you feel when you’re depressed? No one wants to be around someone who’s down. Who wants to spend time with someone who’s full of fear, anger, and sadness? That’s a real downer.

Besides, I don’t know anyone who’s gone through what I’m going through now. What can I say to a friend? That I want to check out, that I want to go to sleep and never wake up, that I’m so terrified of life that I can’t get up in the morning, that I’m becoming a victim of delusions and hysteria? Nobody wants to hear that. People will think I’m some kind of nut case, that I’m a wimp, a weakling.

It’s so lonely being depressed.” – Clara, You Are Not Alone

Suicide

The Day Dream by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“…the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this cauldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.” – William Styron, Darkness Visible

“I was alone upstairs. I opened a drawer and there was a gun. I took the gun and sat down in my dressing room, with the gun in my lap, and I thought, ‘It would be so easy. I want to be out of all this pain. I just want to be out of it.’ It’s not even so much pain, but the aching weariness of the whole thing; I just wanted to be out of it all. Oh, I was so down. I thought, ‘I can’t fight anymore. I can’t go on anymore. I’m so weary, God, what’s the point?’ But when my dog came in and sat in my lap, I thought, ‘Who’s going to take care of Spike?'” – Joan Rivers, On the Edge of Darkness

“My husband didn’t take me seriously. I can remember lying in bed at night mumbling, ‘I just want to die.’ He would tell me I was being melodramatic. He’d say, ‘It makes me nervous to hear you talk like that. Besides, you have so much to live for!’

One day all I could think about was dying. I was going to go to the basement and kill myself with drugs, alcohol, and a plastic bag. I was terrified – of myself, of living, of dying. Somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice kept echoing the TV ad of the Samaritans, a suicide prevention group. I called them. They were the first step to getting help for myself.

Now I tell everyone who will listen, ‘Never ignore a person – even a small kid – who says he or she wants to die. It could be too late.'” – Arlene, You Are Not Alone

Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Image: La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John William Waterhouse

Since her poems are not titled, I have separated them with a flourish.

There’s a certain slant of light
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ’tis like the distance
On the look of death.

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead, again.
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.

I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled –
Some thousands – on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.

The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies, –
Death is but one and comes but once,
And only nails the eyes.

There’s grief of want, and grief of cold, –
A sort they call “despair”;
There’s banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly, yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,

To note the fashions of the cross,
Of those that stand alone,
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.

I felt a cleavage in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.

A door just opened on a street –
I, lost, was passing by –
And instant’s width of warmth disclosed,
And wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
I, lost, was passing by, –
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
Enlightening misery.

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12 thoughts on “Reflections on Depression

  1. My daughter has recently been diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder after a serious suicide attempt. Thank you for this wonderful website that has helped me understand what she is going through. She is a beautiful and sweet girl that I love beyond! This is a horrible disease! Thank you.

  2. My dogs save my life everyday. If I didn’t have them I would not get out of bed. Even though they save me and I love them, I am burdened from the guilt I have that it takes me so long to meet even their most basic needs. I will however bathe them somehow but I neglect to shower myself. I have no absolutely none, energy. My guilt piles higher every day. I used to see a light but not anymore and more over I don’t even look for it or I prefer the dark. I say out loud sometimes, “I hate you” or I ask out loud, ” do you love me” and I answer no. It’s weird and it’s uncomfortable but it’s me. I’m lost, I’m heavy, I’m so damn tired and rest is impossible.

  3. I feel like i’ve some kind of desease. I cant comunicate with people I feel like I can not talk like noraml people. As if they have totally different minds which get new comments on everything and I donot. Im always sitting silently amid a group of people, its not like I dont wanna talk but its like I just cant. I always had problem in communicating people just to socialize otherwise Im confident, im fine.

  4. I feel as though I have painted myself into a corner or check mated myself. I for the longest time kept my misery to myself thinking that it would be gone soon, that was not the case. Eventually I thought it would be best to come clean with those close to me but the guilt I feel for having people stress and worry about me has only made things worse. I can’t be f**ked doing much any more and feel as though I’m drifting way away. When I look in the mirror I can still see a faint glimmer of the happy go lucky person I once was. I just can’t seem to find my way back

  5. I feel like i am alone in this world,i cant seem to express myself. I always felt misunderstood,none seems to care,i wish someone was there by my side,but that feels like being greedy cause i dont deserve all these after what i have done to others,i feel insecure and guilty everytime, i cant seem to laugh genuinely…i feel lonely and as if i cant feel anything,i feel soulless ,dead i wanna do something for people who stayed by my side..but i cant seem to do that instead i hurt them,i wish i could show my sincerity thats in my heart for them instead of showing them my hatred

  6. I feel useless disconnected afraid and alone. I have no energy, no confidence or any hopes for the future. I feel like a failure and no good at anything. Everything’s a bloody chore. I am a registered nurse, i achieved quite a lot people tell me a degree and degree modules, i just don’t feel i have achieved anything. I used to be so sociable and outgoing, what has happened, why do i now feel so low and unmotivated. I feel guilty about being sick from work, a new job to. I feel i’ve let myself and everyone down. Medications don’t seem to help. People must think i am rubbish, a bad decision taking me on in my new job. I just can’t to stop all these negative thoughts and scenarios going around and around in my head. I am lost and detached. This is hard, very hard and i’m scared i lose everything including my sanity.

  7. I feel like i am on the edge of a canyon and i could just close my eyes and jump, my wife has left me and wont even speak to me and my whole world has collapsed i have never known pain like it i want to cry at every moment i hate being in my house alone i fear night and day i have totally lost hope and could end it all in a moment.

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